Floods swamp New Orleans streets as powerful storm system rolls through Gulf Coast (2024)

A powerful and deadly storm system swept over the Gulf Coast on Wednesday, slamming the region with intense rain and flash flooding while spawning tornadoes over southern Louisiana, where at least three tornadoes were confirmed.

The torrential rains were part of a system that unleashed severe weather across the Gulf Coast throughout the day, knocking out power, disrupting travel, damaging buildings and shuttering schools. More than 118,000 homes and businesses were without power Wednesday night from east Texas to Georgia, according to a USA TODAY database.

Between five and eight inches of rainfall were recorded in some New Orleans rain gauges, Nola.com reported, noting that the amount neared that during some of the city's recent serious flood events.

At least one person in Mississippi died as a result of the storms, the state's emergency management agency said. Weather.com reported she was a 64-year-old woman in Scott County whose oxygen machine stopped working when the power went out.

Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, the National Weather Service reported multiple possible tornadoes across southern Louisiana, where a powerful squall line with 80-mph winds moved east over the state.

Two confirmed tornadoes were in Slidell, a town 30 miles northeast of New Orleans, and in the southwestern city of Lake Charles. That twister had top wind speeds of 115 mph but hit the ground for only a mile, the NWS said.

Another tornado was confirmed in Saint Francisville, a town about 31 miles northwest of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to weather service survey crews. The weather service in New Orleans said damage in Saint Francisville and Slidell were consistent with at least an EF-1 tornado.

'Worst-case scenario': Tornado in Slidell

A tornado hit the town of Slidell on Wednesday afternoon, injuring several people and damaging homes and property.

Slidell police officer Rodney West, a military veteran, said the aftermath of the apparent tornado reminded him of what he saw in Iraq, Weather.com reported. “Looks like Baghdad in ‘04,” West said in a social media post.

“Buildings with the windows busted out, cars on their side, other vehicles wrecked, power lines down. Worst-case scenario that you could imagine,” he said.

A tornado warning, then 'everything was shaking'

Monica Hernandez Melancon and her husband got a tornado warning on their phones around 6:30 a.m., just as the rain and wind picked up in Sunset, Louisiana, about 70 miles west of Baton Rouge. Melancon, 60, gathered their two Yorkies – Ceci and Lily – as their trailer began to tremble. Curled up in a corner, she began to pray.

"It was so scary," she told USA TODAY. "You can hardly see anything because the rain was so dense and everything was shaking."

After about 20 minutes, she and her husband emerged from the trailer to find several trees knocked down across their 40-acre property, where they have hundreds of chickens, pigs, hens and lambs. Their farm was not damaged and none of the animals were hurt. Melancon said in her decades living in different parts of Louisiana, she's never experienced such a ferocious storm.

Several school districts in Louisiana and Mississippi held classes virtually or canceled sessions altogether. The Louisiana Division of Administration shuttered state office buildings on Wednesday, and officials asked "all drivers to limit driving on the roads between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.," according to a statement from Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry.

Airline delays and cancellations were reported Wednesday afternoon across the region, including at Dallas-Fort Worth and New Orleans airports.

Meteorologists anticipated that as the day continued, damaging hail, wind and possible tornadoes would slam Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, according to the National Weather Service. Thunderstorms could dump around 2 to 4 inches of rain over much of the same area and up through southwestern Georgia.

"Ensure you know where you would take shelter no matter where your day takes you," the weather service warned.

Floods swamp New Orleans streets as powerful storm system rolls through Gulf Coast (2)

Louisiana weather map

Storm heads to Midwest, East Coast

The low-pressure system battering the South is forecast to intensify, expand and track toward the Northeast throughout the rest of the week, and moderate to heavy rainfall will engulf much of the eastern U.S., including the mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, Midwest and Ohio Valley regions by Thursday.

The Carolinas, northern Florida and the mid-Atlantic region will see the greatest threat of damaging wind gusts, the weather service said. Heavy rain and potential scattered flash flooding may occur from the southern Appalachians to the northern mid-Atlantic.

Meteorologists say thunderstorms should exit the Southeast by Friday morning as a potent cold front is forecast to sweep across the country from the West Coast.

Storm damages homes in Texas, Arkansas

The severe weather began on Monday and led Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to deploy emergency response resources to badly impacted areas of the state. On Tuesday, the governor said he had deployed additional resources throughout the state.

Hail the size of quarters and ping pong balls was reported in eastern Texas, Tennessee and Arkansas on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. Powerful wind gusts reportedly toppled power lines and uprooted trees. In Pulaski County, Arkansas, 80-90 mph wind gusts damaged several homes. In Houston, a house and a barn had their roofs blown off by strong winds.

US weather watches and warnings

National weather radar

Floods swamp New Orleans streets as powerful storm system rolls through Gulf Coast (2024)
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