BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) - Several tornadoes lashed southern Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 30 as the storms destroyed dozens of homes and businesses and toppled a water tower, weather and emergency officials said.
Hardest hit in Louisiana was the Mississippi River hamlet of Convent, where 90 percent of the estimated 160 mobile homes at the Sugar Hill trailer park were demolished, state police superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson told a news conference.
“This is some of the worst damage that I’ve seen in my 36 years with the state police,” Edmonson said.
Governor John Bel Edwards said two people were known to have died at the trailer park and two or three others were reported unaccounted for. Rescue crews with dogs combed through debris searching for anyone who might have been trapped.
Authorities said they hoped the missing might turn up later in area hospitals or elsewhere among the survivors in Convent, located about 60 miles (100 km) west of New Orleans.
“These travel trailers were picked up, thrown a considerable distance and just mangled,” Edwards said after surveying the damage. He said it was “a minor miracle” the casualty toll was not higher because most of the trailers were occupied when the storm hit.
The National Weather Service confirmed one other fatality near the southern Mississippi town of Purvis, where a mobile home was destroyed.
Acadian ambulance services in Louisiana said it had transported 31 people to area hospitals in St. James Parish, most of them from the trailer park, and five others from neighboring parishes, according to the agency’s Twitter feed.
There were additional reports of survivors being taken to hospitals in private cars, and other ambulance operators were responding to the emergency, indicating the tally of injuries would likely climb higher.
The governor declared a state of emergency in seven parishes that bore the brunt of the storms.
The storm system posed a continuing tornado threat as it swept east through the night across Mississippi and into Alabama, said Mike Efferson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New Orleans.
The Weather Service said Alabama could see tornadoes and hail early Wednesday.
Storms were expected to hit southwestern Georgia by midnight and could reach Atlanta and central Georgia before the morning rush hour on Wednesday, meteorologist Adam Baker said.
Tens of thousands of customers were without power in Louisiana at the height of the storms, according to Entergy Louisiana, the main electricity supplier in the area.
In Louisiana’s Assumption Parish, a tornado knocked down a water tower and damaged homes, said Deputy Robert Martin of the sheriff’s office.
Up to 20 homes were reported destroyed, and firefighters rescued residents with minor injuries from four homes, said John Boudreaux, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Assumption Parish.
Residents reported damage to homes from tornadoes and golf ball-sized hail on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as the system barreled across the U.S. South, Efferson said.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryan declared a state of emergency for areas expected to be affected by the storm.
Schools and government offices canceled classes or closed early in Louisiana and Mississippi as severe weather warnings lined up from Louisiana to Florida and Georgia.
Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Diane Craft, Cynthia Osterman, Lisa Shumaker and Leslie Adler