RUSTON, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency today following the severe weather in north Louisiana that killed at least two people Thursday morning.
Gov. Edwards said in a news conference Thursday afternoon that the tornado that touched down in Ruston is believed to have been an EF3, which means it had winds of 136–165 mph and caused severe damage.
Edwards also identified the two people known to have died in the storms as Kendra Butler, 35, and Remington Butler, 14, who was a high school freshman. Officials said they were killed with a tree fell on their home near I-20 in Ruston overnight. Edwards said it is not known yet whether there are additional fatalities because some areas are inaccessible.
The governor said they are working to get into those areas.
“First and foremost, Donna and I send our prayers and condolences to the families of those who were killed this morning and to the people of north Louisiana. We are grateful for the local officials and emergency responders who quickly took action in the immediate aftermath of these storms,” Gov. Edwards said. “Assistance is already on the move to the affected parishes, and the state will use every available resource to help citizens and local governments rebuild and recover. At this time, we are continuing to assess the ground conditions in Ruston and the surrounding areas, and we are monitoring weather conditions throughout the state. Storms in Louisiana are not over today, and I urge citizens to closely monitor local media for weather-related information and stay safe.”
The storms sent trees into houses, ripped roofs off buildings and caused Louisiana Tech to cancel classes Thursday and Friday. No students were injured but that trees and power lines were down in several places on campus.
“Devastation is the way it looks,” said Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker after flying over the city in a helicopter to assess the damage. “The number of houses with trees completely through them was incredible.”
The tornado was part of a thunderstorm that left a trail of damage from eastern Texas into northern Louisiana but Ruston – a city of about 24,000 people – appeared to get the worst of it.
The disaster declaration is in effect until May 25, 2019.
Information for the public regarding roads is available at 511la.org. Additionally, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness is constantly updating their social media accounts and has emergency resources available at getagameplan.org and at emergency.la.gov.
Edwards, who’s led the state through multiple natural disasters, said the damage he saw Thursday was remarkable in the way it spared and devastated areas so close together.
“You see one side of the street seems perfectly normal and everything on the other side of the street severely damaged,” he said.
Walker said that immediately after the tornado swept through Ruston, about three-quarters of the area was without power. Restoration was ongoing, but he said by the end of the day they expect about 25% to 30% of the town will be without power.
The tornado was part of a severe weather system that pounded Texas with rain Wednesday, killing a woman and two children caught in a flash flood, before moving into Mississippi Thursday.
National Weather Service hydrologist C. S. Ross said the tornado hit Ruston at 1:50 a.m. It was part of a line of “continuous damage” that stretched about 150 miles (241 kilometers) from Texas into Louisiana, he said. Officials would be using satellite data to determine whether it was a single tornado that ripped through the entire area, although Ross said that does not appear likely.
The National Weather Service said on Twitter that the tornado that hit Ruston was an EF3, meaning it had winds of at least 136 mph (219 kph). They said an EF1 tornado hit near Mooringsport, Louisiana, while an EF2 tornado hit near San Augustine, Texas.