Louisiana put on high alert as tornado kills mother and toddler
A tornado has overturned a mobile home in Louisiana, killing a mother and her three-year-old daughter as a storm system with hurricane-force winds crawled across the Deep South, damaging homes and businesses.
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards put the state on "high alert" and warned residents to stay off the roads. He urged people to keep their mobile phones charged and close by so they can get weather alerts through the day.
"It is an extremely dangerous weather event," he said.
Parts of Arkansas and Mississippi were also under threat of tornadoes, but the bullseye was on much of Louisiana. The system packed heavy rain and large hailstones and sparked flash flooding. Up to 6in of rain could fall in some areas.
A tornado with peak winds of 110mph travelled for nearly a mile on the ground in the rural community of Breaux Bridge, about 50 miles west of Baton Rouge, the National Weather Service reported.
St Martin Parish Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Major Ginny Higgins said the tornado touched down soon after a warning was issued.
"Seconds later it hit," Ms Higgins said. "It hit the trailer, flipped it and tore its side off. There was a mother and daughter inside and both were killed."
She said 38-year-old Francine Gotch and three-year-old Nevaeh Alexander were pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told KLFY-TV that the father out when the storm hit and returned home to find the bodies amid the debris.
Relatives described those killed as a fun-loving pair who smiled frequently.
Nevaeh "was the sweetest little girl", said Sheryle Rubin, who is engaged to the girl's uncle. "She was only three years old but was the smartest girl in the world. She would've started school in August."
The weather agency warned that it was a "particularly dangerous situation" in Louisiana, which the governor noted was a rare high-level warning. Straight-line winds could reach upward of 80mph winds. Hurricanes have at least 74mph winds.
"This is a statewide weather event," the governor said. "It's likely to be an all-night event. We don't expect the weather system to leave the state of Louisiana until some time tomorrow morning."
Another hard-hit area in Louisiana was the city of Alexandria, where winds blew off the roof of a filling station and knocked out power to thousands, KALB reported.
National Weather Service meteorologist John Hart said there was a significant risk for Mississippi and Alabama as the system keeps moving east.
Fire officials in the Texas village of Point Venture said several people witnessed an apparent funnel cloud on Sunday morning, and several structures suffered severe damage.
A Texas state trooper reported seeing a suspected tornado touch down early on Sunday near Centre Point, about 55 miles north west of San Antonio. National Weather Service meteorologist Yvette Benavides said there were no reports of major or structural damage.