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US tornado kills mother, displaces 1 500

07 March 2011, 11:00

Rayne - Officials worked on Sunday to get people back into their homes a day after a tornado ripped through this southwestern Louisiana town, killing a mother shielding her child from the fierce winds and leaving 12 hurt.

Many of the 1 500 residents who had been evacuated were being allowed to return to their homes in this community about 112km west of Baton Rouge, said Rayne Police Chief Carroll Stelly.

"If they have power and they have no barricade tape, they can sleep the night away," Stelly said.

However, about 100 damaged homes were still barricaded off. Forty were uninhabitable and 60 hadn't been inspected yet, Stelly said.

Around 150 homes had been damaged or destroyed as winds topped out at 217k/h, leaving at least 12 with injuries that were not life-threatening.

Pauline Patton, aged 64, and her husband, Howard, were at their apartment when she looked out the window and saw a funnel cloud bearing down on them. Suddenly, the power went out.

Rainwater poured through the ceiling. Everything went black. It was like a bomb exploding as it passed over them, she said.

"It just happened so fast," she said. "You couldn't hardly see nothing. Everything was dark."

The couple were having lunch on Sunday at the fire station-turned-shelter, courtesy of the Red Cross. They weren't sure when - or if - they'll be able to move back into the apartment.

Most uninsured

The home where Jalisa Granger, aged 21, had died was completely crushed by part of an oak tree. She, her toddler son and her mother all had to be pulled from the wreckage by neighbours and relatives on Saturday, said Maxine Trahan, a spokesperson for the Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office.

The area hit hardest was composed of mostly low- to moderate-income homes.

"My heart goes out to the residents because a lot of them don't have any insurance," Trahan said. "So where do they begin?"

On Sunday, a cat stretched on top of the demolished home where Granger had been, sunning itself. Elsewhere, people's mud-soaked belongings had been strewn about the streets.

Emergency workers had been spray-painting symbols on homes that they had checked. Splintered wood, glass shards and metal littered yards, while aluminium siding had been wrapped around trees.

The only sound was the occasional hum of a chainsaw in the distance, being used to cut downed tree limbs from power lines.

Meanwhile, the police chief asked people to be patient while officials worked to make sure it was safe for people to come back to their homes or retrieve belongings. Stelly said they had not decided when to let people back in to the swath of town that had been closed off.

Of the 1 500 displaced, only about two-dozen stayed in a shelter set up at a local fire station.

- AP

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