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Recovery efforts underway in Palmetto after EF3 tornado destroyed homes, killed one

NWS: Peak 140 mph winds, 8.7 mile path recorded
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Posted at 8:22 AM, Apr 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-10 23:27:29-04

PALMETTO, LA — One person is dead and seven people were taken to a local hospital from the severe weather that passed through Acadiana Saturday morning.

St. Landry Parish President Jessie Bellard says a tornado hit Palmetto near Highway 359 and Bolden Rd. just after two o'clock this morning.

Bellard did confirm that one person died and seven were transported to a local hospital. Five victims have been released from the hospital, while the two other victims were transported to hospitals in Lafayette and Alexandria, Bellard said.

According to the National Weather Service, one single-wide home that was tied down rolled numerous times for over 320 yards. One man died in this home. The deceased victim has been identified as 28-year-old Jose Antonio Higareda, family members and Bellard confirm, who died while being transported to the hospital.

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Two of the victims were seriously injured when a double-wide mobile home next door rolled for over 100 yards. A third home on pilings, which had five people inside, slid over 50 yards. Those five individuals received cuts and bruises, the NWS says.

A resident tells KATC her brother and her sister-in-law are two of the seven people that had to be taken to the hospital.

Gladys Johnson says the tornado going through the area sounded like an explosion.

“Boom... boom... boom...everything just sounded like a bomb," she said. "The house was shaking, and we all ran in the bathroom and we hugged each other and said a prayer. By the time we finished praying, it was over with.”

After the tornado went through the street, she went to check on her brother who lives down the street, but he and his house were both gone.

“I started calling his name, and I could hear somebody moaning and I said ‘Lionel can you hear me? If you hear me just keep answering because I’m going to find you,'" she added. "And we went over there to that area by the light pole and that’s where we found Lionel and Kathy Johnson in the ditch."

Parish President Jessie Bellard and spokesperson Van Reed spoke with media shortly before noon to provide an update on the damage.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by this storm,” said Bellard. “We’re doing everything we can to help those families.”

Bellard reported that SLEMCO, St. Landry Public Works, Animal Control and the Sheriff’s Department were already on scene and working on debris clearance and restoring power to the area. The Red Cross was en route to assist families.

The National Weather Service out of Lake Charles conducted an on site assessment in Palmetto to analyze radar damage and determine the size of the possible tornado. According to preliminary information from the NWS, the tornado has been categorized as an EF3, with peak winds reaching 140 mph. The tornado left a path 200 yards wide and traveled for 8.7 miles.

Roger Erickson with NWS says they are able to categorize a tornado by the damage it causes.

"Houses picked up thrown for hundreds of yards out into the fields. And these were houses that were tied down," he said. "These are the kind of things that cause these really high-speed winds to do.”

Drone footage courtesy of Layne Herpin/St. Landry Parish Government shows damage sustained to the Bolden Rd. area.

At the time that this article was written 15 homes, 5 vehicles, and a number of farm trailers were destroyed. 10 homes were damaged in the Bolton Rd. area and five were damaged in the area of Hwy 360. Numerous trees and power lines were snapped and some barns and outbuildings were destroyed.