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Tornadoes Pummel Gulf States

June 9, 1989

Undated (AP) _ Tornadoes ripped through two small towns in Louisiana and Florida on Thursday, destroying more than 30 homes and killing five people. Tornadoes, rain and high wind from thunderstorms also caused damage in parts of Mississippi and Alabama.

One twister smashed into the Florida Panhandle town of East Point early Thursday night, destroying several homes. A mother, her daughter and grandson were killed in one home, officials said.

The violent weather began developing along the Gulf Coast on Wednesday, when a man who sought shelter in a metal-roofed shed near Stapleto, Ala., was killed by lightning.

Tornadoes skipped across several Louisiana parishes early Thursday.

One twister struck the small town of Grosse Tete, La., about 6 a.m. Thursday, destroying at least 25 residences and injuring about two dozen people, in addition to the man and woman killed, authorities said.

″We can’t imagine how more aren’t dead,″ Willie Hurdle, a member of the Iberville Parish Police Jury, said of the town of 790 people. ″This is devastating. There’s about 20 houses that aren’t even here anymore.″

No serious injuries were reported 15 miles away in Baton Rouge, where Fire Chief Ron Spillman said at least four twisters touched down 19 times, destroying or damaging almost 70 mobile homes and 25 to 30 houses.

Spillman estimated that between 400 and 600 people lived in the destroyed or damaged residences. A shelter was set up at a high school for those left homeless.

Pieces of mobile homes were strewn in tree tops in Grosse Tete. About 100 people were evacuated and were put up in emergency shelters, Hurdle said. The storm left the town without electricity, natural gas, water and most telephone service.

One elderly woman was rescued from the rubble of her home after rescuers used a power saw to cut through a pile of wood. Dogs were taken to the area to search for more bodies and trapped survivors.

Gov. Buddy Roemer toured the area by helicopter and Rep. Clyde Holloway, R- La., said he would seek a federal disaster declaration.

Over a two-hour period, tornadoes also were reported in the parishes of West Baton Rouge, St. Helena, Livingston and Tangipahoa. The early morning tornadoes in southeastern Louisiana followed a night of violent weather in the western and central part of the state in which several homes were destroyed or damaged late Wednesday, but no serious injuries were reported.

A line of thunderstorms that pounded the Florida Panhandle produced several tornadoes. One ripped through East Point, about 85 miles southeast of Tallahassee, at about 7 p.m. EDT.

Three houses and three mobile homes were destroyed and two businesses heavily damaged, Franklin County Sheriff’s deputies said. The three people killed were a 16-year-old boy, his mother, 33, and his grandmother, 51.

Other tornadoes destroyed a house, damaged a supermarket and knocked down two temporary buildings. At least 6 inches of rain fell at Milton, the National Weather Service reported.

A U.S. park ranger suffered a broken arm and cuts Thursday when a tornado destroyed the entrance station at the Fort Pickens section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore on the western Florida Panhandle. She was thrown 10 to 15 yards and only the concrete foundation of the station was left, officials said.

Another tornado hit Ellisville, Miss., damaging buildings and uprooting trees. Trees and power lines were down across from the campus of Jones County Community College, where summer classes were underway, but officials said there was no campus damage as earlier reported.

Mississippi Power Co. official Dana Hill said most power in Ellisville was restored by early afternoon.

Heavy rain was reported in several areas of Mississippi during the night, with up to 4 inches on coastal sections.

A half-mile section of U.S. 49 near Brooklyn, Miss., was closed after water gushed around an overloaded culvert and cut a tunnel underneath the two-lane roadbed, Highway Department resident engineer Ed Schaub said. The roadbed did not wash out, but a section of pavement about 12 feet long cracked and dropped about 18 inches.

Tornadoes touched down in several communities on the Alabama coast, causing minor injuries and destroying two homes in Orange Beach, damaging 23 others, and overturning a mobile home in Robertsdale, said Lee Helms of the state Emergency Management Agency. More than a dozen mobile homes were damaged in Bay Minette, and a house was damaged in Lillian, near the Florida border, officials said.

At Gulf Shores, Ala., Police Chief Arthur Bourne said the coastal resort experienced ″a little beach erosion, high winds and heavy rain. But mostly we’ve just hit-and-missed with tornadoes and water spouts.″

Alabama Power Co. reported that 22,000 customers in the Mobile area were without power. Lightning apparently struck a substation that caught fire, power company spokesman Bernie Fogarty said. The city got 2 inches of rain between midnight and noon.

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