RAYNE, La. — A tornado slammed a southwestern Louisiana town Saturday, killing a young mother who was sheltering her child and injuring 11 other people. More than 100 homes and businesses were damaged, many of them destroyed, authorities said, and about 1,500 people were evacuated because of natural gas leaks.
Maxine Trahan, a spokeswoman for the Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office, said 21-year-old Jalisa Granger was killed when a tree fell on her house.
"She sheltered the child to protect her from the storm and a tree fell on the house and it killed the mother but the child was OK," Trahan said, adding that a relative who lived nearby found them.
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Authorities say the tornado, which brought winds reaching 135 mph (217 kph), had sprung from a vast storm system kicking up abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. That storm system was poised to spread rain Sunday up the Carolinas and into the Northeast as forecasters warned of the threat of heavy rains in the Southeast and a mix of rain and snow farther north.
Debris was littered throughout Rayne, a town of about 8,500 people some 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baton Rouge. A line of violent thunderstorms moved through the area and left behind a swath of damage about a quarter of a mile (400 meters) wide to three miles (4.8 kilometers) long.
In Rayne, sheet metal roofing clung to trees, chunks of homes were ripped and tossed about, and downed tree limbs smashed cars. A U.S. Postal Service truck was flipped to its side.
Trahan said the natural gas leaks, which were later fixed, delayed authorities trying to count how many homes and businesses were damaged. About 1,500 people were ordered out of the area for the night, she said, because officials feared more gas leaks could occur.
A temporary shelter was set up at a fire station — about two dozen people were there during the night. A curfew was imposed for the storm-damaged area until early Sunday, which was in part meant to keep looters away.
The system that hit Rayne quickly moved east and drenched New Orleans, where several Mardi Gras parades either were delayed, canceled or started earlier because of the severe weather.
"There are houses off their foundations," said State Police Trooper Stephen Hammons. "There are houses that have been destroyed."
The National Weather Service sent a team to investigate and confirmed a tornado had struck the area.
The tornado's maximum estimated wind speed was 135 mph and it was classified EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, a NWS forecaster said late Saturday.
In Crowley, three members of the Iota High School baseball team received minor injuries and needed stitches after a window at the Waffle House was busted out while they were inside eating breakfast, police told NBC News.
The twister touched down near the Waffle House and Sunbelt Motors, dislodging some air conditioning units at Waffle House and destroying a storage shed at Sunbelt Motors, officials told NBC News. The Geaux Cup, next door to Sunbelt Motors, also had minor damage.Story: Corn Belt gets ready for major spring flooding
The Weather Channel also reported that the eastern third of the U.S. would likely see precipitation as a major storm strengthened as it moved from the Ohio Valley into the Northeast.
It has drawn up a map showing the areas most at risk from tornadoes in March.
The Associated Press and The Weather Channel contributed to this report.