- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2011

RAYNE, La. | As the storm roared over Pauline Patton’s apartment, she peered out the window and saw something unnerving: A funnel cloud. Suddenly, the power went out. Rainwater poured through the ceiling. And as everything went black, she heard what sounded like a bomb exploding overhead.

Still, residents said the tornado that killed a woman the previous day and displaced hundreds could have been much worse. Many have turned their attention to taking care of pets and retrieving essentials left behind while evacuating.

Ms. Patton, 64, and her husband, Howard, were having lunch Sunday at a fire station-turned-shelter, courtesy of the Red Cross. They weren’t sure when — or whether — they would be able to return to their apartment. About two dozen people were also at the shelter, with nowhere else to go.

“It just happened so fast,” she said. “You couldn’t hardly see nothing. Everything was dark.”

Some 1,500 people were unable to return to their homes in this community about 70 miles west of Baton Rouge, said Rayne Police Chief Carroll Stelly. About 150 homes had been damaged or destroyed as wind speed reached 135 mph, leaving at least 12 with reportable injuries. Others could not return to their homes because workers were still surveying damage and trying to get utilities running again.

On Sunday, a cat curled in the sun on top of the demolished home where 21-year-old Jalisa Granger was killed.

Ms. Granger had been protecting her 15-month-old son, Tyrek, when part of an oak tree crashed onto the home. Her mother and brother were also inside. An uncle had to cut a hole in the wreckage to pull out the three survivors, said Ms. Granger’s cousin, 35-year-old Donita Wilridge.

“My aunt said that within 30 seconds it was over,” Ms. Wilridge said.

Ms. Granger’s son is too young to understand what happened to his mother, who was studying nursing at LSU at Eunice.

“He just keeps hollering for her,” Ms. Wilridge said.

Elsewhere, mud-soaked belongings were strewn about the yards. Emergency workers spray-painted symbols on homes they had checked. Splintered wood, glass shards and metal littered yards, while aluminum siding was wrapped around trees. Chainsaws hummed in the distance as crews removed downed tree limbs from power lines.

Gov. Bobby Jindal was meeting with officials to survey the devastation. He said more would be known about federal assistance when teams from the state and federal government assess the damage.

“These are a strong people. We are going to rebuild back better and stronger than we were before,” Mr. Jindal said.

Marla Andrew, 50, was waiting at the police department, hoping someone could get her back to her home so she could check on her terrier Keosha. The animal had gone a full day without food or water. Ms. Andrew had been giving her elderly mother a bath when the storm hit.

“I was so worried about getting my mom out of there I completely forgot about the dog,” said Ms. Andrew, whose home was not significantly damaged but was located in the evacuation area.

In that same waiting room, 50-year-old Reginald Mouton was hoping he could at least retrieve an essential piece of medical equipment and avoid a second sleepless night. Mr. Mouton uses a machine to help control his sleep apnea, a disorder that causes pauses in breathing while people sleep.

Police had given him about 15 to 20 minutes to pack a bag when his neighborhood was evacuated, and he forgot the device. Nonetheless, he was grateful his home was not seriously damaged.

“I’m very fortunate. We as a community are very fortunate,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

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