- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Gov. John Bel Edwards asked President Donald Trump to swiftly declare five parishes as federal disaster areas because of Tuesday’s tornado outbreak.

A 23-page letter faxed to the White House on Friday requests individual assistance in Orleans, Ascension, Livingston, and St. James parishes. It also seeks public assistance in those areas plus Jefferson Parish; and for statewide hazard mitigation assistance.

Nearly half of the residents of New Orleans and of Donaldsonville, in the Baton Rouge area, are poor or working poor, Edwards noted. He also wrote that because it’s Mardi Gras season, New Orleans has less temporary housing than usual.

Eastern New Orleans, the specific area hit, “is even more economically fragile” than the rest of the city, he wrote. “Therefore rental assistance is needed and a federal disaster declaration would allow section 8 voucher holders to transfer to another home,” his letter stated.

Six tornadoes hit the state Tuesday, including St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes as well as those for which Edwards requested disaster declarations.

“Fortunately, there was no loss of life, but the lives of hundreds of families and individuals have been turned upside down,” Edwards wrote, noting other affected areas also have very high poverty rates.

Edwards said the tornado damages haven’t yet met normal guidelines for federal aid to local and state governments, but help is needed because the tornadoes come atop other disasters and emergencies over the past year in a state dominated by low-wage jobs and struggling with a $304 million budget shortfall.

“Louisiana has a total of 14 open federally declared disasters, dating back to the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005,” including winter 2015-16 floods along the Mississippi River, August floods in 14 parishes, and later severe weather across 37 south Louisiana parishes, he wrote.

Individual assistance can provide up to $33,000 for people who don’t have any or enough insurance, and public assistance can provide money for emergency work and for repair or replacement of damaged facilities, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said in a news release Friday.

The National Weather Service said that Tuesday’s storm system was the first recorded as spawning two EF3 tornadoes in southeast Louisiana: one in New Orleans and the other in Watson. The category covers tornadoes with estimated winds of 136 to 165 mph.

Winds in New Orleans’ twister were estimated at up to 150 mph, with winds reaching an estimated 140 mph at Watson, north of Baton Rouge, the weather service said. It said an EF0 tornado with 80-mph winds was confirmed in Jefferson Parish, an EF1 with 105-mph winds near Donaldsonville and an EF2 with winds up to at least 125 mph traveled from Killian, east of Baton Rouge, to Madisonville, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.

The sixth tornado - an EF1 with estimated 100-mph winds north of Holden in Livingston Parish - was confirmed by Thursday evening.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, backed up Edwards’ letter with one of his own appealing for assistance.

“These are hard-working people who have rebuilt their lives and communities after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina,” he wrote. “They have now seen their homes destroyed and their lives uprooted by a natural disaster once again.”

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