Mother describes tornado that picked up home, family inside

Rebecca Santana
Associated Press

Arabi, Louisiana — The tornado that ripped through a New Orleans suburb lifted one house into the air and dropped it onto the middle of a street with a family inside.

Neighbors said the parents of a girl climbed out of the wreckage screaming frantically for help. Their daughter, who was on a breathing machine, was trapped in the house.

A house that was moved off its foundation during the tornado Tuesday night sits in the street about 30 feet away in Arabi, La., on Wednesday, March 23, 2022.

On Wednesday, as she tried to salvage items from the one-story house that had been moved 30 feet by the storm, mother Dea Castellanos described to The Associated Press through a translator how she heard rain and wind outside while she was sitting on her living room couch Tuesday.

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The next thing she knew, Castellanos said, she could feel the house spin through a full rotation and she ended up in a bedroom.

Dea Castellanos walks through her destroyed house in Arabi, La., Wednesday, March 23, 2022. The house was moved off its foundation during the tornado Tuesday night and landed in the street about 30 feet away.

When the family was finally able to emerge, Castellanos noticed that her house was in the street. Her daughter, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, was stuck in her bedroom, calling for her mother.

“They were screaming. His wife was hysterical,” neighbor Chuck Heirsch, who called 911, told The Times-Picayune / New Orleans Advocate when he saw his neighbors trying to get to their daughter. “They were already traumatized from taking that ‘Wizard of Oz’ ride.”

The rest passed like a blur, Castellanos said. An ambulance came to take her daughter to the hospital, where she was operated on overnight and is now all right, she said. Describing the rescue, St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said the hospitalized girl was “doing fine.”

A displaced and destroyed house sits in the middle of a street after a tornado struck the area in Arabi, La., Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Friends and relatives helped Castellanos clean out what belongings could be saved from inside the shattered home, like clothes and mementos, on Wednesday. One of the birds Castellanos kept as pets was standing on the floor, scattered debris all around.

Castellanos said she was thankful for everyone who had come to help with the cleanup, bringing food, garbage bags and work gloves.