© Al Behrman/APA high water barricade blocks a public landing along the Ohio River, Thursday in Cincinnati.
Several homes damaged; natural gas leaks prompt evacuations

Rayne - A suspected tornado hit the southwestern Louisiana town of Rayne on Saturday, injuring 12 people, leveling homes and causing natural gas leaks that prompted evacuations.

Of the 12 injuries, one was severe, a spokeswoman for the Rayne sheriff's office told

Donald Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, said Saturday that a crew is headed to the scene to determine if the high winds were a tornado. The destruction hit the Acadia Parish town of about 8,500 around 10 a.m. as a line of violent thunderstorms moved through the area.

State Police Trooper Stephen Hammons said several houses have been destroyed or damaged, and the area has been evacuated because of natural gas leaks. Utility crews were going door-to-door to check for leaks, and residents were sent to a fire station to take shelter.

There were reports of at least two ruptured gas lines, Jones said.

Trees and power lines had been knocked down across about an eighth of a mile, said Acadian Ambulance supervisor Troy Guidry. He said nine people have been taken to area hospitals, one with serious injuries and eight with minor injuries.

The National Weather Service issued several flash flood watch notices for parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.

"A slow-moving cold front with a series of low pressure systems moving along it will move across the mid-South through this evening," it said.

"Abundant Gulf moisture along and ahead of the front will result in widespread showers and thunderstorms that will produce heavy rainfall."

New Orleans Area Next?

Most of the system that hit Rayne was moving east and would be heading into the New Orleans area in the afternoon, Jones said. A tornado watch was in effect for southeastern Louisiana until 4 p.m. CT, and conditions were still favorable for twisters to form, he said.

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.