High winds blew rail cars off the Huey P. Long Bridge and more than 200,000 homes and businesses lost power Monday morning as a line of severe thunderstorms moved across southeast Louisiana.
Five rail cars carrying six to eight freight containers fell from the bridge outside New Orleans, Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Jeff DeGraff said. The National Weather Service reported a 70 mph wind gust at the New Orleans airport.
"According to the crew, they were on the downslope of the bridge heading off the bridge and were working on pulling off onto a siding. Before they could get to that siding, ... the five cars were blown off of the back end," DeGraff said. "They were moving very slowly because they were looking to pull into a siding and being cautious at the weather."
A video by WGNO-TV, taken through a windshield into a driving rain, shows a double-stacked freight container tilting, then apparently pulling over the cars just ahead of and behind it. The big, rectangular containers fall ponderously to the ground, followed by the flat, wheeled platforms that had carried them. There is a bright flash as one car lands, followed almost immediately by a shower of sparks from a nearby power pole.
None of the containers held hazardous cargo, nobody was injured and the cars did not land on any vehicles or businesses, DeGraff said.
Trees blew down across south Louisiana, the weather service reported. One hit a house but residents got out safely, Thibodaux police said.
Entergy Louisiana, the state's largest power company, reported more than 174,300 customers without power at one point. Cleco reported nearly 24,400, and the Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative nearly 4,200. Nearly 161,000 were still without power at midafternoon.
Only 100 or so customers at Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative lost power during the rain, operations manager Michael Stafford said.
"Once the rain passed, we started getting tremendous winds. There was no rain, but the ground was saturated, and trees started falling," he said.