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Mother killed protecting daughter during tornado, mayor says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Tornado wreaks havoc in Louisiana
  • NEW: After steady rain Saturday, sun and warmth are forecast Sunday in New Orleans
  • NEW: Flood warnings are in effect for towns along several rivers, including the Mississippi
  • A mayor calls the death of a 21-year-old woman "unfortunate," asking for prayers
  • The tornado had winds as strong as 135 mph and damaged a 5-mile stretch

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(CNN) -- A mother died trying to protect her daughter when a tornado hit her home, a Louisiana mayor said, one of at least two twisters tied to a weather system that's caused major damage in the state and wreaked havoc on Mardi Gras festivities.

Rayne, Louisiana, Mayor James "Jimbo" Petitjean told reporters that the 21-year-old woman, who was not identified, was killed when a tree fell on her house. Her daughter is "doing fine, from what we heard," he said.

"It's unfortunate, and that's where we really need your prayers," Petijean said.

The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes hit that city, about 80 miles west of Baton Rouge, and the nearby city of Crowley on Saturday morning.

In addition to the mother who died, at least 11 were hurt when the twister struck Rayne at about 10 a.m., according to Police Chief Carroll Stelly.

Packing winds between 111 and 135 mph, the tornado was 300 yards wide and produced damage over a 5-mile stretch, according to the weather service.

The northwest section of Rayne was especially hard hit, with video from CNN affiliate KATC showing several buildings leveled, lots reduced to rubble and large trees knocked down.

Petijean said the city's electricity infrastructure was badly damaged, with power going out for all its 10,000 residents soon after the tornado came through. The mayor said he hoped electricity could be restored to 80% of the city by day's end, as utility workers try to rework the grid to maximize access.

In addition, several houses were knocked off their foundations and there were reports of gas leaks, which led to mandatory evacuations of about 1,500 residents in the city's northwest, Petijean said. Emergency personnel went door-to-door to make sure everyone had left their homes, state police Trooper Stephen Hammons said.

The mayor said a curfew is being imposed in part of the city, with people asked to stay indoors until 6 a.m. Sunday while authorities check to ensure all is safe. Some of those evacuated are being cared for by the Red Cross.

The impact zone is an area about one to two square miles, said Rayne police dispatcher Whitney Thibodaux. Among the buildings affected were a public housing units and Rayne High School, with damage to the computer room, library and gym.

Three people, meanwhile, suffered injuries when the twister hit Crowley, according to the National Weather Service.

Debris was reported along a 2-mile-long damage path on Interstate 10, and there was damage to a Waffle House, car wash and several residences.

About 150 miles to the east, meanwhile, revelers and residents of New Orleans were soaked much of Saturday as steady rains fell on the city. This weekend -- the last one before Ash Wednesday -- is traditionally one of the busiest in The Big Easy, with people partying and enjoying Mardi Gras festivities.

The inclement weather forced several changes to the Mardi Gras schedule, including the delay of the Krewe of Endymion parade from Saturday to Sunday, according to a release from the New Orleans Police Department. Other parade-related festivities were pushed up to start earlier Saturday, given the rain-soaked forecast for Saturday afternoon and beyond.

The rain stopped later Saturday in New Orleans and the weather service's forecast called for sunny conditions Sunday, with high temperatures in the lower 60s.

A flood advisory remains in effect through Monday morning for numerous communities along the Mississippi River, including parts of Chicot and Desha counties in Arkansas; Adams, Bolivar, Isaquena, Washington, Madison and Wilkinson counties in Mississippi; and Claiborne, East Caroll, Jefferson, Tensas and Warren parishes in Louisiana.

There were also flood warnings in effect for the Atchafalaya River at Morgan City, Louisiana, through Sunday afternoon; the Tchefuncte River in Covington, Louisiana, through Monday at noon; and the Bogue Falaya River at Camp Covington, Louisiana, through Tuesday morning.

CNN's Craig Bell, Tina Burnside and Jacqui Jeras contributed to this report