Florida Tornado Strikes 50 Homes

Damage from EF-1 tornado in Eustis, Fla. WKMG/Local6.com

Severe weather, including a confirmed tornado, damaged about 50 homes in central Florida before the system became a subtropical depression Friday and had parts of the Gulf Coast under tropical storm warnings.

The EF-1 tornado struck Eustis with maximum winds estimated near 105 mph. One person suffered a minor cut, and no other injuries were reported in the area about 30 miles northwest of Orlando, Lake County sheriff's Sgt. John Herrell said. Crews went door to door to make sure everyone was safe after the storm.

Radar indicated a tornado touched down late Thursday from a storm system that crossed through the state before spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters said.

That system developed into a subtropical depression hours later, with tropical storm warnings posted from Apalachicola in Florida's Panhandle westward to the mouth of the Mississippi River, including New Orleans, the National Hurricane Center said.

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the depression had top sustained winds of about 35 mph and was centered about 45 miles southwest of Apalachicola. The depression's center will be moving nearly parallel to the coastline Friday, forecasters said. Rain and wind from the system were still over parts of Florida.

The depression could strengthen slightly, but its poor organization and cool air in the gulf should keep it from becoming more than a weak tropical storm, forecasters said.

"A landfall location is difficult to pinpoint, but in any event the center of a subtropical cyclone is relatively unimportant. Most of the weather associated with the system is well-displaced from the center," senior hurricane specialist James Franklin said.

The city of Eustis was particularly hard hit. "We had about 20 homes that are uninhabitable and have been marked, and about 30 more with some significant damage," City Manager Paul Berg told CBS Radio.

Berg said much of the damage was to roofs and lots of downed trees. "This is an area that has a lot of old, large trees, and we lost quite a few of them," he told CBS.

Herrell said one house has its second story shorn off, but the residents escaped unharmed.

Television news footage showed a boat overturned in a yard, a toppled mobile home and downed trees. About 300 people were without electricity, but power was expected to be restored by sundown, officials said.

Michael Wright told CBS affiliate WKMG correspodnent Jessica D'Onofrio that he was sleeping on a couch seconds before winds sucked the home's roof away - and then the room.

"I stood up because the house was shaking," Wright said. "By the time I stood up and made it through the doorway, the roof blew off." The home was destroyed.

"You put a lot of your heart into your home and you put a lot of your blood, sweat and tears and everything," Marie Wright said.

Brett MacLaughlin said he, his mother and stepfather were sitting on their back porch, watching the thunderstorm, when they noticed odd cloud formations and an eerie quiet.

"That's when we started to hear the freight train that everybody talks about," said MacLaughlin, 20. "It just got louder. The wind picked up immensely within seconds."

The trio ran into the bathroom, where water began pouring out of the toilet as the apparent tornado passed. After the two-minute ordeal, MacLaughlin said he walked out of the bathroom to see a jumble of glass and leaves in the home. A 1950s-era barn behind the home was demolished, he said.

  • CBSNews

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