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Tornado from remnants of Beryl destroy homes in NC

The remnants of Tropical Storm Beryl spun off a tornado that destroyed three homes and damaged dozens of others near the North Carolina coast Wednesday as the system sped toward the Atlantic, authorities said.

Between 40 and 50 homes were damaged near Peletier in the western part of Carteret County, said county Emergency Services Director Jo Ann Smith. She said there were no reports of injuries.

Many homes suffered only minor damage, but three were destroyed when the winds came through shortly before noon, she said.

Casey Dail, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morehead City, said investigators confirmed it was a tornado that caused the damage but said the strength of the twister had not yet been determined.

The remnants of the storm were skimming the North Carolina coast and prompting flood watches in eastern North Carolina. Beryl was expected to gain strength even as it loses its tropical characteristics.

Heavy rains from the storm caused some scattered street and lowland flooding near Wilmington, N.C., as the system approached. Loris., S.C., near the border of the two Carolinas, received more than 3 inches of rain, and radar showed heavy showers along the Interstate 95 corridor in the two states.

The tropical depression gained some strength overnight and winds increased to near 35 mph (56 kph)

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said the storm was losing its characteristics as a warm core weather system as it interacted with a weather front. The center was located 5 miles (8 kilometers) west of Wilmington and was moving northeast at 20 mph (32 kph).

Forecasters said Beryl was expected to become a post-tropical storm by late Wednesday and could strengthen to maximum 50 mph (80 kph) winds well out in the Atlantic by Saturday. Tropical storm force winds of more than 39 mph (63 kph) were expected to stay off the North Carolina coast Wednesday, so no coastal warnings had been posted.

Reid Hawkins, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said the storm had picked up speed and was expected to dump between 1 and 3 inches of rain in eastern North Carolina. Earlier forecasts had called for upward of 8 inches in areas. He said Wilmington had received about 2.5 inches of rain by late Wednesday morning.

Forecasters said the depression was expected to move along the coast of the Carolinas before heading back over the Atlantic. They warned of dangerous surf conditions, including rip currents.

Hawkins said rain, not wind, was the concern with the system — and the rain would be welcome. He said Wilmington has received only about 75 percent of its normal rainfall this year.

Beryl came ashore near Jacksonville, Fla., just after midnight on Memorial Day as a tropical storm with 70 mph (113 kph) winds. It dumped 10 inches of rain in some areas of north Florida.

It struck Cumberland Island National Seashore off the Georgia coast. The island, part of the National Park Service, will remain closed to visitors until the weekend to give rangers time to clean up.

Fred Boyles, the island's superintendent, said Wednesday that downed trees and other debris still need to be cleared before Cumberland re-opens Saturday. Rangers evacuated the federally protected wilderness area reachable only by boat last Sunday, well ahead of the tropical storm's landfall.

The island off Georgia's southeast corner gets about 43,500 visitors each year.

Beryl is the second named tropical system of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season, which doesn't officially begin until Friday.