Cleanup Begins in Florida After Violent Storms Hit State on Christmas

Cleanup began Tuesday across Florida and relief workers offered help after a band of storms damaged hundreds of homes where people celebrated Christmas.

At least one tornado touched down in the state on Monday as a squall line produced by a deep low pressure system moved across Florida and southeast Georgia from the Gulf of Mexico, dumping several inches of rain.

The confirmed F-2 tornado hit the Daytona Beach area, where high winds tore portions of the roof from three apartment buildings and caused extensive damage to many of their 240 units. The wind also hurled an airplane through a building wall at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, causing a fire. About 50 other planes at the university were also damaged by winds that snapped off their wings and caused them to overturn.

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Estelle Hunter, 25, left five minutes before the winds uprooted a tree and slammed it through the roof of her home in the area. She tried to salvage some of her possessions from the rubble.

"It's all gone," she said. "All of my baby's Christmas presents are under water."

Injuries reported in the storms were relatively minimal, which authorities called remarkable.

"It's near miraculous that no one was killed," Bart Hagemeyer, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Melbourne, said Tuesday.

Hagemeyer said authorities were still surveying damage in two other hard-hit areas of the state — near Leesburg and DeLand — which he said also appeared to be struck by tornadoes.

The Volusia County Property Appraiser's Office said more than 200 homes in a number of DeLand area mobile home parks were damaged.

In Pasco County, along the gulf coast north of Tampa, officials reported about 80 homes damaged or destroyed, largely at the Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club.

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Elaine Mandela was among those forced from their home. She spent Monday night with friends, but said she was unsure what she would do after.

"I have no idea," she said. "I'm not sure it has hit me yet."

Thousands of homes lost power during the storms, but it was largely restored Tuesday. Numerous injuries were reported, but most were minor.