Reported Tornado Damages Florida Homes

Severe weather, including a possible tornado, damaged about 50 homes, shearing the entire second story off one home, authorities said Friday.

Radar indicated a tornado touched down late Thursday night and had spun off from a storm system that crossed through central Florida before spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Weather Service. The system was being monitored Friday, with Gulf Coast residents and the oil industry making early preparations.

One person suffered a minor cut, but 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.

"It's amazing — we're completely blessed," said Brett MacLaughlin, who safely rode out the storm with his mother and stepfather in a bathroom as tree limbs crashed through windows. "The entire neighborhood is very blessed."

Herrell said 20 houses were uninhabitable and about 30 others have broken windows, debris from fallen tree branches or roof damage. He said the second story was shorn off one house, 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.

MacLaughlin said he, his mother and stepfather were sitting on their 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 storm caused much less damage than the tornadoes that hit the same area in February, killing 21 people and destroying hundreds of homes in Lake, Sumter and Volusia counties.

The storms were part of a low pressure system centered off Florida's Gulf Coast that could strengthen and bring rain and tropical storm-force wind along parts of the coast as early as Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.

In Louisiana, the governor declared a state of emergency late Thursday, putting the National Guard on alert and school buses, ambulances and evacuation shelter workers on standby.

Oil industry workers have left five production platforms in the gulf, and three drilling rigs have been evacuated, according to the federal Minerals Management Service. In Mississippi, officials in coastal Hancock County handed out sandbags.