Florida Panhandle

Severe Storm Damages Buildings in Florida Panhandle

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A cluster of severe storms swept across the South early Saturday, leaving one person dead in Louisiana, toppling trees and power lines in Mississippi, dropping large hail on an Alabama coastal city and leveling buildings in the Florida Panhandle.

St. Landry Parish President Jessie Bellard confirmed a man's death in an early morning tornado in Palmetto, Louisiana. Bellard told KLFY-TV that Jose Antonio Higareda, 27, was killed when the tornado smashed into the man's home.

He said seven injured people were taken to hospitals and at least eight homes were destroyed or heavily damaged, including one lifted off its foundations and plunked down nearly intact beside a road. Five of the homes were mobile homes.

“It’s just devastation for probably a quarter mile to a half mile ... There’s nothing left of the houses,” he told The Acadiana Advocate. He didn't elaborate on the extent of injuries but heavy equipment was brought in to helping to clear debris away Saturday as storm victims sought to salvage any important belongings.

In Mississippi, a possible tornado downed power lines and trees in Rankin County, but no injuries were reported.

In Panama City Beach, Florida, a home and convenience store were leveled by a possible tornado, city officials said in a Facebook post . A resident's photo posted by The Panama City News Herald shows the store's roof and walls ripped away, but its counters, shelves and the merchandise they held appear untouched. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The town is in Bay County, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018.

“Many people were saying, ‘Hey, we know what to do. Sadly, we’ve been through it before’ and they pulled together as a community,” Panama City Mayor Mark Sheldon told the News Herald. “We were seeing neighbors come out and helping other neighbors and that’s what Panama City Beach is all about.”

In Pensacola, Florida, the roof of a downtown brewery was ripped off by the storm, local news reports show. The National Weather Service has not confirmed if that was caused by a tornado, but reported winds of up to 60 mph (95 kpm). The Pensacola News Journal reports that about 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain fell.

“We are still learning about what exactly the damage is and what is going on,” Veronique Zayas, co-owner of Emerald Republic Brewing, told the paper. “But we know that the roof is a total loss. There is water damage throughout, and a lot of equipment has been damaged.”

She said it was fortunate no one was hurt.

“The brewers are normally here at 5 or 6 in the morning to start their brewing,” she said. “Luckily, no one was here.”

Images shared by news outlets showed car windshields shattered by hail about as large as baseballs in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Storms also brought heavy rain and strong winds to parts of Louisiana and Mississippi.

Bellard said search and rescue crews are out in Louisiana in the wake of the storm.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by this storm,” he said. “We're doing everything we can for those families.”

Bellard reported that SLEMCO, St. Landry Public Works, Animal Control and the Sheriff’s Department were on the scene and working on debris clearance and restoring power to the area.

The National Weather Service has said the tornado that hit the area was ranked an EF3 tornado, with wind speeds between 130 and 140 mph (between 209 and 225 kph).

Some flooding was reported. Thousands of customers in the region lost power, according to utility tracking website poweroutage.us.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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