A tornado that touched down in northern Broward County on Wednesday morning turned over trucks, sent cars airborne and was blamed for the loss of electricity in thousands of households. Injuries to three people were minor, authorities said.
“We’re estimating the highest wind was somewhere in the 90- to 100-mph range,” said Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “Elsewhere along the path, it was less than that.”
The tornado was a little over two miles long, with a maximum width of about 100 feet. It ripped through landscapes, buildings and vehicles and touched down at least three times, the weather service said.
It first landed about 9:30 a.m. in a neighborhood southwest of Broward College North near Coconut Creek Parkway in Coconut Creek, before moving on to toss cars in the school’s parking lot.
The heaviest damage was to homes to the north of the school, at the eastern edge of the Wynmoor Village Retirement Community, Molleda said.
It continued east and crossed Florida’s Turnpike, leaving wrecks in its wake and traffic in disarray for a couple of hours.
It took aim at a homeless shelter on Blount Road in Pompano Beach before rising back to the clouds near Copans Road.
Though the weather service said it issued warnings for parts of southern Palm Beach County, the tornado did not strike there.
A police official in Boca Raton said heavy rain brought high water and a few accidents; in Delray Beach, a police spokeswoman said no flooding or significant accidents were reported.
Weather conditions, including severe thunderstorms that spawned Wednesday’s tornado, are forecast to last through Thursday afternoon, Molleda said.
“We’re certainly not done with the bad weather, even if it may or may not be tornadic,” Molleda said. “Tornadoes are not out of the question, but we’re not saying it’s a very high likelihood.”
A flying car on Florida’s Turnpike
Perhaps the most dramatic evidence of the storm’s power was when a car traveling south on Florida’s Turnpike was carried to the northbound lanes of the highway, Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Wysocky said.
The woman inside survived after her car flew over the highway divider and landed facing oncoming traffic, but safe on the east shoulder of the northbound lanes, Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue spokesman Mike Jachles said.
“She had minor injuries and we took her to Broward Health North [in Deerfield Beach],” Jachles said.
He also described how other motorists survived when their vehicles did not. The driver of a tractor trailer that overturned was unharmed; air bags popped open in a pickup that rolled over and its driver walked away, and a third driver of a big rig from Dade City saw the storm pull off the front of his truck’s hood. He was not hurt.
A few southbound lanes were blocked until a large tree that fell across the Coconut Creek Parkway exit was removed, Wysocky said.
Blinking lights signal storm’s presence
Florida Power Light said some 3,000 customers in the Coconut Creek area had outages attributable to the storm, “but all were restored in a matter of minutes,” said spokesman Chris McGrath.
A power line was down along Blount Road in Pompano Beach.
College staffers, students hunker down
In a Broward College North parking lot on the east side of the Health Sciences Center, six cars that had crashed into one another were damaged, Coconut Creek Police Sgt. Henry Cabrera said. Photographs showed a silver Honda sedan resting on the roof of a black Toyota sedan.
A city employee in a community bus was injured when it flipped, Cabrera said.
Natalia Triana, 36, of Coconut Creek, is an administrative assistant at the school’s Health Sciences department. She said she received a texted emergency alert about the tornado at 9:28 a.m., and the college sent out recorded calls and emails, she said.
“We weren’t freaked out,” Triana said. “But when the emergency lights came on, we realized it would come to this area and we went to the center of the building to a conference room.”
Who moved my car?
It was all over very quickly, Triana said. She joined colleagues outside to see cars and a truck that had been tossed like toys. Her vehicle was untouched.
Brandon Mundy, 30, of Fort Lauderdale, wasn’t so lucky. A student and nursing assistant at the campus, he ventured out after the storm to see if anyone was hurt.
Mundy said he was sad to see his “baby,” a white 10-year-old Ford F-150 pickup, lying on its side.
“The tow truck driver told me it looks like it’s totaled,” Mundy said. “My truck was the only one to get flipped. So I might be getting a car this time.”
Geniece Stalliard, 28, of Coral Springs, an adviser at the college, said her 2012 Mercedes-Benz coupe was damaged when a car slid into its front end.
“At first I didn’t take it seriously,” Stalliard said about the storm warnings. “We got the tornado alert and I was still doing work on my computer. The power kept cutting out.”
She said she was shocked that the storm caused so much damage so quickly.
“My car is drivable,” Stalliard said. “This was my first tornado. But I’ll take the warnings more seriously. I’ll definitely pay attention next time.”
Retirees displaced from home
At the gated Wynmoor Village Retirement Community, Coconut Creek Police Sgt. Kathryn Markland said a Wynmoor employee had minor injuries.
“Many trees were uprooted, trees are on top of cars, bumpers were taken off and there was damage to the clubhouse,” Markland said. “One building has some structural damage to the roof.”
There were also broken windows in cars and apartments. Chaise lounges were strewn about.
Dan Booker, division chief of the combined Coconut Creek and Margate fire departments, said: “[There was] a lot of chaos and the saving grace was it was raining really heavily before the tornado came through, and everybody had pretty much taken cover before it hit.”
Wynmoor resident Grace Petruzzi said she knew the storm was serious when she went to let Max, her 2-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, out to fetch the newspaper and the wind blew the dog back into the house.
“It was kind of like seeing Toto in ‘The Wizard of Oz,'” said Petruzzi. “It was just a big gust of wind and he’s only 5 pounds. It took my doggie by surprise.”
Storm targets homeless, workers
Powerful winds also pounded an empty Whole Foods tractor trailer and flipped it on its side outside the company’s warehouse at 2700 NW 19th St., in Pompano Beach.