Bay Area tornado damages buildings and homes but no injuries

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — A tornado spawned ahead of a Florida cold front damaged commercial buildings and homes and knocked out power for a time, but no serious injuries or deaths were reported.

The National Weather Service said the tornado spun up Wednesday west of St. Petersburg with 125 mph (200 kilometer) winds. It destroyed two buildings and heavily damaged five others, one of which was in a boat storage facility where the vessels were tossed about.

The tornado then crossed Tampa Bay and eventually skipped down in Lakeland, where trees were downed, homes damaged and farm structures such as barns were destroyed, the Weather Service reported.

In Lakeland, Scott Leavitt, 60, had gone outside to take down his American flag, but the wind got “real bad and I thought, well, I better get in the house. As soon as I shut the door, it just started getting crazy.”

As soon as he got into his hallway, the roof of his house peeled away.

“You could see the circles, you could see the tornado,” Leavitt told the Ledger of Lakeland . “It was just ripping the roof off right behind me…the whole roof just disappeared. It pulled a cement block wall down.”

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the damage could have been worse.

“This one was really bad for a couple of houses and bad for a few other houses, but it was not total devastation like we’ve seen across this country before,” Judd said.

Duke Energy reported on its website that about 12,000 customers were initially without power Wednesday in the storm area but almost all had been restored by Thursday morning.