A fast-moving rush-hour storm roared through South Florida on Tuesday morning, spinning off two tornadoes in South Florida and leaving a wide path of damage — from an overturned boat that trapped its owner to an apartment roof collapse.
Combined with power outages and an accident on Interstate 95 that halted commuters, the morning chaos stretched into the afternoon, long after the storm had departed.
It started with a line of sunrise squalls in communities from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade that caved in roofs, shattered fences, shredded roofs and downed power lines, leaving about 70,000 customers without electricity. An overturned tractor-trailer on Interstate 95 southbound lanes in Northeast Miami-Dade — near where one tornado touched down — shut lanes down and slowed traffic to a crawl. And in Fort Lauderdale, the storm flipped a catamaran anchored on Lake Sylvia, trapping its owner, who escaped just as fire boat rescuers were ready to dive in.
“I was putting my coffee in the microwave when all of a sudden I heard this swirling sound,” said Arlene Zemsky, who watched the storm’s arrival from her third-floor North Miami Beach apartment. “From the window, the bushes and branches were coming toward me. I was for sure it was a tornado.”
The damage was widespread: trees that cracked under the weight of the gusting winds, tumbling onto roofs and roadways; whipped debris littering the streets; patio furniture slung across yards and decks, even a trampoline wrapped around a power pole. And the storm destroyed a section of an apartment building roof. Residents were evacuated from the 37-unit building at Northeast 10th Avenue and 191st street, according to CBS4. No serious injuries were reported.
“The sky was dark and it was like being in a waterfall. All of a sudden, the trees were everywhere, big limbs were falling on my car and in front of my car,” said elementary school teacher Marissa Filderman, who was on her way to work. She pulled into a neighborhood off Copans Road and sat still. “It was loud and very scary.”
By mid-morning, the thunderstorms had petered out, swept out to sea, followed by scattered lightning strikes and hints of the sun.
The National Weather Service confirmed that the first tornado landed about 7:15 a.m. in Pompano Beach. Forty-five minutes later, a second tornado hit Northeast Dade, between Sun Life Stadium and Aventura. With winds reaching up to 90 mph, both tornadoes were categorized EF-1, near the bottom of the scale of power but still destructive.
The twisters were caused by an approaching cold front from the Northeast. Residual effects of the cold front will drop Miami-Dade temperatures into the 60s Tuesday tonight and low 50s Wednesday, said National Weather Service forecaster Chuck Caracozza.
In Hollywood, a tree crushed a mobile home on Harding Street with a couple inside. The wife was sent to the hospital with minor injuries. The outlook isn’t as good for the mobile home.
“I don’t want to say totaled,” Hollywood Fire Rescue Chief Chris Del Campo said. “But it’s damaged to the point where wind, rain and outside elements are getting in.”
In Fort Lauderdale, rescuers were called to Lake Sylvia just before 8 a.m.
“We got a call about a boat in distress. A catamaran was upside down in the water and the owner was trapped inside,” said Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Captain Gregory May. “Right when the divers were about to go rescue him, the owner was able get out. He popped up right next to our boat. We were able to reach over and grab him.”
By late afternoon, homeowners in North Miami Beach were still cleaning up the mess left behind by a tornado that swept through.
“It’s a complete disaster,” said Susan Yaffe, whose Jeep was crushed by a palm tree that snapped in front of her Skylake home. “This all happened within minutes.”
North Miami Beach Public Works Director Esmond Scott said city crews had already collected more than 500 cubic yards of debris — enough to fill about 16 garbage trucks.
After the storm passed at about 8:15 a.m. the city activated it’s disaster plan and crews began clearing roadways and collecting debris, said City Manager Ana Garcia.
“It really shocked me how much damaged there was, how many trees were down how, many sidewalks were ripped,” she said, adding that she doesn’t remember seeing anything like Tuesday’s storm since Hurricane Wilma ripped through in 2005. “But I am happy to report we have had no injuries.”