14 dead as thunderstorms, tornadoes tear through Florida

Dozens of homes flattened during natural disaster.

tornado 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
tornado 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Storms blew through central Florida early Friday, killing at least 14 people, flattening dozens of homes and a church and lifting a tractor trailer into the air, authorities said. At least one tornado touched down. Lake County spokesman Christopher Patton confirmed the 14 deaths, 11 in Paisley and three in Lady Lake, both towns in Lake County about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Orlando. No further details were available. Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency for Volusia, Sumter, Lake and Seminole counties. "Our priority today is search and rescue," Crist told reporters in Tallahassee. Dozens of mobile homes near Lady Lake were destroyed by the storms that hit in the middle of the night. Some homes were tossed from their foundations, while others had their roofs ripped off. "The most dangerous tornado scenario is a threat for killer tornadoes at night, and that was the case," said Dave Sharp, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Melbourne. The storms moved across Sumter and Lake counties around 3:15 a.m. (0815 GMT), then moved to Volusia County, where 69 homes and a county medical clinic were damaged, authorities said. At least five automobile crashes took place on one interstate, closing the highway for about three hours. About 20,000 customers were without power across a wide swath of central Florida, Progress Energy spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said. The state Emergency Operations Center was activated, said Mike Stone, spokesman at the state's Department of Emergency Management.