Fla.: Tornado Damages Pensacola Mall, Church and Daycare Center

October 21, 2007

A tornado damaged a church, a daycare center and the city’s major shopping mall as violent thunderstorms made their way across the western Florida Panhandle last week. There were no reports of injuries.

The Oct. 18 twister damaged roofs of several homes and buildings in downtown Pensacola, Fla., and tossed debris around. It first touched down around 11:15 a.m. EDT.

Escambia County sheriff’s spokesman Glenn Austin said the Greater Little Rock Baptist Church’s roof was damaged, as was its daycare center. But children there had been moved to safety before the tornado struck, he said.

“They heard the warnings, grabbed the kids and followed the drill,” he said.

Near the church, Leeann Franzonne said she and her 3-year-old son, Gabriel, stood on their porch and watched as the tornado formed and dipped into the nearby trees. They took shelter inside when the tornado approached.

“It sounded creepy, like a bunch of cars were driving over my house,” Franzonne said about an hour later as emergency crews directed traffic through her neighborhood and worked to restore power. A section of twisted metal from the church hung over a power line in the Franzonne’s yard.

At the Cordova Mall, Dillard’s stock manager Eddie English Jr. said he heard the wind outside the department store suddenly speed up and get louder, and noticed tree branches flying through the air as he looked through the glass doors into the parking lot.

“It was all of a sudden. It was just normal raining, then the wind started,” English said.

The twister “felt like an earthquake,” said Lindsey Lassiter, manager of the mall’s Express for Men store. She said the ceiling in her store was damaged and that water was pouring in.

Officials at a hospital across the street from the mall said no wounded shoppers had been brought to their emergency room. Another hospital also reported no injuries.

Jack Cullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile, Ala., confirmed that it was a tornado that touched down.

“It wasn’t on the ground very long, just a matter of minutes,” he said.

Austin said some Pensacola Beach homes reported wind damage from storms earlier in the day.

In downtown Pensacola, electricity was out and streets were filled with several inches of water from rain that began around dawn.

The storms caused forecasters to issue several severe weather warnings, including more tornado warnings.

Associated Press Writers Jennifer Kay and Suzette Laboy in Miami contributed to this report.

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