Six homes are completely uninhabitable and more than a dozen others are damaged after a tornado struck in Plantation and Sunrise on Tuesday night.
The National Weather Service said preliminary investigation leads them to believe the tornado was an EF-2. The tornado was one of the most powerful South Florida has ever seen, the NWS said.
Storm Damage: | Video: Video: Video: Video: Video: Video: Video: Video: More: JustWeather.com
The twister cut a mile-long path of damage.
"It didn't last longer than 10 seconds, but I'd rather have a hurricane any day," said one resident.
The tornado that charged through two communities took many residents who had not heard the warnings by surprise. The National Weather Service had seen the perfect conditions brewing.
"We had a lot of wind shear, strong winds and changing winds with height," said Robert Molleda, of the National Weather Service.
Daylight made the damage more apparent. The roofs of some homes had sailed off during the storm, leaving the families inside, as well as their belongings, at the mercy of the elements.
Oak trees fell, windows were broken and tiles were busted in the storm. In one instance, a post was ripped from a wooden fence, flew across the street and dented the front door of a home.
Scientists use the evidence of what was damaged, where and how badly to determine the strength of the storm.
"We think in this area here, winds were well over 100 miles an hour. In fact, they could have been even as high as 120 or maybe even more than that," Molleda said. "We don't see these type of tornadoes very often here in South Florida."
Residents Describe Tornado
The hardest-hit community was the Sunshine City Mobile Home Park.
"It sounded like a train coming through right in my living room," resident George Davis said.
Davis said his carport went airborne. Portions of the metal roof were found wrapped around a tree more than 300 yards away. The door was also blown off Davis' home, and his storage unit collapsed under the whipping winds.
In the Sawgrass Plantation Community, dozens of homes and cars were also damaged. Resident Nicole Brooks described the storm as a nightmare.
"Glass windows started popping with glass everywhere," Brooks said.
At the New Orleans Estate in Sunrise, more than a dozen homes in a half-mile stretch were destroyed or damaged.
"We're lucky to be alive. That's most important. The house we can replace," said resident ViVi Assidon.
Assidon was about to grab some ice cream for his wife when he heard a loud noise, and the entire roof of his 3,000-square-foot home was ripped off.
As Assidon dove for cover behind the fridge, all the windows in his home shattered, and glass flew everywhere.
"I screamed to my wife, is she alive? And she said yes," said Assidon.
His wife, Gail, who is recovering from cancer surgery, was in her bedroom with her sister, Diane, who protected her.
No one was injured, but the home has been condemned. Assidon said his family will rebuild, something they have done before, after Hurricane Wilma damaged the home in 2005.
A command center was set up to get crews organized and help find temporary homes for the ones displaced.
"It's amazing to see with all the flying debris, things impaled into cars and vans, that nobody got hurt," said Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan.
Sunrise Fire Chief Jim Dixon said the American Red Cross and Florida Power and Light had been to the scene, and the Sunrise Building Department was assessing the structural damage.
Despite the major damage, no serious injuries were reported.
Cleanup Efforts Begin
Cleaning up the debris and the mess will be the easy part. Repairing the damaged homes will be more difficult.
"In some homes, they've been damaged so badly the walls and roof have been open, and (there is) water intrusion into the inside of the home," said contractor John Peters.
Contractors, landscapers, mold experts and utilities converged on the affected neighborhoods Wednesday.
"There's going to be a lot of waiting before any business is going to be able to be done," said roofer David Bange. "The insurance company is going to have to come out and look at everything first before everything's put back together.