Jean Domond said he woke his children around 7 a.m. and told them to go to a closet and stay still.
“I said, ‘Don’t cry, because this is God’s power,’” Domond said Thursday morning outside his shattered home.
In about 15 seconds, that power, in the form of a 100-mph tornado, slapped two of his cars together like bowling pins. It spun his big white Toyota Sequoia, parked in his driveway, and dragged it 15 feet.
The twister — born of a rogue cell that spun off Tropical Storm Andrea, roared for 2 miles through The Acreage, along a path 50 to 100 yards wide.
It ripped up roofs, threw missiles through windows, flipped cars and trailers, punched holes in roofs, and snapped mighty trees like so much balsa.
Authorities say for now they have only one reported serious injury: a woman rushed to a hospital with a broken leg after a tree crashed through her house.
All of this happened in five minutes.
The tornado, at EF-1 on the Fujita Scale, was one of three that struck Palm Beach County early Thursday, the National Weather Service said.
It said a minimal EF-0 twister struck Belle Glade around 3:20 a.m, doing minor damage. And another touched down around 8:20 a.m. west of U.S. 27 in far northwestern Broward County and likely crossed into unpopulated far southwestern Palm Beach County.
Tropical storms are notorious bags of surprises. Often written off as merely inconvenient, they can nevertheless dump buckets of rain, and can — as Thursday showed — spin off tornadoes far from their center. In 2008, Fay generated a twister in Wellington that all but flattened a horse center.
Tornadoes typically form on the outer edges of tropical storms and hurricanes, especially in or ahead of the storm’s most powerful part — its front right quadrant. That’s what happened Thursday, even as Andrea was some 160 miles west of Tampa.
After Andrea became an early season tropical storm on Wednesday evening, just days into the hurricane season, a National Weather Service forecaster had said tornadoes were “always a possibility” but that the threat was low. On Thursday, the weather service’s Robert Molleda didn’t apologize. “Low,” he said, doesn’t mean “zero.”
“We were not looking at widespread tornadoes,” he said in The Acreage. “A ‘slight’ risk of tornadoes is not something that you can totally ignore.”
Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist, and Pablo Santos, meteorologist in charge, had driven from suburban Miami to see the damage firsthand.
The neighborhood was abuzz with activity. Insurance adjusters, clipboards in hand, stood in driveways with unnerved homeowners. Chainsaws ripped through twisted tree limbs. Dogs barked and children scurried about policing front yards.
There were many signs that something dramatic had come through: debris scattered; power poles snapped; water gushing from popped sprinkler heads; a spot on a pole where a mailbox used to be; and large stretches of standing water.
Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson surveyed Thursday’s damage and made a preliminary estimate of four homes with roof damage. The Red Cross separately reported two homes with major damage and eight with minor damage.
Johnson said most power had been restored and he knew of no major drainage issues.
“When you peel back the onion, there’s really not much there,” Johnson said. “My heart goes out to those families. I hate to sound so factual. This truly could have been a lot worse.”
Florida Power & Light Co. reported more than 6,000 households lost power early Thursday, with only about 400 homes still out by midday, most of those in The Acreage.
Palm Beach County saw less rainfall from Andrea than forecasters had feared, and less from those storms that swept through the area over the past few weeks. But there were reports of up to 4 inches of rain in some western communities.
There’s a 70 percent chance of rain today, down to 50 percent Saturday.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, Andrea was just about to make landfall over North Florida’s “big bend” region, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. The storm had top sustained winds of 65 mph, about 10 mph short of hurricane strength, but was expected to weaken after landfall. It was moving northeast at a brisk 17 mph and was expected to spread rain and wind along the southeast U.S. coast through Friday even as it lost its tropical characteristics.
Staff writers Sonja Isger, Willie Howard, Susan Salisbury, Jason Schultz, Kevin Thompson, Jennifer Sorentrue and Ana Valdes contributed to this story.