Tornado winds damaged Yulee area Thursday

Updated: National Weather Service confirms tornado
From Jason Wermers: The National Weather Service’s Jacksonville office confirmed that an EF-1 tornado struck Yulee on Thursday afternoon. According to the office’s preliminary storm survey, the tornado had maximum winds of 90-100 mph. It cut a swath 4.25 miles long and 200 yards wide and was on the ground for about 17 minutes, the Weather Service said. The tornado ripped off at least one roof, knocked down a number of trees and reportedly flipped a tractor-trailer.

Is that our roof?

It’s not a question you ever expect to have to ask, but it was one that Mike, Reese and Jessie Watson voiced as they walked around their yard Thursday afternoon, skirting the downed trees, power lines, yard debris and fencing. The sheets of roofing were draped over the limbs of a tree in their neighbor’s yard – more than 75 feet from their home.

A tornado cut a swath through their neighborhood off Pages Dairy Road less than an hour before, tearing the roof off Mike’s bedroom and ripping apart the trees surrounding the small mobile home as Reese watched out the window.

“No one is hurt that we know of; all the dogs are fine and one cat is fine,” Reese told the News-Leader. “The other cat, we haven’t found yet.”

“The house is fine, except for the roof -- well, and except for my room, which is now flooded,” Mike added, saying the worst damage happened at his grandmother’s home two houses away.

All three boys said this was the worst storm they have seen, including the tornado that broke the windows at the primary school in 2007.

“We’ve had tornados before, but never this bad,” Reese said.

“This is the first one that came right over our house,” Mike added.

Next door, two women were loading beach towels into their car, skirting the scattered limbs and twisted siding panels from the Watsons’ home.

“We’re just going to go back to the beach,” one of the women said, laughing and adding there was not much else she could do at the house until things got cleaned up.

A little farther west, Sammy and Chuck Watson assured their grandsons that they were OK, and took stock of the number of trees that had been broken or torn up from the ground. Nearly all the trees surrounding their home had been damaged or knocked over, but none had hit their home.

A little more than an hour after the possible tornado struck, two truckloads of volunteers from The Home Depot store on A1A were escorted into the area by law-enforcement officials to assist with cleanup from the damage left by the storm. Westbound traffic along A1A was backed up from Marsh Lakes, just west of the bridge, to west of Chester Road, for more than two hours.

The National Weather Service had not confirmed Thursday afternoon whether a tornado actually touched down in the area.

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