ORANGE PARK, Fla. - Severe thunderstorms early Tuesday evening left a trail of damage and debris across the Clay County area, including 45 damaged homes, emergency operations center officials said.
Weather Authority Chief Meteorologist John Gaughan at first thought a "spin-up" tornado had developed, but the damage appears to be too widespread -- suggesting that the damage was associated with straight-line winds impacting the area from Kingsley Avenue to south of the Orange Park Mall and east to U.S. 17.
According to Clay County Emergency Management, the straight-line winds knocked down trees onto roadways, power lines and homes. One home was split down the middle by three falling trees.
Nora Girdis, the homeowner, said she is taking it one step at a time to get her house back to normal. She was inside the home with her pets when the trees came tumbling down.
“The first thing I heard was something roll off my ceiling,” Girdis said. “And I said, 'What the heck is that?' And then the ceiling caved in when the other two trees came down.”
She said she started throwing towels down to clean up the water as the rain poured into her home. She said she's hoping her house won't be condemned.
Girdis wasn't the only one left with gaping holes in her home punctured by falling trees. Edman Trinidad was already making repairs to his Sigsbee Road home Wednesday. He said he wasn't home when the storm hit, but his family was.
“It was a loud noise, lots of wind, things cracking, breaking. She thought it was a tornado,” Trinidad said.
Only one family requested assistance from the Red Cross, Clay County officials said. They did not have a dollar estimate on the damage.
They urged homeowners to check out any tree service that offers to remove the trees to make sure that it's licensed and follows rules for debris removal.
More than 40 homes had trees of them or other storm-related damage in the town of Orange Park, emergency officials said.
Many residents told News4Jax that the storm only lasted about three to four minutes. But it was apparent how much damage was done in that short amount of time.
"I was sitting in the driveway in my car when the hail started coming down. I was getting groceries and I was coming up, and in between the storm, I ran inside," said Christi Patterson, who was at her mother's home at the time. "It was pretty scary. Couldn't see anything. Kids are OK. Everyone is OK. That's all that matters."
Others who live in the area described what it was like as the storm moved moved through.
"I was coming home from work. By the time I got to Wells Road from Blanding (Boulevard), there were branches all in the road, and it looked like a war zone the closer I got to the neighborhood to make sure everyone was OK," said Cynde Mathis, whose home and yard were damaged.
A neighbor across the street said Tuesday's storm was worse than Hurricane Matthew.
Just south of Wells Road, trees were uprooted along Alder Drive, Holly Leaf Lane, Orange Avenue and Glendening Road -- where there were also reports of downed fences and downed power lines.
One man told News4Jax that two trees fell on his daughter's house on Madeira Drive.
A resident on Lakotna Drive said her trampoline went flying through a fence and a tree fell on her neighbor's cars. Nearby, a tree fell down on a shed off Loma Place. News4Jax also received a photo showing part of the roof caved in at the Clay County Police Athletic League building on Parkwood Drive.
There was also minor flooding in the Orange Park area. People who live at the Victoria of Orange Park Apartments were wading through several inches of water as they began cleaning up Tuesday night.
Residents were urged to use caution through the night and into Wednesday morning due downed trees and power lines.
Anyone with questions or reports of damage is asked to contact the county's Division of Emergency Management at 904-284-7703.
Thousands of Orange Park residents experienced power outages Tuesday night.
As of 10:30 p.m., JEA reported nine active outages affecting 990 customers.
Clay Electric said 5,100 customers were without power in Orange Park.
Lightning strike sparks 600-acre wildfire
In the southwestern part of the county, crews were called to work a wildfire caused by a lightning strike near Sungarden and Warner roads, just west of U.S. 17, emergency officials said.
The Florida Highway Patrol said it's monitoring the 630-acre fire burning near the Clay-Putnam county line. It was 80 percent contained Wednesday and was not threatening any structures.
Drivers are encouraged to use caution when traveling in the area.
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