PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) -- A tornado touched down Thursday, damaging this city's major shopping mall, as a line of violent thunderstorms made their way across the western Panhandle. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The twister could be seen tossing debris around, and preliminary damage reports were still coming in, said Escambia County sheriff's spokesman Glenn Austin. He said the tornado struck a section of Cordova Mall, the major shopping mall in Pensacola. He said he did not know the extent of damage.
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. Then mall security officers came into the store and ordered employees and shoppers to evacuate to the basement.
"It was all of a sudden. It was just normal raining, then the wind started," English said.
About 200 or 300 people remained huddled in the basement while security checked the building for damage, he 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.
Jack Cullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile, Ala., confirmed that it was a tornado that touched down shortly before noon EDT. He said there were no official damage reports because they were still gathering information.
"It wasn't on the ground very long, just a matter of minutes. Then it went back up and now it has kind of weakened," 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.