updated 12/25/2006 10:30:31 PM ET 2006-12-26T03:30:31

Powerful storms damaged at least three dozen homes as heavy rain and strong wind swept across the Southeast on Monday.

Tornado warnings were issued in parts of Florida and South Carolina. The worst damage was in Florida, between Tampa and the Georgia border, where three people were injured and three homes were destroyed.

In Columbia County, about 60 miles west of Jacksonville, at least two homes were destroyed and 10 others damaged. National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Carroll said the damage most likely resulted from a tornado.

“Typically you don’t get complete structural collapse of a house from straight line winds,” Carroll said. He said weather service officials would examine the Lake City and surrounding Columbia County area Tuesday to determine whether a tornado was responsible.

The weather service issued tornado warnings on Monday for parts of Columbia, Hardee, Lake, Levy, Manatee and Volusia counties across central Florida.

In Pasco County, along the Gulf coast just north of Tampa, two people were taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries and more than two dozen homes were damaged as a storm passed the Tampa Bay Golf & County Club shortly before noon, sheriff’s deputy Doug Tobin said.

Could have been much worse
A roof was blown off a home in nearby San Antonio, and several trees were knocked over by high winds, one briefly blocking a county road intersection in New Port Richey, Tobin said.

“It’s amazing we don’t have serious injuries or deaths,” Columbia County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Laurie Windham said. “We are incredibly blessed today.”

Windham said one person in the area was treated for cuts related to the storms.

The Tallahassee area was also swamped by rain as the storms moved through, with more than 5½ inches falling at the regional airport, the most there on a Christmas Day since 1897, weather service meteorologist Ron Block said.

In South Carolina, the weather service issued tornado warnings in the state’s coastal counties when the strongest storms moved through in the morning. As of Monday afternoon, there had been no reports of a tornado.

The rain stopped in most of the state by evening with no significant damage reported. In Florence, about 80 miles east of Columbia, about 2.2 inches of rain fell, a record for Christmas Day.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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