A suspected tornado tore through a South Carolina island community early Friday, meteorologists said, severely damaging up to a dozen homes, uprooting large trees, and downing power lines.
The thunderstorm that spawned the likely twister left nearly 3,500 homes and businesses without power on and around Johns Island, 10 miles southwest of Charleston, according to utility-company figures.
"It will be hard to tell exactly how powerful it was until the sun comes up," Weather Channel Lead Forecaster Michael Palmer told NBC News. "But as far as the radar signature goes, it looks like it could have been a strong one."
Palmer added that while it was too early to confirm the event recorded at around 1 a.m. ET was a tornado, radar signatures and debris reports indicated it was highly likely.
Emergency responders encountered "heavy debris from downed trees and power lines" and there were "numerous large trees down on roadways," the St. John's Fire District said in a statement.
Ten homes along one street on Johns Island suffered heavy damage but there were no reported injuries, the statement added. The National Weather Service put the number of damaged homes at 12.
The American Red Cross said it was giving assistance to 10 families.
The twister came as part of a larger thunderstorm that rolled in off the ocean and slammed into Johns Island on Thursday night. Local power firm the Berkeley Electric Cooperative said more than 3,400 homes and businesses were without power as of 6:30 a.m. ET.
Damage was also reported in West Ashley, which is part of the Charleston metropolitan area, according to the National Weather Service.
Palmer said that not only had the suspected tornado come out of season, it had struck a part of the country where residents are not accustomed to twisters.
"Plus, this one struck in the middle of the night," he said.
The National Weather Service said its Damage Survey team has been dispatched to the area and would assess the situation after sunrise Friday.