NEW ORLEANS - A powerful storm and likely a tornado hit the New Orleans area early Tuesday, damaging dozens of homes and business, ripping the roof off a hotel, and injuring at least three people.

The storm hit hardest around 3:30 a.m. in Westwego, just across the river from New Orleans.

It tore the roof off a hotel and tossed around FEMA trailers that had replaced homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Westwego Mayor Robert Billiot said dozens of homes and businesses were damaged. Several homes collapsed in other areas, officials said, and at least three people were taken to hospitals.

In New Orleans, the storm knocked down power lines and tree limbs and damaged roofs. About 20,000 people were without power in New Orleans, Westwego, and Metairie, a spokesman for Entergy Corp. said.

"There is just so much destruction," Billiot said.

Kevin Gillespie's trailer in Westwego was pulled five feet and shoved next to his steps so he couldn't open the door. The Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer behind his was pulled from its moorings and flipped into his back yard, Gillespie said.

"My next-door neighbors, they had just moved back into their house from (Hurricane) Katrina. Now it's totaled out again," he said.

He didn't know how badly his own belongings were damaged; a crew had only just cut off the gas. But the storm removed every vehicle he owned: "My car, pickup, motorbike and trailer all went away."

Still, he said, as dawn arrived, "The more damage I see there, the more fortunate we are."

At one point, emergency workers in New Orleans' uptown neighborhood scrambled to clear a downed magnolia tree so an ambulance could get by.

John Carolan, 50, who lives in the neighborhood, said he was awakened by the storm and got up in time to get into a closet with his wife.

"Ten seconds and it was over," he said.

He said the storm blew the furniture from his porch into the street.

Radar data provides "pretty convincing evidence there was a tornado," said meteorologist Robert Ricks in the National Weather Service office in Slidell. He said the damage appeared to be from one storm cell that was behind a squall line moving east, he said.

"It should be an improving trend the rest of the day," Ricks said.