A gas station was "ground zero" Thursday for a tornado that dropped out of a line of severe thunderstorms that cut a swath across southern Glynn County, toppling trees, downing power lines and launching part of a dock across neighboring yards.

The Sunoco Fuel Center at Interstate 95 Exit 29 took a direct hit from the 4 p.m. storm. The front windows crashed inward, the back wall blew out and water gushed out the rear of the building after the twister ruptured a pipe and tore off part of an awning.

Cashier C.J. Larry and several customers were inside the store when the storm hit.

"The front doors were flapping, then all the plate glass fell in," he said.

The power went out just as the storm hit and ceiling tiles and light fixtures were knocked out or pushed up into the ceiling.

The plate glass lay across tobacco and sunglasses displays that had been toppled. Just beyond them, bags of chips and other snacks sat in displays as if nothing had happened.

Larry said he and customers ran toward the back and side of the store as the front came crashing in.

"I'm ready to go home now," he smiled.

Letha Rouse, who lives in the Boykin Ridge subdivision just behind the Sunoco, said she saw trees come out of the ground in her yard.

"I just rode it out. I've never seen anything like that before," she said.

Pink insulation hung on power lines and was scattered in the flattened brush behind the store.

South across U.S. 17, soaked residents of Royal Oaks were going door to door to check on the homes of neighbors, some of which are vacation homes. Most houses escaped serious damage, but trees were down in the yards of several that sit on a bluff overlooking the Little Satilla River, which forms the Glynn-Camden county line, and a wide expanse of marsh beyond it.

Julie Blake said she and her children were on the second floor of their home as the storm bore down.

"I never heard that sound," she said of a tornado's characteristic rumble, which she heard recently in St. Augustine. "I just heard rain and wind. I looked outside. I saw [Spanish] moss and debris, nothing major."

She told her children to get downstairs and "it was over,"she said.

The aluminum walkway was ripped from her family's floating dock and deposited in Blake Simpson's yard, two doors away.

Simpson and friend Tal Stoddard of St. Simons Island had been sitting on Simpson's screened and roofed dock as the storm approached and quickly abandoned plans to stay there through what they thought would be just rain.

"We were sitting in the great room and I saw this tree fall," Simpson said of a big oak. "I said, 'Guys, we need to get in the closet.'

"I'm just glad to be alive," he said.

That was not an idle statement in the view of Capt. Jay Wiggins, director of the Glynn-Brunswick Emergency Management Agency.

"It's a miracle no one was killed," he said.

A witness saw the funnel cloud right before it touched down. Although it didn't appear on National Weather Service radar, based on the damage there was no doubt it was a tornado, Wiggins said.

Several homes in the Royal Oaks and Breckenridge subdivisions were struck by trees uprooted by the fierce cyclonic winds, he said.

Electrical lines were knocked down affecting about 170 Georgia Power customers in the Fancy Bluff area, and 30 others in scattered pockets of Glynn County, said Tony Sammons, regional manager for the utility.

Sammons said power was expected to be restored by nightfall.

Meanwhile, heavy rains flooded several low-lying streets in Brunswick and unincorporated Glynn County, but no roads were closed, Wiggins said.