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Tornado tears up mobile homes

About three dozen homes are damaged by the season's first twister as it spins across western Hillsborough.

By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2002

About three dozen homes are damaged by the season's first twister as it spins across western Hillsborough.

TOWN 'N COUNTRY -- The first tornado of the summer season damaged 34 mobile homes Wednesday night, injuring one woman and leaving three families homeless.

The tornado, one of two in the Tampa Bay area, was spotted about 6:30 p.m. skipping through western Hillsborough County. Window awnings, trailer skirts and aluminum carports were ripped off homes in the Essex Downs mobile home park, the West Bay subdivision and along Timberlane Drive.

"It scared the heck out of me," said 89-year-old Tony De Rosa, who lives on Middlesex Drive and was eating a beef sandwich when the tornado hit. "It sounded like someone came by and tore the whole thing up."

De Rosa's street was one of the hardest hit. A woman on the street suffered minor injuries from flying debris inside her mobile home, said Ray Yeakley of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. She was taken to a local hospital.

"It could have been a lot more serious," Yeakley said.

Four mobile homes in a neighborhood off Memorial Drive were so badly damaged that the residents had to sleep elsewhere Wednesday night. The American Red Cross was helping three of the families; the fourth family was staying with relatives.

Thirty other mobile homes suffered mild to moderate damage, Yeakley said.

All of the homes off Middlesex and Sussex drives were without power late Wednesday. A total of 2,600 Tampa Electric Co. customers in the Town 'N Country area were without power at the height of the storm, a TECO spokesman said.

Crews worked into the night to restore electricity, but some homes were expected to be without power for more than a day because of the heavy damage.

The storm also rolled across northern Pinellas County.

The National Weather Service received a report that a tornado briefly touched down in a swampy area near U.S. 19 and Alderman Road in Palm Harbor, but no damage was reported.

"All the damage was confined to northwest Hillsborough County," said weather service meteorologist Frank Alsheimer.

"It was a typical bad thunderstorm -- a lot of rain and a few power outages," said Ron Gray, district chief with the Palm Harbor Fire Department.

"We did not see any tornadoes, fires or confirmed lightning strikes."

In Oldsmar, the thunderstorm triggered several fire alarms, but no actual fires were reported. Lightning struck a tree behind businesses along Commerce Boulevard, according to the Oldsmar Fire Department.

Heavy rain also fell on East Lake and parts of Tarpon Springs, authorities said.

At about 8 p.m., the rain started to fall again on Middlesex Drive. The glow of television light illuminated the neighborhood while residents stood on the street looking at the damage.

Fluffy yellow insulation clumped in bushes. Entire carports had disappeared.

One sheet of aluminum rested on a white minivan as if it had floated from the sky like a piece of paper. A large piece of a carport had wrapped itself around a downed wire.

"Is this part of yours?" Marilyn Hurst asked De Rosa. "Ours blew that way."

Hurst, who had just gotten home from work about 6:30 p.m., huddled in the bathroom with a cellphone and a flashlight as the twister sped through the neighborhood.

It was her minivan that was pinned beneath the aluminum.

"You couldn't even tell that I have a carport," Hurst said to her neighbors.

"The most important thing is that we're all okay," Darla Mathias said.

-- Staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.

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