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Tornado's aftermath: repairs and cleanup

In the neighborhood hit hardest by a tornado, residents start repairs and keep a wary eye out for scam artists.

By JACKIE RIPLEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002
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TOWN 'N COUNTRY -- Until Wednesday night, Claude Ladd was the proud owner of a 28-year-old mobile home that was just about paid off.

Then a tornado tore through his Town 'N Country neighborhood. Now he is the proud owner of a pile of uninsured rubble.

"In another year this will be all mine," Ladd said Thursday while looking at the devastation that once was his home. "This junk and everything around it."

Ladd, who lives on income from Social Security, was one of about 30 residents of the Essex Downs mobile home park whose homes were damaged by a twister that skipped through northwest Hillsborough about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The storm continued on a westerly path into northern Pinellas County after taking a swipe at Essex Downs, south of Hillsborough Avenue and west of Sheldon Road. One woman suffered minor injures and three families were left homeless.

Ladd's home on Coventry Drive was one of the most severely damaged. He said he is not insured because insurance companies told him his mobile home, built in 1974, was too old and did not have the requisite tie-downs.

Sam Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Insurance Council, said all homeowners are required to have insurance as long as they have a mortgage.

"A lot of people have let it lapse," said Miller, who said insurance for a mobile home is about twice as expensive as for a house because mobile homes are more vulnerable to damage.

Residents of the Essex Downs mobile home park spent much of Thursday cleaning up. They bolstered sagging carports, removed twisted aluminum and toted waterlogged belongings to the street.

Hillsborough County code enforcement investigator Frank Ferrera was there looking for people who, like Ladd, lived in homes that were damaged and uninsured.

The neighborhood could receive help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency if at least 25 uninsured homes are damaged, Ferrera said. The help would come in the form of low-cost home repair loans.

But not everyone at the mobile home park was there to help.

Some were there to gouge, said Suman Nott, who owns property at Sussex Downs along with her husband, John.

"It's like Hurricane Andrew," said Nott, comparing some of the repair estimates she heard to the price gouging that went on in the aftermath of that storm. "People are getting ripped off. They have to be aware."

Ladd, more worried about looters, spent Wednesday night on the sofa in his living room with his dog, Ruffles. It was one of the few habitable places left in his two-bedroom home.

While he's not sure what he will do next, he knows he's there to stay.

"I guess I'll regroup," he said. "I'll figure out something and see what I can do."

-- Jackie Ripley can be reached at 269-5308 or ripley@sptimes.com.

Protect yourself

Know your contractor. Fly-by-night contractors who take deposits before starting work or final payments before finishing are a frequent problem. Arrange to pay after work is completed or in regular payments.

Beware of repair businesses or individuals who solicit door to door, arrive in unmarked vehicles, have a post office box or temporary address, claim they are from another county or state and are in the area solely to help victims, or those who offer to work for you only if you secure the necessary permits.

Check on the contractor's address and license by calling the Florida Department of Professional Regulation at 1-800-342-7940, or the Hillsborough County Building and Zoning Department.

To find out whether complaints have been filed against a contractor, call the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352), the Florida Department of Professional Regulation at 1-800-342-7940, or the Hillsborough County Building and Zoning Department.

Get at least three estimates. Be certain the estimates are itemized and for the same work. Variations in the proposals should be noted.

6. Avoid paying cash.

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