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Tornado rips path in Pasco neighborhood

Nearly 100 houses in San Antonio are hit, and 15 are left uninhabitable. But with one minor injury, there's talk of luck.

Published December 26, 2006

[Times photo: Lance Aram Rothstein]
A decorated tree twinkles inside as John Buelk sweeps up debris after a tornado damaged his home in the Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club community of San Antonio on Christmas Morning.

SAN ANTONIO, Fla. - Paul Lilley was dialing a neighbor Monday to tell him bad weather was coming their way when he heard a terrible rumble, looked out his window and saw a tornado bearing down.

The black funnel, spewing bits of shingles and debris, crossed the seventh green of the golf course across the street and headed for him.

He screamed to his wife to get in the bathtub. He ran in and jumped on top of her and waited.

The shrieking winds lasted only a few seconds.

Lilley went outside and saw someone's back porch in his yard. Shingles on his house were missing, but that was about all.

Others weren't so lucky.

The 11:30 a.m. twister ripped through the Eagles Nest neighborhood of the Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club in San Antonio. Nearly 100 homes were damaged. Fifteen were left uninhabitable.

There was only one minor injury - a cut hand - reported, said Mike Ciccarello, of Pasco County Fire and Rescue.

"We're really lucky," Ciccarello said. "It's a disaster."

Janice Bacso is a first responder, part of a group of volunteers trained in emergency rescue who live in the Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club.

Mostly, in this 55-and-older golf course community, calls are for heart attacks, strokes and falls.

When her beeper went off Monday, she hadn't heard a thing, even though she lives blocks from where the tornado hit.

"I stepped out of my house and into a war zone," she said.

The tornado touched down between the eighth and fifth fairways, which are rimmed with manicured, modest homes. Back porches were ripped off. Roofs had gaping holes. Doors were blown out. Windows were blasted. A blanket of shredded, white insulation was eerily suggestive of snow.

The home where the Podrebar family was staying was perhaps the most damaged.

Andrea and Scott Podrebar and their two girls had driven from Ontario to get some Florida sunshine at the home of Scott Podrebar's parents, who stayed in Ontario for Christmas. Scott Podrebar's twin brother, his wife and their toddler also were in the pink, stucco home.

They were getting ready to go to a movie when the tornado hit. Andrea Podrebar was drying her hair and saw it and screamed. Her sister-in-law grabbed the three children and rushed them into a closet and shut the door and sang to them in the darkness.

When they emerged, nearly all the windows were gone. The garage door warped around the car inside. The back porch was gone, a bedroom ceiling caved in on a bed. The family had been barefoot, with glass flying around them. The children had a few cuts on their faces and feet, but no major injuries.

"God was watching over us, for sure," Andrea Podrebar said.

Amid the devastation, some things remained oddly untouched.

A bathroom with no ceiling still had bottles of Biolage shampoo and conditioner sitting where an owner left them. A tiny porcelain Nativity scene that couldn't have weighed more than a few ounces was still on a living room table of a home with the door blown in, tables overturned, windows shattered and mirrors ripped from walls.

On Caddyshack Lane - a street with extensive damage - a young woman, ponytail dripping rain, kicked shingles off the driveway of her uncle's home.

"They were cooking Christmas dinner," she said. "And now they have no house."

She kicked harder.

"Merry Christmas."

- - -

Emergency crews didn't have much to do, as far as comforting residents after the storm. By the time the Red Cross had snacks on the way, neighbors of stricken residents had provided Christmas dinners and blankets and coffee. Many knew where they were sleeping Monday night - either in neighbors' homes or in hotels.

"We're going to salvage their Christmas," said resident Ritchel Klingensmith, whose home was undamaged in the storm.

[Last modified December 26, 2006, 05:36:44]

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