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    Tornado damages 50 homes in Citrus

    Most house damage isn't serious, but the wind also snaps trees and power lines.

    [Times photos: Steve Hasel]
    Fire services director Mike Schlaudraff holds a sheet of plastic Thursday as firefighters nail it to the roof of a home on W Eric Drive in Citrus Springs that was damaged by a fast-moving storm.

    By JORGE SANCHEZ and ALEX LEARY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2001


    A hard-charging storm blew in from the gulf Thursday morning, producing a tornado that cut a path 100 yards wide and 8 miles long and damaged about 50 homes in northwest Citrus County.

    photo
    The trunk of this tree on Castania Drive on Citrus Springs crushed the trunk of the Volkswagen Jetta parked nearby.
    "Most of it was minor, shingles blown off roofs or well pump covers missing," said fire services director Mike Schlaudraff, who toured the area. "No homes were destroyed."

    But dozens of trees snapped, blocking roads and severing power lines that supply hundreds of homes. Damage appeared most severe in the Mini Farms and Citrus Springs areas.

    "All of a sudden, the sky turned green black," recalled Shannon Boice, who was visiting her brother in Citrus Springs.

    "It happened so fast. It touched down, hit the pavement and went back up. It bounced like a ball," Boice said.

    "I could cry but it wouldn't help," said Patty Collett, whose mobile home on Jennifer Court, east of County Road 495, lost its roof. The home is uninsured.

    "I thought the house was going to blow down," said John Fowler, whose house on Fairport Avenue in Mini Farms was in direct path of the tornado.

    Winds buffeted the building, buckling the garage door and tearing shingles and tar paper off the roof.

    With the roof exposed, rain began to seep inside, sending Fowler scrambling to put down pots and pans on his living room floor.

    Like shrapnel, the roof debris slashed through Fowler's screened-in porch and fanned across his yard.

    Next door, the wind peeled back the tin roof covering David Worthington's garage and knocked over a storage shed. Siding from Fowler's home ripped a large hole though the screen over Worthington's pool.

    The tin flapped and clanked in the wind as Worthington surveyed the damage. It was the fifth tornado he has experienced in the 15 years he has lived on Fairport Avenue.

    "It was deafening," he said. "We didn't have any time to go anywhere. We just stood there and prayed."

    At Citrus Springs Elementary School, students in portable classrooms were rushed inside for safety reasons, though no one was hurt. Several trees were knocked down near the playground.

    Based on the type of damage caused by the winds, Schlaudraff said the twister would most likely be classified as an F1 on the Fujita scale, which rates the intensity of tornadoes.

    An F1 is a moderate tornado, with winds from 73 to 112 miles per hour. This type of twister is capable of snapping trees, peeling surfaces off roofs and overturning mobile homes.

    The National Weather Service later reported that the tornado was at the high end of an F0, meaning it had speeds up to 70 mph.

    "The tornado was part of a much more massive line of thunderstorms that were moving rapidly eastward toward the Florida west coast," said Walt Zaleski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

    The tornado, which formed 3.5 miles northeast of Crystal River, touched down about 10 a.m. near Jennifer Court and County Road 495 and continued northeast. It disintegrated near Academy Drive, north of Citrus Springs Boulevard and west of U.S. 41 N in Citrus Springs.

    As the storm moved inland, it knocked down power lines and snapped trees and caused the only reported injury.

    A woman driving north on Croft Road in Inverness around 10:30 a.m. was hit by a large limb which blew off a tree and penetrated the car's windshield.

    The woman, whose identity was not available, was taken to Citrus Memorial Hospital for treatment of minor cuts. A passenger in the car was not injured.

    The storm knocked down several power lines, causing power outages for about 3,000 customers of Withlacoochee River Electric Co-Op.

    Company spokesman Ernie Holzhauer said three major lines were snapped by the storm. He said service was restored about noon.

    Florida Power spokesman Mac Harris said the storm caused outages to 6,000 customers in Citrus County, the majority of which were repaired by Thursday afternoon.

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