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    Fast twister damages Palm Harbor

    Storm damage hasn't been this bad since the no-name storm of 1993, a fire rescue spokeswoman says.

    By RICHARD DANIELSON and EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 15, 2000


    PALM HARBOR -- Homeowners on a corridor more than 2 miles long continued to clean up Monday from a small tornado that came ashore Saturday near Indian Bluff Island and skipped nearly to Alderman Road.

    No one was hurt, but about 20 houses had tiles stripped from their roofs, trees toppled or porches ripped away by winds that reached an estimated 60 to 70 mph, officials said.

    "The damage here is the worst since the no-name storm" of March 1993, Palm Harbor Fire Rescue spokeswoman Kristy Patterson said.

    National Weather Service meteorologist Walt Zaleski inspected the area Sunday and described the twister that struck Palm Harbor as a "micro-tornado." On the Fujita Scale of F-0 to F-5, with F-5 being the most powerful, Saturday's tornado was an F-0, he said.

    "It was very small when you compare it with standard-size tornadoes," Zaleski said. At the most, the width of the tornado never appeared to exceed 45 feet. "Most of the time it was probably less than 10 yards in diameter at the tip."

    But it did move quickly. The tornado formed as a waterspout in the Gulf of Mexico and first touched land around Carlyle Circle and Arrow Drive, near Boggy Bayou, at 1:50 p.m. It then skipped to Ocean View Avenue, where Zaleski said it destroyed one home's lanai and peeled the second-story porch off another "like the bill of a baseball cap that's on your head."

    Continuing to the east-southeast, the tornado hopped the Pinellas Trail and Alt. U.S. 19, and damaged homes on Sparrow Avenue and in the Eniswood and Autumn Woods subdivisions. The tornado covered about 2.3 miles at 27 to 28 mph, or about 40 feet a second, Zaleski said. It lifted from the ground at 1:55 p.m., north of Alderman Road.

    "Many people, when I talked to them, said it happened so fast -- it happened in seconds -- and they were exactly right," he said.

    In the Eniswood subdivision, retired engineer Jack Keiler was watching a golf tournament on television and sanding a golf club when the twister hit.

    "It didn't sound like a freight train, it sounded like a whoosh," he said. "I went out and said, "Gee, I don't remember a tree in my swimming pool.' "

    On Monday, as Alicia Keiler talked with an insurance adjuster, the 100-foot tree still lay across the top of her pool's screen enclosure. The pool was littered with branches and an umbrella.

    Late Monday morning, pine branches were stacked three and four feet deep next to almost every mailbox on one stretch of Eniswood Parkway, and chain saws continued to cut through the debris.

    Steve Fisher of Autumn Woods said he was in his family room watching TV and "all of a sudden I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I was looking out the picture window. I saw debris flying. The wind headed north for 10 to 15 seconds, then it went the other way."

    After hearing a thud, he saw a 50- to 60-foot pine tree that had fallen and punched two holes in the roof. A wheelbarrow was thrown across the street, and another tree was down in the front.

    A former vice president of CompuServe, Fisher grew up in the Midwest and witnessed first-hand the damage done by a tornado in the 1960s that killed scores of people in Indiana. After he came here, he lost his roof during the no-name storm of 1993.

    Still, he called this tornado "scary, because you don't know what it was."

    On Monday, a tree service crew had chopped up and carted away the remains of the dead tree in the front, and were working on the one on side of the house.

    A total of 2,000 Florida Power customers in Palm Harbor lost power, utility spokeswoman Mary Estes said. Half had their power restored by 2:30 p.m. The rest were reconnected by 4:30 p.m.

    In Tarpon Springs, the storm caused little damage, said Kevin Bowman, deputy chief of the Tarpon Springs Fire Department. Four cars had to be towed from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which was badly flooded. A few other streets also flooded, he said.

    But 3 miles to the northeast of the tornado's path, Nancy Lloyd and her 18-year-old daughter, Kristen Campbell, also witnessed the power of the thunderstorm. They were watching television about 2 p.m. when they heard what sounded like a train, then cracking sounds. Then a four-story pine tree toppled onto their front porch. It smashed in the porch roof, but did relatively little damage to the house, which sits near Lake Tarpon on Meyer Lane.

    "It looks worse than it is," said Lloyd, who owns Technicuts hair salon in Tarpon Springs. "There's no windows even shattered. . . . I was like, okay, "Lord, thank you. I'm alive."

    - Times staff writer Katherine Gazella contributed to this report.

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