NEW PORT RICHEY — Ronald Disbrow knew the giant oak tree that shaded his duplex on Illinois Street had seen better days.
In August, he said, an arborist concluded the tree was dead and needed to come down, or else it would eventually collapse on its own.
But after getting an estimate that it would cost him about $3,000 to chop it down, he said he decided to wait. Money is tight, he said.
"With the cost of taxes and the insurance on this property,'' he said, "I am having to reach and pay for this out of my pocket and savings."
About 12:30 a.m. Thursday, in the duplex next door to the one Disbrow owns, Tryston Bussey, 16, played video games. His mother was at work.
He heard a crack that came from the ceiling. He immediately paused his game and checked on his little brother and sister, 11 and 8, who slept in their bedrooms.
"It also felt like an earthquake so I was startled," Bussey said.
The top of the 60-foot oak tree had toppled onto the house.
A 26-year-old woman who lives in the other unit of the duplex said it sounded like an airplane crashing down. She ducked under her covers.
"If it would have came all the way through, it would have been on me," said the woman, who would give only her first name, Lacey.
Bob and Tena Cook live in Disbrow's duplex. She had just walked her dogs — a beagle named Precious and a chihuahua named Tiger — and had settled in when the tree crashed. It crushed their 2004 Chevy Cavalier.
Within minutes, all the neighbors found themselves standing outside in the dark, staring at the damage, thankful that everybody had escaped injury. Since the tree didn't penetrate the living areas, they were able to go back inside.
In the light of day, Debora Neville, who owns another duplex that escaped the falling tree, said she had been concerned about the old oak. Neville hired the arborist.
Neville notified the city's code enforcement department and also sent a letter to Disbrow explaining the danger and telling him he would be "100 percent responsible" for any damage.
Neville has two duplexes that sit beside each other and are for sale. Her real estate agent, Rich Solkin from Future Home Realty, said they already had the property under contract to be sold and hoped to close the first week of May.
"It's never going to happen at this point," Solkin said.
Disbrow hired Pasco Tree and Crane, which sent a crew over to cut up the fallen tree Thursday morning. But the crew found another problem — bees. An active hive was lodged in the trunk that still stood. Bill Kromer, who owns the company, said the bees must be removed before he can complete the cleanup. Disbrow said that will happen today.
"It just needs to come down, and everybody needs to relax," said Kromer, who then noted the tornadoes that struck the same day throughout the South. "It's just a tree; we could be in Alabama."
Jacqueline Baylon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.