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Hillsborough declares state of emergency due to storm damage

TAMPA — Four days after wild storms swept through the Tampa Bay area, hundreds of people are still unable to live in their homes, prompting Hillsborough and Pinellas county officials to seek federal emergency assistance.

While life has quickly returned to usual for most, people living in pockets of Largo in Pinellas and Ballast Point and Progress Village in Hills­borough are coping with missing roofs, demolished walls, uprooted trees and smashed carports.

It remained so bad that Hillsborough emergency authorities declared a local state of emergency Monday. The decision frees nearly $3 million in federal and state money for cleanup, home repairs and temporary housing for low-income residents in Tampa and unincorporated Hillsborough, where Thursday's squall wreaked about $1.4 million in damage.

Pinellas officials said they will join in a Hillsborough application for business and home repair loans.

One of the worst-hit pockets still struggling is Progress Village, where officials have declared several dozen homes uninhabitable.

Mamie Pittman, 74, is able to live in only part of her cinder-block house. Half of her roof was blown away, and she figures she might have gone with it had her son not interrupted her breakfast of eggs and grits and told her to run for the bathroom.

She doesn't have insurance. Medication after heart surgery three years ago was just too expensive, her son said. So she was thrilled when she heard about emergency assistance.

"I hope it comes through," she said Monday.

Storm damage in Pinellas was concentrated in Largo. Most of the homes destroyed were older mobile homes.

Damage in the 55-and-older mobile home community of Four Seasons Estates mirrored that in other hard-hit areas: Destroyed homes stood just down the road from houses that escaped with barely a scratch.

In fact, resident Toni Lipscomb said, two-thirds of the park didn't realize for hours that their neighbors' homes were destroyed.

"I feel blessed only having my Florida room in the back damaged," Lipscomb said, looking across the street at an elderly neighbor's home that was pushed 10 feet from its foundation.

Piles of glass, aluminum shards and rubble sat in front of dozens of lots.

Resident Scott Kelley said "aluminum vultures" showed up Friday to collect scrap metal for cash, so deputies had to guard the entrance.

Kelley and Lipscomb described Four Seasons Estates as a tight-knit community.

"We thank the Red Cross for everything they've done and bringing us food," Lipscomb said, "but we're trying to take care of each other."

In Tampa, 34 homes and 13 commercial buildings were damaged — including Jason Boone's art studio on Interbay Boulevard in the Ballast Point neighborhood, where a neon orange "condemned" sticker marked the building as uninhabitable.

Boone worked on repairing the office building over the past two years and planned to open last weekend. Without a front wall or roof, he knows that won't happen anytime soon.

Still, he's glad to be alive.

Boone was inside the building when the wall blew in and knocked him to the ground. He has bruises and six stitches across the bridge of his nose, but he got to work Monday, picking up anything useful from the mess inside his studio.

Next door, Charles Williams swung a sledgehammer through the air, breaking apart a piece of Boone's damaged roof that flew into his yard.

"I hear part of it was found on Bayshore," Boone said.

Hillsborough and Pinellas are applying for aid from the U.S. Small Business Administration. That aid would provide low-interest loans for home and business repairs.

In the meantime, Hillsborough employees plan to set up shop at the Progress Village Recreation Center at 8701 Progress Village Blvd. to help residents find temporary housing and apply for home repair. Insured residents can also find information on navigating the insurance process.

The center will be open weekdays starting today, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Hillsborough has $2.2 million available for unincorporated residents. The city of Tampa has about $700,000. This money was already allocated for housing programs but is now available for storm damage because of the emergency declaration.

The county said it would consider helping Plant City if its housing grants become depleted.

Across the region, most homes have regained power.

Tampa Electric reported a "very small number" of customers without service. The utility said it is responding to calls as quickly as possible, with priority going to those who have been without power the longest.

One problem officials have run into trying to help those still most in need is what Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade calls "disaster tourism."

Some onlookers walked in areas where power lines hung just inches over their heads, while others stepped over lines that might still have been live.

"We were actually having to chase people back from the downed power lines," Wade said.

Times staff writers Richard Danielson, Danny Valentine, Kim Wilmath and David DeCamp contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or

By the numbers

Hillsborough County

. Unincorporated areas

124 homes with minor damage

41 homes with major damage

1 mobile home destroyed

170 trees down

40 notifications of flooding

26 traffic signals out

(restored by Friday night)

116 lift stations lost power

. Tampa

28 homes with minor damage

7 homes with major damage

11 businesses with minor damage

2 businesses with major damage

. Plant City

14 homes damaged

3 businesses damaged

52 trees down

. Temple Terrace

1 home damaged

2 vehicles damaged

Pinellas County

. Unincorporated areas

40 to 50 structures damaged

. Largo

100 structures damaged

. Dunedin

2 structures damaged

. Indian Rocks Beach

1 structure damaged

. Pinellas Park

12 to 20 structures damaged

. Indian Shores

2 structures damaged

Sources: Hillsborough and Pinellas emergency operations officials. Pinellas figures were as of Friday.

More storms today

Thunderstorms are expected to pummel the area this morning in advance of a cold front. Forecasters expect them to hit north of Tampa Bay near sunrise and reach the metro area mid morning to early afternoon.

If you need help

Call the

Red Cross at


Hillsborough declares state of emergency due to storm damage 04/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 4, 2011 10:53pm]
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