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In worst-hit Progress Village, neighbors help neighbors clean up from storm

TAMPA — The storms that whipped through Tampa Bay left Mamie Pittman with half a house.

Winds yanked off her roof and left it looking like a half-opened pull tab. Part of it spilled into her neighbor's yard. Friday's clear skies exposed the destruction of her living and dining rooms open to the sky. Broken glass lined the floor.

But Pittman, 74, smiled as she sat in her kitchen eating a burger a neighbor's son gave her. She and her neighbors in Progress Village were some of the hardest hit by Thursday's intense storms, but they spent Friday helping each other.

Electrical wires were down, tangled and draped across roofs, streets and cars. Power couldn't be restored until every wire was accounted for or there would be a risk of someone getting electrocuted.

Many neighborhoods in Hillsborough County were in bad shape, but "the most significant damage as far as size and concentration is Progress Village," said Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.

Half of the 100 homes damaged in Hillsborough were in Progress Village, McKinnon said. Most of the 60 trees taken off roads by sheriff's deputies with chainsaws were there, too. McKinnon saw a full-size trampoline sitting at the top of a 50-foot oak tree.

Mamie Pittman's son, James, said he saw Thursday's storm coming, but it was unlike anything he'd ever seen before.

"It was weird. It didn't look like a tornado," Pittman said. "The rain was just coming at you sideways."

Every one of the 800 homes in Progress Village was without power Friday, but Pittman said neighbors immediately pitched in. In front of his mother's house, James Pittman waved to another man who took the day off from work to hand out bags of ice from his pickup.

Across the street, a sign read: "Rebuilding Together."

And people were.

Neighbors sawed down big chunks of fallen trees and tossed them into large bins as garbage trucks circled the streets. Neighbors swept away small branches and dirt to uncover driveways.

Tanya Lee was at work Thursday when the rain pounded the windows of the Amscot Tax Service building. She and other employees hid in the bathrooms. "It was hitting the windows so hard to where you thought it was going to break it," said Lee, 42.

So much debris covered the road to her mother's house that Lee had to detour from her usual route. When she got there, the roof was damaged and the top of the screened-in back porch was peeled off.

But Friday, she had her gloves on and was helping with the cleanup on the street where her mother, Carlene, lives. "We've just seen everybody doing it, so we just pitched in and started helping," Lee said.

On a nearby street, Tony Smith raked leaves with friends and neighbors. There were piles and piles of debris left to go.

When the storm hit, he saw an explosion as electrical wires fell to the ground. He watched tractor-trailers lifted to the other side of a fence by the wind. "It really seemed like a hurricane was here," said Smith, a Miami native.

Despite the magnitude of the storm, Smith thought it was taking too long to get power restored to the neighborhood.

Mamie Pittman was just grateful no one was hurt, despite the damage to her home of 33 years. Her son salvaged some pictures, but the furniture and everything else in half the house was destroyed.

"Well, those are material things," Pittman said. "You can replace them, but you can't replace life."

Ileana Morales can be reached at (813)226-3386 or imorales@sptimes.com.

In worst-hit Progress Village, neighbors help neighbors clean up from storm 04/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 1, 2011 11:37pm]
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