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Cleanup crews rush in behind Hernando's severe storm

SPRING HILL — In the wake of Tuesday evening's violent storm, many Hernando County homeowners woke up Wednesday morning to find low-hanging power lines, trees down in their yards and damage to their properties.

Assessment teams surveyed the wreckage Wednesday and will complete their appraisal Thursday, emergency management director Cecilia Patella said. Though she said she couldn't be sure of the exact figure until the survey was completed, she estimated that about 20 structures were impacted, adding that it was too early to approximate the cost of the damages.

No injuries were reported.

National Weather Service officials, Patella said, determined that the area was hit by severe straight-line winds — not tornadoes — as some Spring Hill residents reported Tuesday.

Directly after the storm, public works crews removed trees and limbs in the southeast quadrant of the county near Powell Road and in the Weeki Wachee area west of U.S. 19. Workers had cleared roads of debris by 9 p.m. Tuesday.

About 3,000 of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative's roughly 77,000 Hernando customers lost power during the storm. Crews had restored service to a large majority of those by midnight, spokesman Dave Lambert said Wednesday.

"We had some scattered ones early this morning we were still mopping up," Lambert said.

WREC officials are pleased with the relatively low number of outages considering the storm's severity, Lambert said. The company has made efforts to beef up its infrastructure and prune trees near lines to minimize problems during high winds.

About 210 Progress Energy customers lost power during the storm, a spokeswoman said. One customer was still without electricity Wednesday, according to the company's online outage map. Progress Energy serves about 10,300 customers in Hernando.

Starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday and including the overnight hours, weather stations based at the Hernando County Airport and another in northeast Hernando County near Nobleton recorded rainfalls of 1.02 inches and 1.31 inches, respectively.

Homes on Ferry Avenue off of Broad Street were hammered with some of the most intense winds during the storm, bringing down heavy trees onto power lines, carports and houses.

A nearly 100-foot pine tree crushed 79-year-old Bill Cordle's shed at 18004 Ferry Ave. He was standing outside with his wife, Ruby, when the storm first hit.

"I spent 16 months in the Korean War," Cordle said as he described the storm's onset. "One of my neighbors asked me, 'How did that feel?' I said it was about like dodging bullets over there in Korea."

A National Weather Service meteorologist surveying the site said Ferry Avenue likely sustained winds of 70 to 80 mph, but he did not believe a tornado hit the area.

"It looks like there were just severe thunderstorm winds because there was not a clear path of destruction," said Anthony Reynes, standing across the road from Cordle's property. "It certainly doesn't look tornadic."

However, Reynes said the storm caused some of the worst damage he had seen in area counties since a 2005 tornado hit Pasco County.

"It tore everything up," said Cordle, who estimated his property sustained about $2,000 in damage. "I'm lucky it didn't get these cars and every dang thing."

Like ants scrambling for unclaimed morsels, dozens of men with trucks and chain saws descended upon the neighborhood to compete for work Wednesday morning. Before 11:30 a.m., Cordle said he'd received about 10 business cards from people asking to clean up his property.

Down Ferry Avenue earlier in the morning, 70-year-old Albert Taylor smoked a cigarette and leaned on his wooden cane as he haggled with Kerry Kreider, owner of Action Tree Service out of Floral City. A heavy oak had crumpled Taylor's carport and dented his roof, causing water to leak inside his home.

"Eight hundred bucks? You must be crazy. They're already cut down," Taylor said to Kreider about the fallen trees and limbs in his yard.

"I know it's hard times, but it's hard times for me, too."

A few minutes later, Taylor signed a check for $450, and Kreider's four-man crew went to work. The storm left Taylor with an estimated $10,000 in needed repairs.

The area's downed trees, Kreider said, have brought a much-needed revenue stream to his company and to others in the business.

"I'll tell you, it's been so tough for me. I made more 10 years ago than I do now," he said. "I think this is helping out everybody in the industry."

Times staff writer Tony Marrero and Times photographer Will Vragovic contributed to this report.

Cleanup crews rush in behind Hernando's severe storm 01/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 7:33pm]

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