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Heavy thunderstorms moving through bay area

UPDATE (4:30 p.m. Wednesday): Bay News 9 also reported that the Countryside area of Pinellas County has received 3 inches of rain.

UPDATE (4:10 p.m. Wednesday): Lake Lindsey Road in Hernando County has been temporarily closed from U.S. 41 to Daly Road after a sinkhole caused a culvert to collapse, according to the county's Division of Transportation Services.

UPDATE (4 p.m. Wednesday): Bay News 9 reports that an Urban Flood Advisory is in effect until 4:45 p.m. for Northwest Hillsborough, Southwest Pasco and Pinellas counties. A severe thunderstorm warning is in effect for the area until 4:15. ... Bay News 9 also reported that streets were flooding in New Port Richey thanks to 2.12 inches of rain in 50 minutes.

TAMPA — Lale Atkinson was about to place some bedsheets in the washer when she suddenly changed her mind.

Instead, she headed to the kitchen to make some rice.

Seconds later, her neighbor's 40-foot oak tree collapsed on her Seminole Heights home, crushing her laundry room. Atkinson fell to the floor, her dog circling around her.

"I've never ever come this close with death before," she said early Wednesday. "God, I guess, spared me for a reason."

Atkinson was among the Tampa Bay area residents coping with the aftermath of a powerful round of thunderstorms that knocked out power to thousands, caused scattered structural damage and dumped nearly 3 inches of rain in parts of the bay area late Tuesday.

And another string of thunderstorms, possibly with gusty winds and hail, are expected to roll into Tampa Bay Wednesday afternoon and later this week with a 50 percent chance on Thursday and Friday. But the worst is over, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming.

The weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties Wednesday. Cloud to ground lightning, winds up to 60 mph and hail the size of quarters may form.

Damaged trees were reported in Hillsborough and Hernando counties. Golf ball-sized hail pummeled Town 'N Country. A water spout formed in Old Tampa Bay, and a wet microburst -- a storm with winds as strong as a small tornado -- swept through central and northern Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

In Pinellas Park, 1.62 inches of rain was reported Tuesday, and another 2.85 inches was reported in Westchase in Hillsborough.

Bay News 9 meteorologist Mike Clay said Tuesday's destructive thunderstorms in Hillsborough were caused when two smaller storms joined.

"When storms merge, you usually get some sort of minor damage," he said. "When a couple storms come together, there's no way to predict that."

Electric companies were still restoring power to homes and businesses on Wednesday. In Hillsborough, about 9,000 customers had no power on Tuesday, said Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs. On Wednesday afternoon, that number had declined to about 1,000, with most customers in Seminole Heights and Temple Terrace.

Nearly 100 TECO workers were making repairs Wednesday. The main challenge, Jacobs said, were the fallen trees. "The trees are taking wires down and transformers down," she said.

In Pinellas, there were about 1,500 customers without power throughout Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, 170 were reported without electricity, said Progress Energy spokesman Rob Sumner.

Significant damage also was reported at the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheater, where roof panels on a huge sound barrier were blown onto the nearby entrance ramp to Interstate 4. There were no shows scheduled for Wednesday, and the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival on Friday will continue as planned, officials said.

At the nearby Florida State Fairgrounds, outdoor bathrooms, fences and trash cans were blown over.

Seminole Heights in central Tampa sustained most of the damage. The sound of saws and rustling leaves could be heard as residents sifted through fallen oak trees blocking roads and yards.

"It was like a war zone," said Francisco Tommasi, of Seminole Heights.

His next-door neighbor, Atkinson, peered through a window in the back of her house Wednesday morning. All she could see was Tommasi's collapsed tree, several of its long branches still dangling overhead. "Oh my God," she whispered.

Atkinson said she doesn't know how she will pay for repairs. She had quit her job earlier this year to visit her native country of Turkey, where a close uncle had died. Neither she or Tommasi has home insurance.

"I don't know how much it's going to cost me to get this tree off my house," she said, crying.

Tommasi and other neighbors have helped Atkinson with small repairs. He planned to patch holes in Atkinson's roof on Wednesday. His family had looked into chopping down the tree several months ago, Tommasi said, but it would have cost thousands of dollars.

A few houses down, Don Engleberger was sifting through the debris left behind in his nursery. Two oak trees in his yard were uprooted, damaging plants and blocking the street. Engleberger's chain link fence is now broken.

But Engleberger remained optimistic. "No structural damage," he said. "Which is very fortunate. A lot of people are worse off than I am."

Times staff photographer Skip O'Rourke contributed to this report.

Heavy thunderstorms moving through bay area 07/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 5:49pm]

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