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Storms batter homes, flood roads in Pasco County

LAND O'LAKES

Pat Pannullo moved to Lake Padgett Estates in October. "Yesterday this was my dream house," Pannullo, 62, said Thursday morning after a severe storm roared through Pasco County. Winds ripped off the screened enclosure for her pool. A tree cracked and landed on top of her shed.

"Today it's my mess."

Other pool cages were thrashed and trees tossed in Pannullo's neighborhood by the 60 mph winds that swept across the county Thursday — the second day of a line of storms coming in from the Gulf, battering the Tampa Bay area. Meteorologist Jennifer Colson with the National Weather Service said it does not appear that any tornados touched down in Pasco, but crews were still gathering information Thursday.

She said the damage at Lake Padgett Estates was likely from straight line winds, which can inflict serious damage, especially to sheds, pool enclosures and other less sturdy buildings.

"Because of the way the structures are built, it doesn't take much wind to get them going," Colson said.

As of Thursday afternoon, the two days of storms dumped more than 6 inches of rain on the southern part of the county, with Land O'Lakes and Odessa getting the most, Colson said. Northern Pasco received 3 to 4 inches. County officials handed out sandbags at the Public Works Building in New Port Richey.

Thursday's damage was similar to the day before: Dozens of felled trees, some landing on structures or roads, and many downed power lines. Some streets were flooded. Colson said her agency received reports of pea- to marble-sized hail in New Port Richey and Wesley Chapel.

A custodian at Gulfside Elementary was indirectly hit by lightning while walking under a covered walkway before classes began. He was alert afterward but taken to the hospital as a precaution, Pasco schools officials said.

Hundreds of people were without power Thursday across Pasco County, including five school campuses, which lost power for a little less than an hour.

Pasco schools spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said the district put its inclement weather procedures in place, including taking students out of portable classrooms. School buses ran up to 30 minutes late Thursday morning, as winds swirled near several schools and rains threatened to flood the area.

The slick roads and high winds created dangerous driving conditions for everyone. Sgt. Steve Gaskins, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol, said Thursday's storms easily doubled the number of incidents on the road.

"When it's nice and dry, Tampa Bay already has issues," Gaskins said. "Add rain and heavy winds. We've been slammed all day long."

He urged people to always drive with caution in inclement weather.

State law mandates that "you have to drive within the condition of the roads," he said.

If the speed limit is 55 mph but it's pounding rain and you can barely see in front of you, then driving 55 mph is not only dangerous, it's illegal, he said. It could get a person ticketed with careless driving, Gaskins said.

"Drivers need to take into account weather conditions and other roadway factors," he said.

This week's stormy weather also inflicted damage at Chasco Fiesta. The rain forced organizers to cancel Monday's Bluegrass concert in Sims Park. Turnout was low at Tuesday's Noche Latina, and Wednesday's Dancing Under the Stars event lasted less than an hour.

"The vendors were open maybe a half an hour, then closed when it got rainy," said Kristen King, one of the event organizers. "There was nobody other than the band there."

Low turnout means less cash for the numerous nonprofits that sell food and conduct other fundraisers as part of Chasco Fiesta, Pasco's oldest, largest and longest festival in downtown New Port Richey.

"If the vendors aren't open, they're not selling anything, they're not making money," King said.

Organizers hoped the weather would hold up Thursday night for the Rhythm & Bluesmasters concert in Sims Park.

And King said the forecast showed promise for the remainder of the festival, including the last two concerts: True Oldies tonight and the Country Concert on Saturday.

"Even though the weather has been atrocious earlier this week, it looks like Friday and Saturday should be really nice," King said. "We hope we'll have extra people who come out those days and support us."

Times staffers Jeffrey S. Solochek, Stephen J. Coddington and Bridget Hall Grumet contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Storms batter homes, flood roads in Pasco County 03/31/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 9:56pm]

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