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Storms drop tornadoes on Pasco, rain on Tampa Bay area

TRINITY — Breakfast was on the table Tuesday morning when Glenn Pratten looked out the kitchen window.

"It got extremely dark all of a sudden," said Pratten, a retiree who lives in the Oak Ridge subdivision. "The trees were moving violently."

Tornado? Pratten and his wife, Rose, jumped up from the table. He pushed his 88-year-old mother in her wheelchair just through the doorway into the next room.

"Oh, God," he prayed aloud. "Please protect us."

A loud whine that lasted only seconds — long enough to make his mother think the house would come down — and then, silence.

But his house wasn't the same. Windows had shattered, roof shingles had blown away and the pool cage had crumpled. Pink insulation fluttered through the rooms.

"My house," said Pratten, "is no longer my house."

Pratten's home was one of the worst hit Tuesday morning as tornadoes struck southwest and central Pasco County, uprooting trees, ripping pool screens, carting off gutters and fences and turning roof tiles into projectile weapons.

No injuries were reported. At least 50 homes in the county had varying degrees of damage.

Pasco County saw some of the worst damage on a day that brought rain, hail and strong wind gusts to the entire Tampa Bay area.

Thousands lost power in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. Traffic signals at busy intersections blacked out. Some spots reported hail.

One side benefit: lots of rain in the midst of an ongoing drought. Most areas throughout the Tampa Bay area reported between an inch and an inch and a half.

"This is the first day we've had like this in a while," said meteorologist Paul Close of the National Weather Service in Ruskin. "Most of the last month, it's been staying up" north.

The stormy weather, which the northern part of the state had earlier this week, isn't expected to last.

"It'll be a memory," Close said. "You probably wouldn't even know it was here."

Temperatures are expected to return to normal today, with highs in the upper 70s, Close said.

Tuesday's tornadoes in Pasco appeared to have moved from the western part of the county, snaking through the Oak Ridge subdivision and then moving over to Trinity Oaks, said Jim Martin, Pasco County's emergency management director. The storms then headed toward the Wesley Chapel area.

By late afternoon, the weather service had confirmed that an EF0 tornado, with 80 mph winds, had struck Wesley Chapel. Based on damage reports, the tornado was most likely stronger in the southwest part of the county, Martin said.

Thirteen Oak Ridge homes were damaged, three extensively, Martin said. The one with what appeared to be the most severe damage was unoccupied and for sale, according to the owner's son-in-law.

Nearly 25 homes in Trinity Oaks were damaged, about three of those extensively. Seven homes in Wesley Chapel had roof damage.

The storm's aftermath revealed a surreal precision.

Just a few houses down from Pratten, a Jesus garden statue had not even toppled.

Twenty yards away from Tricia Bright's Trinity home, where she had crouched with her three young children in a closet as her front windows shattered from flying debris, another home had not even a potted plant upturned.

And in Wesley Chapel's Aberdeen subdivision, the tornado almost appeared to have targeted Cara McKiernan's home, ripping her roof and flipping her Toyota Highlander over in the driveway. Her neighbors' homes had much more minor damage.

"I wouldn't say I feel singled out," she said, "but just freaked out."

• • •

At Bright's home in Trinity, it was just after 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Her husband, John, was at work in Safety Harbor. She and her two daughters, ages 2 and 6, were in the living room. Her 7-year-old son was in the bathroom, getting ready for school.

Like Pratten, she, too, suddenly noticed the darkening sky.

"I said, 'Wow, girls, look at that storm coming,' " she said. Then "Boom! The lights went out and the most horrific noise."

She did the first thing that came to mind: She herded all three children into a closet near the bedroom.

"I could hear things crashing," she said. But above it all, she heard a loud moaning.

"It was a matter of seconds," Bright, 33, recalled, "but it lasted so long."

Then it stopped. The children didn't want to leave the closet, so Bright jumped out, grabbed her cell phone and called her husband.

Roof tiles from the neighbor's house had crashed through the windows and the glass doors, leaving shards all over their hardwood floors. Their small swing set had blown over, the pool screen was ripped and their new roof had lost shingles.

Hours later, Bright was still trying to comprehend the speed at which everything happened.

"At least with a hurricane," she said, "you have a warning."

• • •

Around 9 a.m. in Wesley Chapel, Cara McKiernan was talking on the phone and folding laundry. Her young daughter had been watching cartoons when a tornado warning broke in. Mc­Kiernan told her not to worry too much. Those warnings break in all the time.

Then came a loud crash.

"I looked out and saw the pool cage collapse," McKiernan said.

Then came a second crash. That's when she saw her sport utility vehicle flipped on its roof in the driveway.

Outside, she and her husband surveyed the damage. Shingles had blown off the roof. Siding had blown off the house, leaving a hole near her daughter's bedroom.

By early afternoon, neighbors arrived at their home. They had a blue tarp, and they were ready to help patch things up.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Storms drop tornadoes on Pasco, rain on Tampa Bay area 04/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 3:50pm]

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