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Tornado, storms hit Zephyrhills neighborhood

ZEPHYRHILLS — Jerry O'Sha saw the funnel cloud above the church. He was standing on the back patio of his house in Majestic Oaks Carefree RV Resort a little after 5 p.m. Thursday. His wife, Margaret, was inside getting ready for bingo. Jerry wasn't going. He's more of a poker guy.

"Margaret! Get the camera!" shouted Jerry, 68. "You've got to look at this."

He had never seen a tornado in person. He was entranced. The tornado was close and moving closer.

It skipped over Agape Baptist Church, but touched the portable buildings used for its preschool. Jerry watched as one roof was ripped off and shredded.

The tornado was coming at Jerry, who continued to stand outside in his backyard. The church is on the shore of a small lake. Jerry was standing at the opposite side of the water.

The tornado hit the lake. The swirling wind sucked up the water, creating a moving column higher than a telephone pole.

"I'll never see something like this again in my life," Jerry thought. His wife came outside and shrieked. "Jerry, you nut!" said Margaret, 68. "GET INSIDE."

The tornado was nearly to the edge of the lake, a few dozen feet from Jerry. His neighbor's cinder block pile began quivering. Then the bricks floated and flew.

Watching flying bricks woke up Jerry, who scooted quickly inside. There was no time to seek cover, not that there are many secure spots in a mobile home.

Seconds later, it was quiet.

The tornado was gone.

Jerry's neighbor's shed was destroyed. Jerry's house was structurally okay; some siding and lattice ripped off. His patio furniture was strewn about his neighbors' yards. He's still missing some chairs. He found one in the lake. The other homes in the resort were okay.

The National Weather Service said it was a category F0, the weakest type of tornado. The storms continued Friday as bands of rain pelted the Tampa Bay area. As of Friday evening, western Pasco got more than 4.5 inches of rain and eastern Pasco got more than 2.5 inches.

"We've not had any reports of flooding," said Jim Martin, director of emergency management services for Pasco County.

He said the area received much rain, but the downpour was steady — not a torrential burst, dumping rain fast, which causes flooding.

"Right now we think we are okay," Martin said. He said crews will keep watch for flooding and storm damage, as the rainy weather continues this weekend.

Zephyrhills Assistant Fire Chief Glen Clegg responded to the scene Thursday night. He felt lucky the tornado passed quickly and didn't hurt anyone.

"We were blessed," Clegg said.

On Friday, neighbors kept bringing by Jerry's plants and chair cushions and other belongings that had flown away.

The one thing that made him sad was the loss of his grill, which had been smashed to bits. It was a gas grill; four burners and a griddle for making pancakes. He loved it. "I'm going to miss that grill," he said Friday, staring at grill's warped frame. "That's a bummer."

He said he felt lucky he and his wife and neighbors were unharmed. "It never dawned on me to be scared," he said.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com.

Tornado, storms hit Zephyrhills neighborhood 07/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 8, 2011 8:34pm]
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