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Tree felled by lightning crumples Brooksville woman's home

BROOKSVILLE — Dianne Laborie was rebuilding her life.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed her Louisiana home in 2005, and things had been going well since she moved to Florida 14 months ago, hoping to start anew.

That all changed in a flash Tuesday. A lightning strike toppled a large sweet gum tree onto Laborie's mobile home about 9:45 a.m.

Laborie, 57, was at work at the time and rushed home to see the damage.

"She just kept saying, 'Help me Jesus, help me Jesus, help me Jesus,' " said Laborie's friend Kate Clarke, who drove her from work to see the fallen tree.

When Laborie, who lives alone, arrived at her home on Twin Brook Street, near the intersection of S Broad Street and Cortez Boulevard in the Southway Villa Mobile Home Park, she found the roof of her mobile home crushed, and bits of bark and branches strewn about her neighborhood.

"This was my home," Laborie said, fighting back tears as she stood outside.

The lightning bolt that split the tree was one of six sky-to-ground strikes recorded by the National Weather Service in Ruskin during the storm, which lasted about 15 minutes. That number is relatively low compared to other storms that typically sweep across the region, weather officials said. The morning storm dropped a welcome seven-tenths of an inch of rain in Brooksville.

Neither Spring Hill Fire Rescue nor Hernando County Fire Rescue responded to any other weather-related incidents Tuesday morning.

Though the tree split into many pieces, Laborie's home was the only one damaged by the lightning strike. No one was injured.

"It could have been a lot worse," Laborie said.

She paced, holding a cigarette in one hand and a Dr Pepper in the other as her neighbors used chain saws to remove the tree's trunk from the roof.

Once most of the debris had been removed from the top of her home, Laborie went inside, though the door would barely open wide enough to allow her to enter.

With its support beams broken, large chunks of Laborie's white ceiling lay scattered across her orange carpet. The ceiling drooped about 3 feet, exposing insulation. Still intact, though, was a small cross that hung above her front door that reads "Bless this home."

The damage was bad, she said, but she was thankful she wasn't home. And she was grateful to have her neighbors helping.

Laborie contacted the Red Cross later Tuesday, which then contacted Hernando County Emergency Management. Interim director Mark Tobert said his department can help Laborie find shelter while her home is being fixed, but can't do much more.

"Temporary relief is all we can really do with her," Tobert said.

Laborie will live with Clarke, her friend, until her home is fixed. Though she does not have homeowner's insurance, her neighbors promised to help her rebuild.

Michael Sanserino can be reached at msanserino@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1430.

Tree felled by lightning crumples Brooksville woman's home 05/20/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2008 6:33pm]
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