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Their world crumbled around them

In Beacon Run and Autumn Run, even the mailboxes were nice.

Residents not only kept their lawns tidy and houses freshly painted, they spent a little extra money and bought nice mailboxes _ the top of the line from the local hardware store.

It's not a fancy place. The homes in Beacon Run or Autumn Run typically cost $80,000 to $90,000. It's a place that seems to have at least one basketball hoop on every street. It's a place where people spend hours waxing their cars, cleaning their boats, sweeping their driveways.

In an instant, it was devastated.

A tornado Saturday morning ripped through the neighborhood, killing at least two people and destroying or seriously damaging dozens of homes. In a few driveways Saturday afternoon, people stood and wept.

The mailboxes, shrubbery and basketball hoops are gone. The storm ripped roofs from dozens of homes and shattered the windows in many others. In one house, a roof shingle had broken through a window and was lodged in a wall like an ax head stuck in the side of a pine tree.

A few hours earlier, residents were doing typical weekend things _ paying bills, watching TV, sleeping late. Suddenly they found themselves hiding in bathrooms or beneath their beds. Their dream homes were crashing in around them.

The tornado broke through Peggy Altavilla's back windows and splattered mud throughout her home, like a vandal leaving one last mark of defiance. Splintered wood and broken glass covered her floors. But there was no damage to her souvenir plate with the painting of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler.

She had been watching HBO in her bedroom and hid with her family in a bathroom. She jumped in the tub "and said a short prayer."

An hour after the tornado, her bedroom was strewn with wood and aluminum that had crashed through a window and landed on her bed.

"Thank God we got out of here, or we would have been dead," she said.

Many residents of Beacon Run and Autumn Run found their neighbors' belongings _ cars, boats, trucks, lawn furniture _ in their yards or homes.

Derrel Gordon found someone's lawn chair in the middle of his living room. It had crashed through his glass patio doors. An old yellow station wagon that had been parked across the street flew 50 yards onto Gordon's lawn.

A few blocks away, Darryl Archambault came out of his house and found his prized '87 Toyota pickup had been blown down the street and smashed against a neighbor's house. The pickup had been one of his prized possessions: He waxed it frequently and took good care of the engine. But he was glad to be alive.

"A truck can be replaced," said Archambault, an engineer with a St. Petersburg defense contractor. "I feel the most fortunate on the block. My roof is still intact."

Clarence Chumney lost most of his windows and the roof covering the front of his home. He found his pickup truck wrapped around the side of his home.

A 1985 Corvette and a 1986 Toyota also were casualties, damaged when the garage's roof fell on top of them.

His house was littered with debris, but on a glass dining room table, his lunch, steak and asparagus tips, was unharmed.

"We're lucky. We're living," he said.

Chumney, like many of his neighbors, had no idea where he was going to spend the night or how he would get there.

But it didn't take long for them to begin the cleanup. Within a few hours of the tornado, dozens of residents were sweeping broken glass from their homes and sawing trees that had been uprooted in their yards.

Some things may be gone forever, though.

Gordon, who found the lawn chair in his living room, said, "There are a lot more things in here that can't be replaced. . . . My son's childhood is in here _ his photographs, his Little League pictures."