Advertisement
  1. Archive

Bay area picks up pieces, assesses storm damage

Federal and state officials began assessing the destruction left by the weekend's killer tornadoes as police searched for a missing 84-year-old woman last seen near her mobile home moments before it was demolished.

Gov. Lawton Chiles and U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young walked the storm-devastated neighborhoods of mid-Pinellas County on Sunday, and Chiles said a state team will survey the damaged areas again today. Then the governor will decide whether to declare the area a state disaster area, making it eligible for federal help. Damage in Pinellas Park alone was estimated by city officials at about $20-million.

The governor's decision could come late today or Tuesday, said State Rep. Mary Brennan, D-Pinellas Park, who accompanied Chiles.

Young brought along Wallace Stickney, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "I've got a survey team that's already on the way here so that if the governor does indeed make a request, we'll have a head start," Stickney said.

Late Sunday, Pinellas Park police continued their search for Amelia "Millie" Riehl.

Neighbors saw her and her husband William, also 84, playing cards in the Florida room of their home in the Park Royale Mobile Home Village shortly before the tornado struck, said Pinellas Park Police Sgt. Orville Hall.

The Riehl mobile home was obliterated. Only the concrete slab remains. William Riehl was found in a ditch three blocks away from his home. Scattered nearby were the couple's personal telephone directory, a pair of glasses and a canceled check.

William Riehl was in stable condition Sunday night in Metropolitan General Hospital in Pinellas Park. Police plan to interview him today.

Police intensified their search Sunday after Ken Riehl, the couple's son, arrived to check on his parents and talked to his father in the hospital. The son called police about 1 p.m. to report his mother missing, police said.

Pinellas Park Police Sgt. Dorene Thomas said police took a dog through the mobile home park and surrounding areas, but found no trace of the woman.

"We've called hospitals, we've called motels, we've checked with neighbors," Thomas said. "No luck. She should have turned up by now." Anyone with information is asked to call the Pinellas Park police department at 541-0758.

Those killed by the storm have been identified as Sambecca Shotts, 34, 10749 63 Way North, Pinellas Park; Theresa A. Moore, 63, of the Park Royale Mobile Home Village in Pinellas Park; and Mary Rickey, in her 70s, a resident of Indian Rocks Park, a mobile home community in Largo.

Another storm victim was in critical condition Sunday.

Herbert Jahnke, 67, was seriously injured during the tornado at his son's home at 6296 Falling Leaf Court in Pinellas Park. He was hospitalized at Bayfront Medical Center.

Marianne Pasha, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County sheriff, said 53 people were injured seriously enough to be transported to hospitals, and six of those were admitted. Many more suffered minor injuries.

In the damaged neighborhoods, recovery already was evident in some areas.

Neighbors passed out doughnuts and coffee, and insurance adjusters passed out checks. Cleanup was under way.

"Don't worry," Mark Henn, a claims adjuster for Allstate Insurance, told resident Agnes Burdick. "Everything's going to be fine. We're going to help you."

Henn is one of 45 Allstate adjusters who took more than 200 claims in the five hours after the storm struck Saturday. He and other Allstate agents estimated they handed out $75,000 to $100,000 in emergency living expense checks from 9 a.m. until noon Sunday.

Relief workers also descended on the damaged areas Sunday, passing out croissants, sausage biscuits, donuts and coffee in mobile canteens.

Salvation Army volunteers handed out more than 3,000 meals over the weekend. Using mobile units, Red Cross teams served 1,150 sandwiches, sodas and snacks. They will return today.

A number of Tampa Bay residents also began their own private relief efforts. Tampa residents Bruce and Pam Benson, for example, set up a canvas tent and gave out apple sauce, baked beans and orange juice _ this after providing similar help to people left homeless in Dade County.

"The Lord has been good to us," Mrs. Benson said. "And I think this is a good thing to do on a Sunday morning."

Don Walker, who owns a roofing company, and another friend also began covering the roofs of damaged homes with felt, free of charge.

"I was brought up to help somebody, not to take them and clean them out," Walker said. "I'm as poor as the next guy."

Extra police officers Sunday were patrolling areas hardest hit by the storm.

In Pinellas Park, at least one person was arrested early Sunday on a charge of loitering and prowling.

Bruce Anthony Gunnin, 20, was spotted bicycling around Autumn Run subdivision in dark clothing around 1:10 a.m., an arrest affidavit said. Asked what he was up to, Gunnin told police he was "just looking around," the affidavit said. Gunnin was released on $250 bail.

Five others were arrested Sunday in the tornado-stricken parts of unincorporated Pinellas County along Ulmerton Road north of Pinellas Park, said sheriff's department spokeswoman Pasha.

One person was charged with possession of burglary tools; four others were charged with prowling, Pasha said. Pasha could not provide details of the arrests.

Sightseers, too, were a problem in some spots Sunday. "Our biggest advice is to stay away unless you have business in these areas," Pasha said.

_ Staff writers Nichole Christian, David Olinger, Bill Adair, David Rogers, Jeff Testerman, Jenny Deam and Elijah Gosier contributed to this report.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement