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Pinellas takes first steps on road back to normal

In Pinellas Park, Largo and Treasure Island, residents started patching up roofs, boarding up windows and clearing away the debris that filled their homes and yards.

While road crews cleared fallen trees from streets, many residents began loading up their waterlogged belongings in rental trucks and vans. In many cases, they will be away for months while workers rebuild their devastated homes.

Gov. Lawton Chiles, U.S. Rep. C. W. Bill Young and Wallace Stickney, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, showed up for a look at the destruction.

Chiles said four state officials would arrive today to assess the damage and determine what kind of federal help is needed.

"The damage is the same as Homestead," the governor said. "It's just that Homestead was a much larger area."

Relief workers drove around the damaged areas in mobile canteens, offering people sandwiches, donuts, coffeeand soft drinks. Baby food, diapers andformula also were available. Officials also gave out plywood, nails and duct tape.

But it will be a long time before the damaged neighborhoods return to normal from the tornadoes that killed three people,including one woman at a Largo mobile home park.

"I haven't had enough to let it all sink in," said Diana Dougherty, a Pinellas Park resident who lost her home in the Autumn Run area. "I'm dazed."

There was heavy damage to businesses near the intersection of Ulmerton and Walsingham Roads. The doors blew off Klaus' Body Shop and the roof at Suncoast Mobil caved in. Glass blew around the cashier's counter while employee Jack Altschuler crouched in a fetal position, surviving uninjured.

At Frank's Nursery, the tornado carried off a trash bin to a church parking lot 250 yards away, tossed plant pots around and twisted off the face of a cash register, but left most of the windows and merchandise untouched.

Manager Mark Griffin said: "I was in the back room when I heard the rain pelting against the back receiving door. A hard wind was whipping up. It sounded like a freight train.

"Then the power went out, and we went into the break room. We crouched down, and (another employee) sat in front of the door trying to keep it shut.

"In three to five seconds, it was over, and we walked out to see if the employees and customers were okay. Nobody was hurt, and we got the customers out."

Patricia King ran up and down the road to see if people were all right after the tornado struck the Glenwood Mobile Home Park at 12501 Ulmerton Road.

She and her husband lost only their screened porch and sustained some damage to their roof. "It was a most fortunate thing with us. You can put bricks and stone back together, but people you can't replace."

For complete coverage, see Sections A and B.