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Residents take stock, feel lucky

John Arvay was watching television Saturday when it began.

"I was watching Channel 10, and they said a tornado just went by Pasco County," he remembered.

Arvay chuckled. "Instead, it suddenly went over us."

Arvay was one of numerous residents of the Moon Lake area whose homes suffered damage when a tornado briefly touched down early Saturday afternoon.

"I looked out the window, and all these pine cones were flying around," Arvay said. "And all you could hear was hundreds of pine cones banging against the walls.

"Trees were waving around just like grass. And it picked up that pontoon boat, ripped off its top and dropped it over there," he said, pointing to the boat in Moon Lake.

Then a neighbor's tree fell and crushed the back porch on the second story of Arvay's house.

"It was just like crunching lumber," Arvay said. "About a minute was all it lasted. Then it was as calm as it is now."

Arvay was left to survey the damage. Most of it was to the porch.

"And you know, I just finished making it up back here," the retiree said, ducking under a broken beam to examine the debris. "I was making it nice. Good thing I didn't put any furniture in it yet."

Five lots down on Lacey Street is Mike and Debbie Harback's house. It used to be surrounded by trees. Now it is somewhat covered with them.

About 30 trees were knocked down when the tornado struck. The house survived the assault well, which is surprising considering how many trees landed on it.

The lot is so dense with trees that the house was always well hidden from the road. Now those trees are mostly horizontal, protruding out toward the road.

Debbie Harback looked out on a back porch partly smashed by a fallen tree. Outside, the porch used to be a clearing where she would feed squirrels and birds. It's not a clearing now.

"This was our sanctuary," she said, a small bird perched on her left shoulder. "We could feed the squirrels; it was a (haven) for cardinals. Now (the animals) are just confused. This is their restaurant."

The Harbacks are part-owners of the Olympus Gym in Tarpon Springs. They were at a national body-building convention in Orlando when the tornado hit. They received a message from their son Jeremy, 17, when they checked in at their hotel.

"We came straight back," Mike Harback said. "Imagine what was going through our minds."

"And it was true," Debbie Harback said. "But I think we were pretty lucky. It could have been a lot worse."

Considering what happened in Pinellas, that may well be true for all of Pasco.

"We lucked out. Absolutely," said Fred Murphy, director of the county's Disaster Preparedness Unit.

Murphy said no injuries had been reported and that damage was comparatively minimal.

"When I left (Saturday), I asked to be informed of any injuries," he said. "To my knowledge, none have been reported."

With the constant rain Friday continuing on Saturday, coastal flooding might have occurred had the rain not subsided in the afternoon.

"We could have had a problem," Murphy said. "High tide on Saturday was at about 6 a.m. By as late as noon, the water did not appear to have gone down.

"The tides that we were expecting were pretty low for high tides. I was pretty sure we were in good shape as far as coastal flooding. But it definitely helped that the rain quit when it did."

Murphy said the rain did cause street flooding in isolated areas, but nothing bad.

The experience left Arvay with one thought.

"I have a suggestion," he said. "Stay out of a damn tornado if you can."

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