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Neighbors join to rebuild communities

Neighbors gathered Monday at Sonjia Campbell's home to help clean up debris from nearby Indian Rocks Mobile Home Park, where at least one person was killed last weekend.

Huge shards of aluminum, pieces of pink-and-orange insulation and the remains of trees littered the entire neighborhood. No exact damage count has been made in the area, which stretches about a half-mile, but a drive through the neighborhood found at least 50 homes with damage.

Most homes had broken windows and damaged screens. Several had lost their roofs and a few part of their walls. Estimates for tornado damage in Largo include 408 structures at nearly $10-million.

In the Danville neighborhood, part of the Ridgecrest area near Largo, recovery from Saturday's tornadoes has been a community effort.

John Campbell, Sonjia's husband, and two of his nephews were using a long piece of chain to try and pull a 20-foot limb from where it lodged in a huge oak tree in their back yard.

Mrs. Campbell said that kind of group effort was going on throughout the neighborhood, and not just among families.

"This has been happening constantly," she said. "This is not just family; this is people that don't even know me helping out."

Campbell said his insurance agency told him to leave things as they were until a claims adjuster could look at the damage.

"It used to be a really nice yard," he said. "I can't just stand by and leave this stuff all over the place."

The Campbells said their house weathered the tornado so well because it's older than many surrounding homes.

"You could feel this house shaking and buckling," Mrs. Campbell said. "We were told the only reason it stayed up was because the roof did buckle like it was built to do."

Helen Harris, her husband, Willie, and their five grandchildren were having breakfast in their dining room when the storm struck. When she heard the noise of the tornado, Mrs. Harris told her family to hit the floor and said she began to pray.

"There was a roaring sound and the lights blinked three times," Mrs. Harris said. "I knew right away that it was a tornado."

Mrs. Harris said that despite the devastation to their home, which was being assessed Monday afternoon, they were fortunate that nobody had been hurt.

"I went to praying . . . and I thanked the Lord that we were still alive," she said. "We're so happy to be alive. We know we have a lot of work to do, but we also know that things could have been a lot worse."

Neighbors have done a lot of work for the Harrises, helping them clear a huge pile of debris from their yard and move it to a nearby field. Willie Harris' truck remained buried beneath a chunk of a mobile home.

While they were cleaning up their home, the Harrises helped to rescue a neighbor, whom Mrs. Harris knew only as John. They pulled him from the mobile home park next door and gave him dry clothes.

There was no warning when the tornado moved in, Mrs. Harris said.

"It was real dark just for a split second," she said. "It seemed to me like the whole world was quiet. Then we heard this roaring sound and we heard glass breaking, and I saw all this stuff in the yard blowing around."

On Monday, Anne Zackery was sitting in front of her damaged home on an old orange sofa with her daughter, Millie Hill, and a friend, Clemmie Robinson.

The tin roof had been ripped off Zackery's home. She said she had no insurance and had no plans to rebuild unless Gov. Lawton Chiles declared the area a disaster zone.

Zackery, who has lived in the area for 40 years, said she couldn't stay at the house anymore. She said she would stay with her daughter for now.

"We got what we could; the rest is in storage," Hill said.

Several miles from Zackery's home at Bay West Condominiums, Terry Westlund was moving out. The roof caved in on the fourth floor and flooded Westlund's apartment with at least an inch of water.

Westlund said he is moving back to Wisconsin to go to school.

Westlund wasn't home when the tornado struck. But his roommate, Neal Mayer, was lying on the sofa, talking on the phone when he saw the trees outside bend.

Mayer ran into the bathroom just as the front windows blew out and sprayed the sofa with large shards of glass, Westlund said.

Miraculously, fish in a glass tank survived.