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Taking inventory of damage

The sheet metal roof at Worldwide Industries Distribution Inc. ended up in a lake a quarter mile away. A neighbor's airborne roof took its place, landing cockeyed on top of Worldwide's warehouse.

A 150-foot-long exterior wall at Medical High Technology collapsed, smashing a parked car and exposing a newly built CAT scan machine to a storm that left the machine caked with mud.

And about half of the open-air factory where Checkers Restaurants are built blew down, although all 25 portable stores under construction there survived intact.

That was just some of the wreckage among manufacturers knocked for a loop Saturday by the tornadoes that hopscotched through the heart of Pinellas County from Pinellas Park to the Rubin ICOT Center. The damage ranged from dozens of blown-out roofs and windows to a pickle factory that now resembles Stonehenge.

The Pinellas County Industry Council is assessing the damage in hopes of coordinating loans and helping businesses find new homes, but it had not completed its tally Monday.

"It is a lot worse than we thought it was going to be," said Patsy Byer, an assistant director of the Industry Council.

A few plants had to be closed, at least temporarily. Radiation Systems Inc., a high-tech defense contractor that employs 135 in Pinellas Park, was shut down Monday, according to a telephone recording. Worldwide lost most of its inventory and will set up shop in a replacement warehouse in Tampa for two weeks. And Two Brothers Pickles Inc. will move to a neighbor's volunteered space for now.

"We'll be making pickles again Tuesday morning," said co-owner Dan Farrell.

While he surveyed hundreds of dull-green dills scattered about his walk-in cooler floor, a payloader operating in a pungent vinegar vapor scooped up the rubble outside.

Across the street, a Cousin Corp. warehouse was little more than stacked cartons flanked by the jagged leftovers of three remaining walls.

And Harold Croft of Paul Properties Inc. scanned the remains of a 13-building industrial park his employer built where four buildings suffered severe structural damage.

He pointed to the three-quarter-inch-wide bolts that once anchored roofs to foundations. They were no longer embedded 16 inches deep in concrete. He retrieved them and put them in the back of his pickup truck.

"Wind ripped them right out," he said.

At Medical High Tech in the Rubin ICOT Center, Saturday's damage was deja vu. A severe tropical storm pushed over the building's south wall in 1988. On Saturday, the entire north wall crumbled on a parked car and the south wall separated from the roof.

"This is the building from hell," said president Jerry Shields.

About $2-million in sensitive machinery was exposed to the tornado-tossed elements, and the company will be idle a month as employees clean up and executives ponder their next move.

At Champion Modular Restaurants Co. _ a Checkers subsidiary that builds its portable restaurants _ the tornado exploded office windows and shoved over several trusses that supported much of a sheet metal roof.

"It's not going to slow production down one bit," said Herbert Brown, chairman of Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc. "We're in full production."

The only restaurants under construction that suffered any damage were several nicked by three-eighths-inch-thick steel trusses that fell on them. Pieces of the twisted sheet metal roof are now stacked three feet high on the plant perimeter. Others remain wrapped around trees and telephone poles as far as two blocks away.

Normally 100 people work the yard on Saturdays. Only four were there when the tornado struck.

"It was unbelievable," said Jan Newman, an accounting clerk who sought cover in the office bathroom. "Everything was flying around everywhere."

_ Staff writer Teresa Burney contributed to this report.

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