1. Archive

The horrors, the heroes of Elmhurst Drive

11250 Elmhurst Drive

Jill Holmes became a hero Saturday.

"That's exactly what she is," said her father-in-law, William Holmes. "She saved my granddaughter's life."

Jill, a lawyer's assistant, was alone with her 6-year-old daughter, Whitney, when the kitchen lights began flickering.

"Something _ maybe the grace of God _ told me that something was wrong," said Jill, 33. "I threw her into the bathtub and jumped in on top of her."

Then the walls came down. Three cinderblocks crashed into the tub, hitting Jill on the head.

Aside from three "eggs" on her head and scratches on her shins, Jill, and Whitney, were safe.

On Sunday, Jill's husband, Blake, who was at work at Scotty's during the storm, was offering visitors rapidly melting Fudgsicles and chicken breasts from their upside-down freezer.

The house probably will be bulldozed once Jill and Blake salvage treasured items from the cement, glass and fluffs of insulation.

"This is just the beginning I guess," said Jill. "You know what though, I'm happy to be here."

For now, the Holmeses will stay with father-in-law William.

11230 Elmhurst Drive

Marwin Al-Amodi took a 16-hour flight to the United States on Saturday.

Next thing he knew, the 19-year-old foreign exchange student from Saudi Arabia was crouching in his sponsors' bathroom, praying and weeping.

He was unhurt, but the house he was supposed to stay in for the next nine months collapsed around him.

Welcome to America.

When sponsor Judi Everette told Marwin and Alaa Bashash, another Saudi student, to run to her bathroom Saturday morning, Marwin didn't understand what was happening. He knows little English.

"Then he started to realize it was serious, and he started crying," Alaa said. "He was so tired and then he encountered that very horrible scene."

As Judi, Marwin and Alaa crawled out of the bathroom, they found Judi and Jim Everette's home of nine years crushed.

"Marwin said he wanted to go back home," said Alaa.

But when the three saw Marwin's suitcase _ still packed _ out in the middle of the street, they had to laugh. Even Marwin.

"There was something really funny about it," Alaa said. "I figured, I still had my spirit inside me."

The Everettes will rebuild. Marwin and Alaa have moved to another house.

And Marwin will stay for the school year after all.

"He feels better," Alaa said. "It's over. We survived."

11210 Elmhurst Drive

Vinh and Hongvan Do moved here from Laos in 1979.

"We've worked so hard in this country since we came here. So hard," Vinh's brother, Hien Do, said. "I mean 15 hours a day, every day."

Vinh does carpentry work for a boat company. His wife, Hongvan, is a tailor.

"And now, this is all they have left," Hien said Monday, kneeling atop a pile of crushed wood that once made up his brother's house.

The Do house was among the worst hit on the block _ and their family members were among the injured.

Vinh and Hongvan were at the grocery store Saturday morning. But their daughter Susan, 9, son, Catthanh, 14, and Hongvan's elderly mother were inside the house.

They had no inkling about the storm.

"The boy said the first thing he saw was the porch pulling off of the house like vacuum," Hien said.

The children were tossed about the living room and were cut on their hands and arms, Hien said.

Their grandmother, who recently arrived in this country for a visit, had been taking a shower. She was in the hospital Monday night recovering from cuts on her arms, legs and side.

Hien and his family were waiting for advice from their insurance company Monday afternoon. They had no plans.

"But at least there are four brothers," said Hien, cheerfully pulling a surgical mask back on to delve into the dusty rubble looking for valuables. "They have us to help."

11190 Elmhurst Drive

Last time they looked, Tammi Palmer's purse was sitting right next to her Aunt Pat's purse on the kitchen counter.

When the twister was gone, the contents of Tammi's purse were all over the neighborhood: a change purse in one yard; her lighter in another; her ID cards in a third.

Aunt Pat's purse was still on the counter.

"It was so weird the way it hit and miss places," said Tammi, 23, who lived in the house with her aunt, Pat Streul, and her father, Robert Palmer, who was hunting in South Carolina at the time. All three will temporarily move in with a relative.

While their purses were taking separate courses, Tammi and Aunt Pat stuck together. They ran into a closet, shut the door and clutched each other tight.

"I thought I did pretty well in that li'l hole," said Tammi "I'm claustrophobic to begin with. I thought I was going to panic."

They were lucky. When the two climbed out of their hole, they found little of the house still standing _ just two walls and two closets.

11170 Elmhurst Drive

Fluffy and Grouper got out fine, but the last of the McGlamerys' cats was feared dead.

Not surprising, considering that the roof fell in and the middle section of the four-bedroom house all but vanished.

"This is pretty much of a wipeout," said Mac McGlamery, looking around in despair.

But Sunday afternoon, as McGlamery sorted through the debris, Snapper, the last cat, turned up, too.

It brought McGlamery's first smile in a day.

McGlamery is a veterinarian.

"I've had better days, but at least my boys got out and the cats did," he said. Snapper, shaky and wet, had hidden under a chair, which was covered with wood and metal shards, since the storm.

McGlamery's son Beau, 19, was lounging on the living room couch, alone in the house, when the storm struck Saturday. Beau dove under a table just before the roof caved in on the sofa.

A day later, he was carefree _ sipping a beverage and socializing along the street.

"It's a damn block party!" he shouted to his friends, as cars full of insurance agents, city workers and gawkers with video cameras crept down his street.

The McGlamerys, who've lived on Elmhurst Drive for four years, will move into rental property somewhere, Mac said. They were the only family on the block that rented, not owned, their house. They still felt the loss.

"You can watch it on television all you want, but you can't believe it until you've been there."

11150 Elmhurst Drive

Just as every school class has its clown, every neighborhood has a jokester.

Pete Bruno is Elmhurst Drive's.

He's everyone's pal. And, though he has no roof, no furniture and no home, Bruno had jokes and grins for all his neighbors Monday.

"You can sit here and sulk all day, but what'll that do?" said Bruno, 37, owner of a car body shop. "Hey, what can you do? It's done with."

Bruno, his wife and their two children were watching television in their family room Saturday morning. "We had the back door open and the front door open," he said. "You know, we weren't paying attention. We were watching cartoons."

Bruno was trying to shut the front door when the winds swirled through the house. The door smashed Bruno in the chin and he flew "like a straight arrow" into a back bedroom. There he found his 10-year-old son, Ryan.

"I lifted the roof off my son and he kind of stood up and dusted himself off and then put his hat back on," he said. "Just like nothing had happened.

"Then he just walked outside and sat down."

The Brunos probably won't rebuild. After living there four years, they were thinking of moving to Safety Harbor anyway. This could speed the decision.

He'll miss his neighbors, though. "I knew basically all of them," he said. "We're all pretty close."

11130 Elmhurst Drive

Amy and David Welch's car flew all the way down Elmhurst Drive and landed upside down on someone's roof.

That was the good news. The car was insured.

Their other car was only blown next door, but that was far enough _ and it probably won't be covered, Welch said.

On Thursday, a notice arrived in the mail saying an insurance payment was overdue. The storm hit Saturday. The Welches didn't see the bill until Monday.

This was the first home for Amy, 24, and David, 29, who work at Leverocks' Pinellas Park restaurant. The Welches are renting an apartment for the next two weeks but aren't certain what they'll do next.

They had hoped for a bigger house, anyway: They want more children.

Brandon, the couple's 13-month-old, hasn't slept at night since the storm. He has broken blood vessels, Mrs. Welch said.

She thinks it happened when she grabbed him from his highchair, put him in the tub and jumped in after him, she said. Perhaps she squeezed him a little, she said.

"I just wanted to protect him," she said. "The first thing I thought when David said there was a tornado was, "The baby.'


Most of the couple's possessions are gone. On Sunday, Mrs. Welch found the one that mattered most. She pulled Brandon's baby book from the rubble.

11110 Elmhurst Drive

The last time Clarence and Mary Ledford went on vacation, their used-car business burned to the ground.

That was 2{ years ago.

"They've been kind of afraid to go on vacation since," said Theresa Ledford, the couple's daughter-in-law. "They were squeamish about it."

Overcoming superstition, though, they drove to Michigan to see relatives last week.

On Monday, the Ledfords turned their car around and were driving back to see their house. Or what was left of it.

Theresa Ledford, who called the couple to tell them what happened, waited outside the house all day Monday. They hadn't gotten to town yet, but she wanted to be there when they drove up.

"I think they have no idea of how serious this is," she said. "We told them, but it's hard to explain."

"But they were saying things like, "What are we going to have to do?'

" she said. "They think there's something they can do."

In the end, it was fortunate that the Ledfords, in their 50s, were gone, their daughter-in-law said. The couple often spent rainy Saturday mornings watching television or reading the newspaper in bed, she said. A wall crashed down on the bed during the storm.

Theresa Ledford didn't know what the couple would do about cleaning up, moving out or rebuilding.

She was certain of one thing, though: It'll be a long time before they take another vacation.

11020 Elmhurst Drive

For the first time Monday, Ricky Reed saw the rubble that had been his home. He wept.

Reed was in the house when the tornado hit. In fact, he probably saved his children's lives.

But he forgot everything when he lost consciousness.

As the bad weather threatened, Reed managed to get his two children, Candace 8, and Marc, 2, into the bathtub. He lay down on top of them and suffered a concussion when a concrete block crashed through the ceiling and hit him on the head.

On Monday, a stitched-up Reed was released from the hospital. When he saw the house, he shook his head and began crying. His wife, Sherry, cried, too.

"I knew we were going to have to tear it down and start over, but I had no idea," said Reed, 36, who works for E-Systems. "No idea."

Reed had a reputation around the neighborhood as a handyman. If you dropped by to visit, the first thing he'd do was insist you check out the latest improvement to his house.

He built a deck, bird cages, a fence, a screened porch, lattices and more, friend Mike Day said. "He took a lot of pride in that place," Day said.

Neighbors who had heard of Ricky's injury dropped in.

"We don't know you, but we're your neighbors from a few blocks down, and we thought you might need help," one man told Mrs. Reed.

"We didn't get hit hard, and we feel guilty," another neighbor told her. "What can we do?"

After their tears, the Reeds got determined. Defiant, even.

"Oh, yeah, we're gonna rebuild, oh, yeah," said Reed, whose family is staying with friends. "We're gonna make it even better."

11010 Elmhurst Drive

Derrel and Loretta Gordon's banana tree was the pride of the block.

People sometimes stopped to ask about the lush tree on the edge of the pond.

Gordon, 48, loved that tree. On Saturday, it served as his warning.

"The banana tree was swirling around and swirling around and just going nuts," said Gordon, who had been preparing to watch a football game but decided to hide under a mattress instead. "That tree was just going crazy."

On Monday, Gordon's pride lay crumpled in a heap, halfway in the pond.

"We'd had it 12 years," he said, looking at the mound of green mixed with pieces of metal and pink insulation. "It's okay, though."

Like the tree, a house can be put back _ eventually. In the meantime, the Gordons and their son, who turns 20 today, have rented a car and are moving what possessions they could find to an apartment in St. Petersburg.

"We're going to rebuild, and we're going to rebuild right here on this spot," said Gordon, a salesman for an electronics company.

The only casualty in the Gordon household was the cat, Pesty. It was hit in the chest by a nail but survived.

Still, the psychological toll was high.

"The first few times we see tornado warnings come across the bottom of our TV set, it's going to be hard," he said. "But I can handle rebuilding here. My wife and son can, too."

"As my wife said, it doesn't matter where you go," he said. "In Florida, wherever you live, this could happen."