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Storm didn't spare Belleair area

The Belleair area wasn't left untouched by Saturday's tornadoes.

Residents and officials reported extensive damage in Belleair and Belleair Bluffs. Homes were damaged, and the art gallery at the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center was forced to close.

Belleair Town Manager Stephen Papalas said Tuesday that the town had extensive tree damage.

"It will probably take us the better part of two weeks to clean up," he said. "We have two outside tree firms, plus all the members of our operations division working."

"The southwest side of town caught most of the damage," he said. That area includes Rosery, Mehlenbacher, Manatee and Palmetto roads and Ponce de Leon Boulevard, he said.

A crew of six from the Belleair water department was working on a water main break at the time of the tornado, Papalas said.

Water supervisor Raylondra Hulsizer suffered a back and neck injury when she was hit by flying debris, he said. Another employee was hit by debris but wasn't hurt, he said.

Papalas said damage estimates are not available.

The exhibition gallery at the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center was closed because of tornado damage, art center officials said.

The roof on the Shillard-Smith Gallery was torn open, and rain poured in on exhibits in the gallery, said Nancy Kelly, the assistant to the director of the art center. Most of the works had minor damage to their frames and matting.

Nearly 100 pieces of art got damp, but there appeared to be no irreparable damage, Kelly said.

The gallery was closed Saturday, shortly after the opening of a major two-month exhibit, Kelly said.

"We had an official opening the night before the tornado," the art center's curator, Barbara Hill, said Tuesday.

No one was in the 40-year-old gallery when the tornado struck, Kelly said. However, students and teachers were in a studio in a wing of the building, Kelly said. None of them were injured. They later helped gather 600 works of art being displayed or stored in the building, and they moved the art work to another building, Kelly said.

"We have this area of giant oaks and it was like an egg beater went through it," Kelly said.

Classes offered by the art center will continue as scheduled, Kelly said.

Art center officials had hoped to have the gallery's roof repaired and the building reopened by Nov. 1, Kelly said.

"The contractor said maybe two weeks, but that's before they knew the extent of damage all over the county," Kelly said.

In Belleair Bluffs, 25 to 30 people were evacuated to a shelter Saturday from the Bay West condominium at 2525 West Bay Drive when the roof was blown off two wings, said Belleair Bluffs Mayor John Diller. He said about 22 units were affected and that the residents would not return until the roof was repaired.

A total of 25 businesses and 30 homes had everything from very serious damage to broken windows, he said. Damage estimates could be more than $2-million, he said.

The City Hall roof at 115 Florence Drive was peppered by debris and will have to be replaced, Diller said. Windows were blown out of three police cruisers, he said, and one police officer suffered minor injuries from flying glass.

Gas pumps were blown down at the Chevron and Mobil gas stations at West Bay Drive and Indian Rocks Road, Diller said. The nearby Pizza Hut had roof and structural damage and was still closed on Tuesday. Albertson's also had roof damage but was open Tuesday while repairs continued.

The roof was peeled off Belforest Center on Indian Rocks Road, and some of the air conditioning units on top of the shopping center were flung through the plate-glass windows of the businesses. All the businesses are closed until the roof is replaced.

Sandra Riskowitz, owner of Petals and Plants Florist in the Belforest center at 125 Indian Rocks Road, said Tuesday that Largo and Dunedin florists came out after the tornado to help make deliveries and move some plants. "We were able to salvage some of the plants and we got out all but one order," she said. "We had a wedding, and I know it got delivered."

Until the roof is replaced, she said business will be handled at her other Petals and Plants shop in Clearwater.

Jerry Hubbell said damage to his funeral home at 409 Indian Rocks Road is estimated at $200,000. "The tornado peeled about half of our roof off and the rain poured in," he said Tuesday. "It damaged carpeting, draperies and a lot of furniture in the chapel, visitation rooms, lounge area and an office. But we were able to save our computers; electronic damage was minor. We have a large room that was not damaged that we'll be using."