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These marriages had stormy start

Bert and Sherri Valery and Matt and Cheryl Gottschall planned to get married in a dual ceremony on the Pinellas Trail last Saturday. It didn't work out that way.

The couples were lucky to get married at all, considering the tornadoes and downpours that ripped apart and soaked portions of mid-Pinellas.

The wedding was to have been one of many festivities on the trail, part of a nationwide celebration to commemorate the 500th conversion of a rail line to a recreational trail. Most of the events, except for an early-morning torch relay run, were rained out and have been rescheduled for today. But with out-of-state relatives here for the weddings, and with Premier Bride magazine and Pinellas Deaf Service Center sponsoring the event, the weddings went ahead.

Mrs. Gottschall said she had about 15 relatives come for the wedding, including some who had not seen each other in 25 years. Knowing that, the magazine's Darlene Cain said, "We've got to pull this off!"

When Cain's partner, Gary Stringer, and Ernie Foster of the Deaf Service Center checked out the planned wedding site at 102nd Avenue in Seminole early Saturday morning, they found it already flooded and being buffeted by winds. They decided to move the ceremony to the breezeway at Hamlin's Landing in Indian Rocks Beach, which already had donated honeymoon suites for the two couples.

Later that morning, as Cain and Stringer were headed for Hamlin's, they stopped at the Banquet and Wedding Center on Park Boulevard where the women in the wedding party had gathered for last-minute work on their hair and makeup. They got there to find the place without power so the women were told to proceed to Hamlin's.

Cain also learned that the Hamlin's Landing breezeway was awash and the ceremony would be moved indoors. But there was no power at Hamlin's, either, so a wedding consultant was sent to pick up a generator.

The ceremony was delayed 45 minutes but finally took place in front of about 60 guests. Valery said half of the invited guests couldn't make it because of streets blocked by police officers and downed trees.

Power was restored 10 minutes before the ceremony so they did have lights and air conditioning.

Everything from then on took place without a hitch.

"It was well worth it," the Gottschalls said Thursday just before leaving for a long weekend at Walt Disney World.

"The storm was a disaster," Valery said, "but it (the wedding) was a lot of fun."