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High winds pound Pinellas

A tornado or tornadoes struck Clearwater, Belleair and Largo late Monday afternoon, ripping through roofs, upending trees, shattering windows and knocking down power lines.

But to some weather-weary Floridians, the severe weather almost seemed tolerable. At least it wasn't another Hurricane Andrew or a repeat of the Pinellas Park tornadoes that killed four people last year. Police reported no serious injuries.

"At least the house isn't flooded," said Jan Bochebner, 56, as she picked debris out of a neighbor's yard on Sunset Bay Drive in Belleair. "I can handle this stuff."

Homes in her neighborhood were flooded during March's severe storm.

Ron Humbel, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said tornadoes are common from June 1 until late September. The warm and moist summer weather, combined with certain wind patterns, help form tornadoes, he said.

A tornado ripped roofs off buildings near the corner of Clearwater-Largo Road and Ponce De Leon Boulevard shortly before 6 p.m. Windows were smashed, branches littered the streets and a large air-conditioning unit sat in a parking lot, blown there from a roof. At a nearby shopping center, cars had been damaged by falling branches.

Erika Zapata, a Winn-Dixie cashier, was shocked to find a branch stuck through the front grill of her new Geo Tracker.

"I was dying," Zapata said. "I haven't even put the first payment on my car."

Matthew Christian Young was driving a forklift at Alcoa Recycling at 1696 Clearwater-Largo Road when a co-worker yelled at him Monday. He wheeled around and saw the tornado.

"That sucker came right at me," he said. "It came right dead at me."

He sprinted inside, through an open door. He and another worker grabbed each other and huddled behind a soft drink machine, watching the tornado careen toward them.

The winds knocked over a heap of scrap aluminum. The building is filled with aluminum cans, and they started to whirl around inside. "We were getting pelted," Young said.

But the tornado seemed to jump over the building, Young said. He was unhurt.

Just behind the Alcoa building, the tornado tore the metal roof off the building where Lawrence Jones salvages used auto parts.

"We were scared and mad," said Jones' 12-year-old son, Shawn. "We thought our dad's shop was messed up real bad."

There was no shortage of ironies in this storm.

Robert Woolever and his wife, Michelle, had moved into their home at 703{ Smith St. a week before. On Monday they sat huddled in a corner and watched as parts of the roof flew off.

Mrs. Woolever said she is grateful this tornado wasn't devastating. "All we did is sit on the floor and ride it out," she said.

Now Woolever has to spend weeks repairing the roof.

"It's a mess," he said. "It'll be a long time before we'll get it fixed."

Berenice Giordano came from Long Island, N.Y., last week to repair damage that her home on Sunset Bay Drive in Belleair suffered during the so-called storm of the century in March. On Monday night, she had more damage to repair, including one of the windows she had replaced.

Elsewhere on the street, roof beams, sheets of plywood and tiles were lying in front yards.

As the spokesman for the Clearwater Police Department, Wayne Shelor regularly gives out information about news events. This time he got closer to the story than he intended.

In front of his house in Belleair, Shelor snapped a few pictures of the tornado. But when it got too close, he darted for the corner of the house. He remembers seeing the roof pass under him, as the tornado lifted him and dropped him in the back yard. He was treated for a sprained arm.

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