It roared in from the west as Jeff Howell watched.
Outside Checkers at Belleair Road and Missouri Avenue, he was sweeping up Monday when the wind started whistling. The sky got dark, laced with streaks of lightning. It scared Howell enough to head into the restaurant.
"I was maybe 15 seconds inside the door when it hit," he said. "I saw the roof come apart on the church across the street and hit two cars in the intersection. I yelled for everyone to hit the floor."
Howell, 36, and two other Checkers employees cowered inside the building as it was bombarded about 8:50 a.m. by wind-driven debris. Windows shattered. The restaurant's sign twisted and fell.
"It lasted less than 30 seconds," said Checkers employee Todd Mazur. "There was a lot of wind and a huge amount of lightning. The building did real well considering all that."
A Saturn in the parking lot that belonged to restaurant owner Ken Olipra did not do well.
The windows were smashed, and one side was dented. The car was skewered by a steel rod driven into it.
The driver of a truck that was at the intersection had minor injuries, the only injury reported. A wooden utility pole at the corner snapped and dangled by power lines attached to it, so electricity to the area was cut off.
No one was at Missouri Avenue Baptist Church on the northwest corner of the intersection when a portion of the roof on the east side blew off. Pieces of the roof landed in the next block.
Deacon Roger White said the amount of damage was uncertain because officials would not let anyone inside the building until it was checked by an inspector. The church, which has a congregation of about 50, has insurance.