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Powerful wind, hail, rain burst in on holiday

A fierce storm left bottle rockets, tent poles and red-white-and-blue tables scattered across a parking lot Friday, putting a damper on Independence Day for a couple of fireworks retailers.

The storm struck near Hillsborough Avenue and Town and Country Boulevard about 6 p.m., toppling one fireworks tent and severely damaging another about a block away. The storms ruined all their products, vendors said.

Nearby, tree limbs lined neighborhood streets and only the skeleton remained of a Wendy's sign.

Dottie Anderson, a fireworks stand cashier, was still shaking several minutes after 40- to 50-mph wind gusts toppled the stand, ruining between $20,000 and $30,000 in fireworks, she said.

"The rain clouds moved in, and within seconds it got dark and windy," she said. "Tables started lifting. People were screaming."

Anderson thought it was a tornado, but National Weather Service forecasters said their radar only registered strong winds.

It was part of a series of storms that dumped heavy rains and hail on the Tampa Bay area late Friday afternoon. Strong winds knocked down power lines in parts of Pinellas County.

Forecasters said Pinellas Park had nickel-size hail and 2 to 3 inches of rain.

Pinellas Park resident Lance Vorberg said the water rose to 3 to 4 feet in the street around his Oak Haven Drive house, between 104th and 105th Avenue N.

The flood stalled a pickup and submerged the hoods and trunks of parked cars, but did not flood the houses on the block, he said. "The back yard looked like there was snow on the ground there was so much hail," he said. "There hasn't been as much rain since the last tornado.'

Winds and 3- to 4-foot waves also set loose a sailboat moored to the Pier in St. Petersburg and dashed it into the wall, damaging it, said Doug King of Largo, who witnessed it..

But the rain passed through by late evening, and didn't stop area fireworks displays.

On Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa, several customers and workers huddled under the tent on Hillsborough Avenue when the storm came, parents lying on top of their kids. No serious injuries were reported, only some cuts and scrapes.

Tom Anderson, the fireworks stand's manager, told Hillsborough sheriff's deputies that someone began looting the stand after it collapsed.

"I hope they feel good about themselves," he said.

_ Times staff writer Kelly Virella contributed to this report.