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Storm blows in, folks pitch in

Rows of leather bridles already hang neatly in Jim Tenney's new store.

Inside his former saddle shop across the street, ceiling tiles, thick and damp like clay, lie on the floor. Everything else _ the vast inventory of custom leather saddles, riding gear and clothing _ has been cleared out.

Tenney's was one of many businesses socked by a severe thunderstorm that swept through town about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Manolo's Italian Ristorante and Pizzeria, next door, had to close during dinner when water came pouring through the roof.

Wind gusts at Zephyrhills Municipal Airport batted around and damaged several airplanes parked under a shade hangar, airport manager Jim Werme said.

Nearly completed T-hangars set to be leased to waiting tenants sustained heavy damage, dealing a financial blow to the city.

Nearby at the city golf course, employees walked through the gutted Caddyshack Grill, where ceiling insulation littered the floors and tables. The building's roof lay outside on the ground.

The National Weather Service in Ruskin said the storm was fierce, but no tornadoes were reported.

City Manager Steve Spina said no injuries were reported. He was most concerned about damage at the airport and the potential lost revenue.

"We haven't figured out what the actual dollar value is yet," Spina said.

But Tenney's Custom Saddlery, a retail and wholesale maker of English riding equipment, came out none the worse for wear.

Tenney said he got a call about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday from Joseph Abed, owner of Manolo's, that water was leaking into the building the two businesses share.

"We rushed right down here," Tenney said Wednesday. "The fire department was already here. I opened the door, went in and found a lot of damage."

But about 150 feet away, on the other side of Fifth Avenue, was a dry, empty space.

Inside, Jerry Miller was packing up the last of his wife's things. Miller's Leap of Faith, a Christian book and gift shop, closed June 28 when Sue Lynn Miller retired.

The Millers, along with several firefighters and other residents, scrambled to help Tenney salvage his inventory, much of it leather.

"The first thing was just to get stuff off the floor and cover it with tarps before the rest of the ceiling fell in," Ms. Miller said.

At one point, Tenney, who has been in business 10 years, put the two pieces together. He asked Ms. Miller to call her landlord and find out whether the space was available.

It was.

Aided by trailers and a borrowed truck, the group of about 30 people, many of whom Tenney doesn't know, carried every bridle, saddle and stirrup to the former bookstore.

Steve Jones, a utility department employee and volunteer firefighter, helped with the hauling.

"Everybody worked real good together," Jones said.

As the fire department fielded call after call of downed power lines and fallen trees, the group labored for three hours until the job was done.

"It turned into a kind of community event," Assistant Fire Chief James Johnston said. "That's pretty much the way we do things. It's a small department."

Among the workers were a few employees from Manolo's. Abed said his restaurant wasn't hit nearly as badly as the saddle shop.

He had to close for lunch Wednesday because of the water damage but expected to reopen today. At the end of the night, Abed and his sous chef made pizzas for everyone.

Tenney, who signed a lease Wednesday morning on the new shop, was at a loss for words.

"I can't even express my gratitude. It was just overwhelming, really," he said. "It seemed like everyone knew what to do."

His wife, Kathryn, added: "We got one heck of a nice town."

_ Molly Moorhead covers news about Zephyrhills. She can be reached at (352) 521-5757 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is moorheadsptimes.com.

Jim Tenney removes tools from his Tenney's Custom Saddlery in Zephyrhills after part of the ceiling caved in during Tuesday's storm. About 30 residents helped move his inventory to a vacant store, and a neighboring restaurant fed them pizzas.

An airplane wing shows the damage from being blown into a post of a shade hangar at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport. Nearly completed T-hangars set to be leased sustained heavy damage.

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