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Near misses still felt like direct hits

Across North Pinellas on Sunday, residents grappled with yet another round of flying shingles, flooding roadways, failing power and falling trees.

Hurricane Jeanne left her mark here.

After the rains and wind subsided, stoplights dangled on broken wires, almost touching the street, and damaged fences rippled like waves. Billboards and street signs along U.S. 19 were toppled and trees draped over power lines.

By dusk, local police and fire departments were on the streets assessing damage and clearing the roadways as best they could.

In Palm Harbor, crews set out after the storm to do "windshield surveys," checking out damage from inside vehicles and responding to critical situations, said fire Chief James Angle. More complete damage assessment would begin today.

Considering Jeanne's outer-edge power, Tarpon Springs sustained minimal damage, said police Sgt. Jeff Young.

"We weathered another storm," Young said. "Again."

There appeared to be fewer downed trees and wires than during Frances, Young said, but he reported a substantial number of calls. The damage was sprinkled across the city, from a toppled wooden ticket-sales shack on Dodecanese Boulevard to a nearly demolished gas-station awning on U.S. 19. Pockets of mobile homes sustained varying degrees of damage, Young said, and many business signs were blown away.

U.S. 19 was transformed into an obstacle course, with chunks of trees, roof and wires blocking parts of the roadway. The hurricane knocked out numerous traffic signals on major roads, including U.S. 19, Alt. U.S. 19, Tampa, Belcher, Curlew and East Lake roads.

High winds wrenched street signs loose along East Lake Road, pushed over a billboard on U.S. 19 north of Tampa Road and brought overhead wires down across Keystone Road. None of the storm debris from Frances that had been piled up at Pinellas County's temporary drop off site at East Lake and Keystone roads appeared to have been moved by the winds.

At the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs, fishermen in bright yellow slicker suits braved the storm to protect their boats, their livelihood. As the Anclote River rose and fell, they carefully measured the thick ropes that held the boats, working fast and wet.

"If the line gets tight and breaks, the boat gets away," said worried grouper fisherman John Stalides. "Then the trouble starts."

In Safety Harbor, a board across the front window of Tim and Diane Dill-Peterson's was painted with reminders of recent storms "Charley" and "Frances," storms they thought posed more serious threats.

Bit it was Jeanne, the one Tim Dill-Peterson didn't have time to add to his board, that landed the blow.

He remembers hearing Sunday morning wind gusts pass by in clusters, like punches.

Then came the crack.

They looked out a side window, one of only two windows that weren't boarded up. Through their attached carport, they could see a large branch had fallen on their neighbor's above-ground pool, sending water from the pool gushing between the two homes.

Diane Dill-Peterson was still peering out the window when her husband began to shout: "Get out of the kitchen! Get out of the kitchen! That tree is coming down!"

Diane ran to the family room, clutching her cat and dived to the floor.

"This is it," she thought, tearing up in the retelling hours later.

Then came the crash, a sound a neighbor likened to a car ramming a house.

When silence returned, the Dill-Peterson's home on 11th Avenue N was spared. But the large oak tree crushed the carport, burying her brand new 2004 Hyundai.

Still, they were alive.

"The best we can tell, we were so lucky," she said.

Dave Braverman, who lives across the street, wandered over to survey the damage. He was standing in the Dill-Peterson's driveway when he heard a loud crack behind him. One half of a large, two-pronged oak tree was falling onto his home.

"It was like it was falling in slow motion," he said.

The tree came to rest on top of the home, but did not appear to cause any damage.

Then the second prong of the tree fell. It took out a power line and landed atop their 1999 Ford Windstar van, smashing the windshield and a side window and pushing in the roof of the car. But it missed, by inches, their 1993 Chevy Suburban.

"Well, the car is only a possession," said Amy Braverman. She and her husband run the Hippie Shack in Oldsmar.

But an expensive one, Dave Braverman said, noting that he has a $1,000 deductible.

"This is enough one, two, three, four," Amy Braverman said, ticking off the storms. "I never thought this would happen here."

Across the street, Diane Dill-Peterson said she was still shell-shocked.

"It's the weirdest feeling in the world," she said. "It just rolls your guts right up. I thought we were gone. And this is a mild storm. It's humbling."

But it was Jeanne, the one that didn't rate a mention on the wood across their front windows, that the Dill-Peterson's will remember.

"I didn't have a chance to paint Jeanne on it," Tim Dill-Peterson said. "I should've left more room."