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Roof damage forces seniors to evacuate

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

About 135 people were evacuated from an apartment complex for residents 55 and older Sunday after Hurricane Jeanne ripped large parts of the roof from two buildings.

No one was hurt, but Dunedin Fire Rescue officials ordered the Scottish Towers II Apartments closed until city inspectors can assess the scope of the damage.

The four-story complex at 444 N Paula Drive is just north of the Dunedin causeway. It sits next door to the Scottish Towers condominiums, which lost part of its roof during Frances, prompting officials to declare 30 of the complex's 70 units unsafe to live in.

At the Scottish Towers II Apartments, manager Terry McDowell was walking on a fourth floor breezeway about 1 p.m. Sunday when two pieces of the roof, each nearly as long as a school bus, began to lift off the walls.

"It was, like, breathing," McDowell said, moving her hands up and down. Then "it came up like this bubble and it just flipped."

Sparks flew as rooftop air conditioners ripped free from their wiring.

"The main sound was when the air conditioners snapped," McDowell said.

Dunedin Fire Rescue shut off the power to the entire complex and ordered all 188 units to be evacuated.

Seventy-three residents sought refuge with friends or family. The rest were put in city recreation vans and taken to local shelters, Dunedin Fire Rescue Division Chief Tom Brennan said. Four went to a special needs shelter near Largo. The rest went to First United Methodist Church in Tarpon Springs.

It was possible to see daylight through the ceilings of at least two apartments in the building, Brennan said. Moreover, fire officials were beginning to see some of the same problems they saw at the neighboring condominiums, where rain cascaded down three floors of one building.

"Again the water's seeping down to the apartments below already," he said. "Like the last time, we've got to close the building."

With the help of about 20 firefighters, residents packed up three days' worth of clothing, medications and personal effects. Many gathered in the complex's clubhouse to wait for rides.

Others appeared ready to strike out on their own.

Amy W. Hayes, 101, put a plastic bag with a few possessions into a shopping cart and got ready to push it out to the parking lot by herself to see if her 76-year-old son had arrived to give her a ride. A firefighter and three passers-by helped her to the lot through powerfully gusting winds.

Hayes said she didn't hear the roof come off or land in a tree and shrubbery outside her first-floor apartment. She only got ready after someone came by and told her she had to leave.

"She told us it was dangerous here now," she said. "We had to get out."

Overall, McDowell said most residents seemed to understand that they had no choice but to leave.

"I think they realize the severity of it, and they're all cooperating," she said.

In addition to Scottish Towers II, powerful winds also damaged the roof on a nearby motel and several condominiums along the Dunedin Causeway, Brennan said. But none of that damage was as extensive as at the Scottish Towers II Apartments.

Next door, the Scottish Towers condominiums lost another big chunk of its roof. The damage was done to the same building as last time. Part of the roof that remained intact during Frances was ripped away and dumped into the complex's courtyard.

Both the condominiums and the apartments were built by the same developer in the early 1970s, Gates said, but they have different owners and management now.

The Scottish Towers condominiums replaced its roof 18 months ago. At the apartments, the roof was 5 to 6 years old, and McDowell didn't think the same roofer did both jobs.

Sunday's damage at the Scottish Towers condominiums is not expected to complicate the repair job, said Lester Gates, the treasurer and secretary of the Scottish Towers condominium owners association. That's because the section of the roof lost Sunday is already scheduled to be replaced beginning next week.

"They don't have to tear it down now," Gates said. "They just have to pick it up off the ground."