Winds and rain from Hurricane Jeanne battered the beach all day Sunday, tearing off roofs and uprooting trees in a storm that everyone said was worse than Frances.
After enduring fierce winds all morning, parts of the beach buckled by afternoon. About 2 p.m., a school-bus size section of roof lifted off from the Travelodge on S Gulfview Boulevard.
The black mass flew some 150 feet, across a pool and parking lot, and smashed into the Red Roof Inn next door.
The roof crushed part of the Red Roof's fourth-floor balcony.
It sawed through two palm trees and a utility pole, and debris smashed more than a dozen car windows.
"I didn't believe it. It was like a cartoon," said Jonathan Hall, who watched the roof fold from the Travelodge's third-floor balcony.
It took Cathleen Connolly 20 minutes to stop shaking. Hotel workers moved guests from the Travelodge's top floor. Red Roof guests ran from debris, which continued to fly toward them.
"It sounded like a thunderstorm," said Jeff Watson, who was staying on the third floor of the Red Roof Inn. His rental car windows were smashed out by the mess. "I'm sure glad they convinced me to take the insurance."
Water seeped in Watson's room.
Beach water surged up onto the beach. Saltwater turned coast to muck. Wind carried bands of sand that stung like hail.
The strong winds kept the beach empty Sunday, except for a 15-foot catamaran that was buried in 5 feet of sand.
Along ritzy Eldorado Avenue, homes escaped visible damage, but a pair of portable toilets were slung onto the road. Sand and water filled streets.
At the city's municipal marina, the winds sounded like a jet engine as boats violently bobbed in the gulf waters. The tattered mainsail of one boat flapped while planters rolled down the marina's parking lot.
Valeria Conti, owner of the High Seas Motel on Gulfview, watched the metal roof of a nearby condominium building give way.
"It does that all the time," Conti said. "But this is worse. It's been pretty bad."
Siding from the High Seas wrapped around palms and the pool furniture danced in the wind.
"That one's heading right for the door," Conti said.
Back at the Red Roof Inn, winds continued to damage the 68-unit motel. Parts of the roof filled Coronado Drive and motel employees forced guests inside. Some went out for a smoke or to survey the damage.
Mike Delpha was amazed by the damage.
Delpha, visiting from New York, had happened to be in Florida when the remnants of Frances blew through earlier this month. Like everyone else on the beach, he said Jeanne was much worse.
Sunday, he looked at the Red Roof Inn, battered but standing.
"It's going to be the Sun Roof Inn tomorrow," he said.
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 445-4160 or asharockmansptimes.com.
Waves pound the seawall near Coachman Park in Clearwater as tropical storm force winds from Jeanne lash the area and fling sand that stung like hail. Surging waves turned the coastline to muck. Not surprisingly, the beach was empty Sunday.