ZEPHYRHILLS — Sometime in the weekend's wee hours, as Saturday segued into Sunday, the pecuniary bombshell shaped like a Powerball landed about 300 yards from their porches.
Christine Douglas and Raybelle Surratt, octogenarian best friends and virtual Zephyrhills lifers, heard the news first via television, then via frantic phone calls from grandkids:
One ticket to a record-setting Powerball, estimated at more than $590 million, was sold at the Publix at Zephyr Commons, 7838 Gall Blvd.
Both stepped outside their tidy first-floor apartments in the new retirement facility resting on a hill above Pretty Pond Road. Suddenly, they saw the earth's media epicenter had shifted to the shopping plaza on the northern fringe of town.
Down there in the parking lot, where dairyman Fred Gore's cows grazed a generation ago, TV trucks were parked and satellite dishes were erected.
"We had quite a conference about it," said Surratt, whose late husband, Sam, served on the Zephyrhills City Council for 21 years. "They could have sent us our money by zip line."
Neither won the jackpot, but in a sense, their little town did.
In their lives, the widows have seen Zephyrhills' "City of Pure Water" label go global. They've watched parachutists from the nearby international skydiving facility nearly land in their azaleas. They remember hundreds of men from the Army's 10th Fighter Squadron training at the municipal airport during World War II.
But in terms of landmark events, having a local supermarket sell a lottery ticket worth nearly $600 million darned near trumps them all.
"Who on earth would ever think about Zephyrhills in all this big country getting some kind of windfall for somebody?" Surratt asked.
Danny Burgess sure did.
Hence the reason the 26-year-old Zephyrhills mayor and several family members went in on about two dozen tickets. He bought his at the downtown 7-Eleven.
"The first thing I did was run and check my ticket," said Burgess, a 2004 Zephyrhills High graduate and lawyer who practices in a downtown office.
"It's amazing. Obviously everybody knew what the odds were. It just goes to show if you didn't have enough reason to love Zephyrhills, here's another one."
The identity of the winner had not yet been announced, but the ticket owner matched each number to win the highest Powerball jackpot ever.
"This would be the sixth Florida Powerball winner and right now, it's the sole winner of the largest-ever Powerball jackpot," Florida Lottery executive Cindy O'Connell said. She said Florida has had more Powerball winners than any other state.
"We're very excited, but we're respectful of the privacy of our customer," Publix spokesman Brian West said Sunday. "We offer Lottery as a service to our customers, but we don't promote it."
Whoever claims the windfall will need to wait until at least this morning to cash in.
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For jackpots exceeding $250,000, Powerball rules require winners to claim the prizes in person during business hours at lottery offices. In this case, the winner will need to go to the Florida Lottery headquarters in Tallahassee with valid identification. Winners taking a cash option have 60 days; those choosing a 30-year annuity have 180 days.
"The office closes at 4," spokeswoman Meagan Dougherty said.
Virlee Anderson, a recent transplant from Virginia, exuded excitement for her new town.
"I'm touching a $600-million-winning store," Anderson said, tracing her hand on the sliding glass door as she walked into the Publix. "Oh my goodness, somebody's lucky. This is a small town, but they're on the map now."
U.S. 301 cuts through the town about 40 minutes north of Tampa, passing trailer parks and gun shops and Flaco's Cafe before reaching the store where shoppers were swarmed by the media.
Gradually evolving from sleepy to sprawling, Zephyrhills remains a town of about 13,000 — a figure that seems to double each winter with snowbirds. The city's growth is occurring on its northern edge, toward Dade City. The same plaza that boasts Publix now features a Five Guys, the restaurant chain.
"I just hope it was someone local and not someone just driving through, so the money will be spent around here and maybe be donated to a good cause," said Duane Dolly, who has lived in Zephyrhills for 33 years and bought five Powerball tickets.
Saturday night's winning numbers were 10, 13, 14, 22 and 52, with a Powerball of 11. The chances of winning were astronomically low: 1 in 175.2 million.
The small town would benefit from an injection into the local economy, some people said. Others pointed to local charities. "I think it could be a boost to the community if they donate some of the money to a worthy charity," said Ed Rosenberg of Dade City, who was at the grocery store. "Hopefully, they'll be helping out people who need it."
Some had planned what they would have done had they won — and supporting the town wasn't first on everyone's minds.
"It's awesome it was bought here, but I think it was random and the guy or girl who won it will move," said Leon Jennings of Zephyrhills. "If it was me, I wouldn't tell anyone. I'd run."
Staff writer Rich Shopes, news researcher Caryn Baird and the Associated Press contributed to this report.