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  1. Local Weather

Downed trees destroy homes in Valrico mobile home park

VALRICO — When the wind started whistling through the windows and their mobile home started shaking, Bruce and Sarah Pietri discovered their daughter Shyanne was gone.

Moments earlier, the 12 year-old and her friend had been playing in the couple's mobile home in the Town and Country community on Valrico Road.

The Pietris realized Shyanne and her friend must have walked to the other girl's house two doors down.

Go get our daughter, Sarah Pietri told her husband.

Bruce, 45, ran the short distance to the girl's home, using his arms to shield himself from debris. He turned the corner saw that a massive oak tree, split at the base, had sliced into the middle of the home.

He tried the door, but it wouldn't budge.

"Everybody was screaming," Pietri said, "and I couldn't get in."

•••

As Tropical Hermine's bands swept north through the Tampa Bay area on Thursday, something powerful slammed into the Town and Country park about 7:30 p.m.

Several towering oak trees toppled onto mobile homes, crushing them like soda cans. Five homes were condemned, five had major damage and eight had minor damage, according to county code enforcement.

One person was taken to the hospital for a medical emergency but there were no serious injuries, said Corey Dierdorff, a spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

Storm-weary residents surveying the damage all figured the same thing — tornado.

There have not been any confirmed reports of tornados, but they may be right, said WTSP10 Weather meteorologist Jim Van Fleet. About that time, a strong storm cell racing north out of Manatee County collided with storms pushing west from downtown Tampa and the bay, Van Fleet said.

Radar scans show what could be a slight rotation in the atmosphere, Van Fleet said.

"I'm not convinced the storms coming from the south and west didn't wrap up together and produce some kind of vortex," he said.

Whatever it was, it hit quickly, residents said.

When her mobile home started shaking, Cassandra Chaney peered out of the window toward her neighbor's home.

"The next thing we know we hear this big snap or boom and we watch this tree just demolish this house," Chaney said.

The trunk of the tree smashed the front of the home and a van. A large branch sliced through the middle and landed in the kitchen. Two adults and a girl were watching television in the living room at the time, Chaney said. Neighbors said the girl was scratched and bruised by the tree but okay.

A couple of doors down, 14-year-old Kristopher King was home with his two 10-year-old sisters when he heard a loud boom on the roof.

He looked up and saw tree branches and black sky. The tree knocked a hole in the roof but went no farther.

"God bless us that piece of wood got jammed or us girls would be dead," said one of the sisters, Rileanne, wearing a bathing suit and munching on a piece of pizza.

King told the girls to huddle under a table and called his parents, Misty and Allen King, who had just left for a quick trip to CVS. Downed tree limbs littered the park's main road, so the couple got out and ran.

They grew panicked as they ran past the devastation.

"As I'm seeing the houses just demolished I'm saying, 'Oh my god, my kids, my babies," said Misty King, 34.

Kristopher looked over at his neighbor's crushed home and agreed with his little sister.

"If it happened like that, those girls wouldn't be here, because they were right next to where the hole was," he said.

•••

As the children cried, Bruce Pietri put all his weight against his neighbor's door. He realized the force of the tree's impact had bent the door frame.

Finally, the door gave way.

Pietri picked up his daughter, carried her home and then came back to help the family pull an older woman from the house. According to Pietri, the woman was in bed in the room where the tree landed and was trapped but not seriously injured. Neither were the other two adults and three children in the home at the time.

As a light rain fell Friday, Shyanne slept and the Pietris counted blessings.

"It's all thanks to God it happened the way it did," Bruce Pietri said, "and everybody's okay."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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