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In Irma vs. Dinosaur World, Plant City's T-Rex emerges unscathed

There was damage to trees and fences but the owners of Dinosaur World in Plant City still hope to reopen for business Tuesday. [ANASTASIA DAWSON | Times]
Published Sep. 11, 2017

PLANT CITY — Hurricane Irma's 67 mph winds uprooted ancient trees and pulled down power lines, but that wasn't enough to drive Plant City's famed T-Rex to extinction.

The 40-foot-tall, fiberglass beast has towered over Interstate 4 since 1998, beckoning passersby to visit Dinosaur World—- an outdoor theme park home to 150 life-sized dinosaur sculptures.

The park's owners, Marlene and Joe Svensson, lost power about 8 p.m. Sunday at their home off Forbes Road in Plant City, and when there was finally enough daylight to begin assessing the storm's damage, they discovered a massive oak tree had fallen across Harvey Tew Road right in front of the park's main entrance gate.

By the time the tree was removed and the couple could enter it was about 11 a.m. and they had to move quickly if they wanted to reopen Tuesday.

They declined to allow a reporter inside, but the couple insisted every dinosaur remained intact and secured in their concrete and wire bases, though beneath a thick blanket of foliage and debris.

"All good news, they all survived. We're very happy," Marlene Svensson said.

"There's some flooding in some areas and at least one power line down, but we should be back open soon."

The park also had some broken fences but the dinosaurs visible from the road looked just as menacing as ever.

Originally from Sweden, the couple moved to Plant City about 20 years ago and quickly learned how much destruction even a weak hurricane could bring to their corner of eastern Hillsborough County.

The worst, Joe Svensson said, was in 2004, when hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne ripped through the state.

"That year we lost the long necks, the brachiosaurus — on the T-Rex the tail got clipped and the whole thing tipped over," he said.

The couple made the statues heavier and more secure, he said.

"But when a big tree falls over and breaks off your tail, there isn't much you can do," Marlene Svensson said.

When they heard Irma was headed their way, the Svenssons made sure to move all vending machines, trash cans and other loose items indoors. The park's 25 employees had Saturday, Sunday and Monday off to secure their own homes before the storm.

Now, the Svenssons' only worry is how long it will be before guests once again roam the park's lush walkways.

"There was nobody wanting to come to the park Thursday and Friday," Marlene Svensson said. "I guess they've all been busy."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com. Follow@adawsonwrites

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