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Strong Christmas Eve weather tears through Largo mobile home community

The high wind and thunderstorms ushered in a Christmas cold front.

LARGO — The Christmas Eve thunderstorm inflicted damage with exacting precision.

Some homes inside the Ranchero Village mobile home park in Largo had sections sheered away: carports, lanais, Florida rooms. Sheet metal lay strewn across the neighborhood Friday morning, crumpled like aluminum foil.

Other homes escaped damage, with Christmas lights intact.

Nobody was injured, though the storm’s randomly destructive strength forced those with damaged homes to spend their Christmas morning picking up debris or on the phone with insurance companies. Not one said they’d let it consume the holiday.

“We were so lucky,” said Trina Hoaks, 56, who had her Florida room blown out, revealing a green carpet and her belongings. “That’s just stuff. We are all here to still love each other.”

She said she didn’t have insurance because between the premium and deductible and what the insurance company pays out on damage on a mobile home built in the ′70s, it’s not worth it. She estimated about $10,000 in damages.

But the presents were safe and there was a honey ham in the oven.

“Christmas isn’t ruined,” she said.

Metal roofing from a home across the street piled up against the home of Fiona O'Rourke, 57. “It looks worse than it is,” she said of her home.
Metal roofing from a home across the street piled up against the home of Fiona O'Rourke, 57. “It looks worse than it is,” she said of her home. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times ]

Many of the residents, who stopped their golf carts Friday morning to trade storm stories, were convinced the damage was the result of a tornado. The park is just south of Ulmerton Road and east of Belcher Road, near where a tornado tore through last week, damaging homes and businesses in Pinellas Park and Largo. But meteorologists with the National Weather Service said even though wind gusts exceeded 60 mph in Pinellas County, there was no evidence of a tornado.

The storms were at the edge of a cold front that sent temperatures plummeting into the 30s, making it one of the chilliest Christmases in two decades. Temperatures Friday never exceeded the mid 50s. Saturday’s weather will look like Friday’s, but with less wind, according to the National Weather Service: lows in the mid 30s to low 40s and highs in the mid 50s.

Down the block from Hoaks, past houses that sustained more minor damage and houses that sustained none, metal sheeting was piled up high against the home of Fiona O’Rourke. It came from the roof of a home across the street.

Related: Tornado damages Pinellas, spares Howard Frankland Bridge, then hits Polk

“It looks worse than it is,” O’Rourke, 57, said of her house. She put out a call on Facebook for friends to come over and help.

She was dressed in a Santa suit, her boyfriend having convinced her to climb onto the roof and pretend she was him, unable to get down the chimney because of the debris.

“Gotta laugh,” she said.

Penney Robichaud's carport blew off her mobile home and collected behind her home. In the foreground, a collapsed wooden gazebo.
Penney Robichaud's carport blew off her mobile home and collected behind her home. In the foreground, a collapsed wooden gazebo. [ JOSH SOLOMON | Times ]

Around the corner, Penney Robichaud, 59, had her carport torn right off her house while her husband and his friend sat underneath it. It was in a heap behind her home.

Yet the Christmas decorations on the home next door were untouched.

“I guess I didn’t go to church enough,” she joked.

She offered some perspective, too.

“I still have my husband, and that’s a blessing.”

Times staff writer Josh Fiallo contributed to this report.

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