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Palm Beach Gardens Fla--Tornado Rips Through Area

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  • Palm Beach Gardens Fla--Tornado Rips Through Area

    St. Petersburg Times--State

    Community begins recovery from surprise tornado
    People deal the stress of losing property and fearing their lives.
    By Associated Press
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 9, 2003

    PALM BEACH GARDENS - Donald Garcia watched as a funnel cloud with winds over 100 mph tore off his mobile home's awning and then hopped across the street, uprooting an old oak tree and crashing it into a neighbor's home.

    He screamed to his wife and ran with her into a bathroom, waiting out Thursday evening's tornado as it picked up dozens of nearby homes and smashed them onto their sides, demolishing them and their contents.

    "It's more than a cleanup - people's whole lives are gone," Garcia, 55, said Friday morning under sunny skies at a shelter. His home was spared, but many in the Garden Walk mobile home park lost their homes and belongings.

    "The streets look normal to the left and you look right and it looks like Hiroshima," Garcia said. "It's lucky that everyone got out alive. That's the miracle of this."

    The tornado caught forecasters and residents by surprise. It carved a 3-mile path of destruction through north Palm Beach County, damaging or destroying 500 homes. It flipped semitrailers, blew railroad boxcars off the tracks, tore the roof off a Pepsi plant and knocked out power to 30,000 homes in Palm Beach Gardens and nearby Riviera Beach.

    Some 400 homes remained without power Friday, officials said.

    Although some Garden Walk residents were briefly trapped in their homes and 200 were evacuated due to a gas leak, only minor injuries were reported.

    Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency in the county, sending state emergency workers to help local officials assess damage and render aid. Attorney General Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher toured some damaged areas. Gallagher said Federal Emergency Management Agency workers would arrive today and determine whether to provide immediate aid.

    "Just because it didn't have a name doesn't mean it's not affecting people's lives," Crist said, comparing the storm to a hurricane.

    The tornado struck without much warning because the conditions necessary for twisters developed too quickly for forecasters to alert residents, said Rusty Pfost, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Miami.

    The tornado had winds of 73 to 112 mph, rating it as F1 on the Fujita scale of F0, the weakest, to F5.

    Bernard Desilio, manager of Onesole, a Riviera Beach shoe manufacturer, was outside moving boxes when the sky turned black and lit up with lightning.

    "I ran so fast I lost my shoes," said Desilio, who huddled with colleagues in a bathroom for safety.

    A few doors away in the same industrial park, Wamilton Teixeira, president of a watercraft manufacturing company, was pulling into the parking lot when debris started pounding his car.

    He drove away and returned later to a devastated office. The storm tore off the roof, twisted inside walls, blew out the front windows and showered it with debris.

    "I come back and everything's gone," said Teixeira, who opened the office four months ago. "I cried a lot today."

    In Garden Walk, winds tore mobile homes from their anchors and smashed them, leaving piles of chairs, clothing, mattresses and other belongings. The storm curled roofs off some of the 450 homes in the park and twisted them around trees, while leaving blooming oleanders and bougainvilleas untouched just yards away.

    "This tornado was a little more discriminating than you sometimes find," Gallagher said. "This is a lot of devastation in a very concentrated area."

    The tornado paled in comparison with several that hit Central Florida in February 1998. About 40 people died when the deadliest string of tornadoes in state history tore through the Orlando area.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  • #2
    Palm Beach Post Stroy

    Palm Beach Post

    Residents being storm cleanup

    By Tim O'Meilia, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, August 9, 2003

    Tornado Slams PB County

    Nearly 230 families struggled to patch roofs, salvage furniture and even find a place to stay Friday in the aftermath of a surprise tornado that ripped through 3 miles of homes and businesses in northern Palm Beach County on Thursday.

    Relief workers, power crews and elected officials fanned out in A Garden Walk mobile home park and a six-block Riviera Beach neighborhood, bringing hot meals, restoring electricity and assessing damage.

    Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency in Palm Beach County but despite that, the destruction may not be severe enough to qualify for federal disaster money that would allow homeowners to obtain federal help to rebuild.

    Just after 5 p.m. Thursday, a funnel cloud that gathered over Jupiter touched down west of Riviera Beach as an F1 tornado, with winds 73-112 mph and as wide as three football fields.

    It swirled through the mobile home park, jumped southeast across I-95, tossed an industrial park and churned into the National Village and Monroe Heights neighborhoods of Riviera Beach before lifting off the ground.

    Astonishingly, no one was killed and only a handful of people had minor injuries. "That's remarkable because the devastation to some homes was absolute," said Bill O'Brien, the county emergency management director. "It's much better happening at 5:30 in the afternoon than 1 o'clock in the morning."

    A Garden Walk hit hard

    Officials had no dollar estimates of damage but tentatively identified 229 homes as damaged by the tornado -- 58 of them destroyed and 21 others with major damage. The worst happened in A Garden Walk, where more than 140 of the 484 mobile homes were damaged. Three Federal Emergency Management Administration teams are expected to make their own assessment today.

    The damage may not be widespread enough to qualify for federal aid for individual homeowners. At least 100 uninsured homes must suffer major damage to reach the federal threshold. "It looks a little close," admitted Assistant County Administrator Vince Bonvento.

    Reaching the mark would open an array of assistance programs to rebuild homes, pay rent and buy food. A federal disaster declaration also would allow small businesses to obtain low-interest loans.

    By 4 p.m. Friday, electricity had been restored to all but 300 of 30,000 FPL customers who'd lost power in an area that reached from Military Trail to the Intracoastal Waterway. Those without power are largely in the mobile home park and in a six-block area of Riviera Beach between 28th Street on the north, Blue Heron Boulevard on the south, Avenue S on the west and and Old Dixie Highway on the east.

    Power to all but the most severely damaged was expected to be restored by midnight. About 200 BellSouth customers were without telephone service.

    Although only eight people spent Thursday night in shelters opened at Grove Park Elementary and Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune Elementary, they will remain open.

    American Red Cross workers in trucks fed 800 residents lunch and about 1,500 dinner. They will do the same today from 11 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Shelters will also provide food for families.

    The United Way of Palm Beach County donated $25,000 to the Red Cross relief fund. Palm Beach County Housing and Community Development offered $100,000 for roof repair.

    Neighbors pulled together to help cut down trees, remove debris and patch roofs. Walter James, who works in the construction business, helped two of his neighbors on West 26th Court repair their roofs and board up their windows.

    "We're neighbors," James said. "We look out for one another."

    Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown praised residents for cooperating with authorities, and he decried news reports that made it seem as though widespread looting was occurring in the city.

    "Stereotypes die hard," Brown said. "We didn't have any problems with looting."

    Riviera Beach police made no looting arrests but sheriff's deputies arrested two men on loitering charges at an industrial park just outside the city and broke up several "skirmishes" in Riviera Beach neighborhoods. The two looting suspects -- Javier Ozuna-Sanchez, 23, and Antonio Ozuna-Sanchez, 35 -- were being held on $500 bail Friday afternoon.

    Brown imposed a curfew Thursday night but said Friday that it was motivated by the danger of downed power lines, not looting. But Sheriff Ed Bieluch said authorities had reason to fear that looting might follow the tornado.

    "Looting normally occurs in this type of circumstance," Bieluch said.

    Authorities deployed more than 200 officers and deputies Thursday night and early Friday. They included all of the city's roughly 100 uniformed officers, about 80 sheriff's deputies and officers from Palm Beach Gardens and West Palm Beach.

    Authorities blocked off the mobile home park and roads in an area bounded by Blue Heron Boulevard, Avenue S, Old Dixie Highway and Silver Beach Road. Police were allowing residents to enter but were barring outsiders, except for people who could prove they have legitimate business there.

    Brown lifted the curfew Friday night but asked residents to stay near their homes.

    Riviera workers cleared the streets and garbage crews will be on streets by 8 a.m. today removing debris.

    "We can count our blessings," Brown said. "We had a tornado that could have taken many lives and it didn't take any."

    Still, authorities warned that some were attempting to profit from the tragedy. The mayor and state Attorney General Charlie Crist said opportunists have tried to rip off residents by charging sky-high prices for roof repairs, food, ice and other services.

    The sheriff's office also has heard reports of some hotels charging excessive rates to people made homeless by the disaster, spokeswoman Diane Carhart said.

    Brown urged residents not to sign any contracts with people offering repairs and other services. He also said people should check with both the city and the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation before hiring any workers.

    "We want the vultures to understand that we will prosecute them," Brown said.

    Crist added that his office will zealously enforce an anti-price-gouging law that takes effect during declared emergencies. That law forbids charging prices that are dramatically higher than those that prevailed during the past 30 days, he said.

    Offers of help pour in

    Other agencies offered help. Palm Beach County school police staffed the two shelters. Wellington sent workers to help clean debris from streets, and offers of help poured in from Palm Beach, Jupiter, Lake Park, West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie.

    A phalanx of state and local politicians descended on Riviera Beach City Hall on Friday to inspect the damage and promise help. Besides Crist, Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher arrived around 3 p.m.

    Palm Beach County Commissioner Addie Greene and Commission Chairwoman Karen Marcus toured the damage, as did state Reps. Susan Bucher and Shelley Vana, D-West Palm Beach; Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach; and Carl Domino, R-Jupiter.

    Bucher said the legislature might be able to provide economic aid for the city from the special session that begins Tuesday, possibly using the state's rainy day fund.

    "And this is a rainy day," Vana said.

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    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


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