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Southwest Cape does clean up following tornado

By Staff | Jan 10, 2016

Most people who have fallen victim to a tornado say it sounds like a train coming in.

Tim Slager of Southwest 7th Place described as “a 747 carrying a train” after a portion of the roof of his home flew off and landed across the street, with a Chevy Cobalt breaking its fall.

It helps to have a sense of humor at times like this and,, remarkably there were no deaths or serious injuries after an EF2 tornado touched down in the Southwest Cape at just before 7 p.m. Saturday, knocking over trees and damaging homes to the tune of several millions of dollars in damage, and leaving thousands of people without power.

On Sunday morning, families, friends and neighbors were left to clean up the damage, with Slager’s neighbors cleaning up the crumbled drywall off the driveway from where the roof landed.

Slager said he got the warning around 6:50 and the tornado came at 6:55, giving him about a minute to take shelter in a closet before the twister went through.

“We took damage to the back of the house, the flashing ripped off the house and debris in the yard, we weren’t too bad,” Slager said, adding he saw some damage on Pine Island at a trailer park. “I had just gotten back from the store to get Powerball tickets. We were very lucky.”

The crew was able to keep up their sense of humor, with Slager saying the car broke his roof.

“You have to keep a sense of humor. What can you do? I have my moments, but it’s more thinking about it than this,” Slager said.

“We’re all talking, we’re all breathing, We’re all visiting each other helping our neighbor, but not in the hospital, that’s the important thing,” Janice Richardi said. “I thought to grab my dog and cat and go to the commode. It happened so fast you had no time to think. By the time you took cover it was gone.”

Moments later, a woman named Amber Cook drove by in her SUV, carrying water, sandwiches and other items for people who needed them. He didn’t comment as she went to see if others needed help.

Not too far from there, at the 4100 block of SW 10th Avenue, a line of trees along a canal was uprooted and broken, with some mangroves having fallen into the canal, now murky with debris.

A home under construction on that street was turned to rubble. The homeowners came by to inspect the damage. They declined to give their names, but they said it was horrible.

“We were a few days away from putting up the trusses for the house. It is what it is,” the husband said.

Mayor Marni Sawicki, city manager John Szerlag and Jesse Spearo, Fire Emergency Management Division Manager, held a news conference at Pelican Park, where they said the city was doing the best they can to bring the area back to some kind of normalcy.

Sawicki, who said she saw overturned cars and boats, had contacted the offices of Congressman Curt Clawson and State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Gov. Rick Scott visited later in the afternoon, meeting with Police Chief Bart Connelly and then taking a tout to assess the damage in the afternoon.

“People are trying to get their lives back together and get the damage assessed. We are a very resilient city and I believe we’ll come through this just fine,” Sawicki said. “Everybody is reaching out asking if they need water or anything from us, so we’re in a good place right now.”

Sawicki said there were no reports of anyone going to the shelters the city set up, though as the day progressed she said they would get more of an idea on that.

She also praised the city’s first responders, who had just taken a training session on how to prepare and mobilize in the event of something like this.

“We have the best team of first responders. I was out there and within minutes, they were out there with roads blocked off and emergency people making sure people were going in the right direction and not in harm’s way,” Sawicki said.

As far as the advance warning, Spearo said tornadoes don’t announce their presence in advance. The National Weather Service provides the alerts and that gives them only moments before it happens.

“We’re always looking for ways to get the best possible technology out there. We try to adopt whatever is best for our residents,” Spearo said.

Pelican Park seemed, perhaps, an appropriate place for city officials to meet – the park was heavily damaged. Bleachers from the baseball fields were flung onto the field in a mangled mess, the backstops and fences were collapsed and benches were flipped over.

Across the street, a banyon tree had been uprooted and clipped the home of Don Dabacco on the corner of Mohawk and Southwest 41st Terrace., causing damage to the roof and pulled out the screen on the lanai.

Friends and neighbors had their chain saws out on the ground and on the roof, cutting the tree limb from limb. Passers-by walked up, camera phones in hand to take a picture

“I was in my car when it came through. It was a loud crashing sound like the air was getting sucked out of the house,” Dabacco said. “Our phones went off and that told us to take cover. No one was hurt and we all woke up on green side. We’ll survive. We survived Charley.”

It was too early to tell how much monetary damage was done, Sawicki, as the building inspector and others were still assessing the damage. She said certain thresholds had to be met before state and federal aid kicked in. But she was certain the city would help anyone that needed it

“We’re lucky no one was hurt. As long as no one is hurt, that’s the best scenario,” Sawicki said.