TAMPA BAY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Cleanup efforts continue in the aftermath of that tornado that ripped through multiple counties in Tampa Bay on Wednesday afternoon. CW44’s Andrea Alvarez spoke with residents about what they went through during the frightening moments when the tornado touched down.
In Pinellas County, Alvarez describes driving through the aftermath, relating it almost seems like the city was untouched. Suddenly, in area of 66th Street, you could see roofs torn off of buildings and roads blocked off for people’s safety. Pinellas County business owner and resident, Bernie Lutz recalls the moments leading up to an EF2 tornado, which is rare for the area, touching down Wednesday evening. “I had to get out of the house in the morning, so I went walking on the beach. It’s all nice, and by the time I was done. It started to get windy. It started to drop the temperature.” That’s when he decided to head for safety.
“So I got home, I started working out of my home office. And yeah, sure enough, you saw the clouds behind me rolling in and then the rain came and the wind gusts and then the lightning started.” Lutz says that is when his phone began notifying him of the potential weather threat. “Of course, we all have these apps nowadays where we get alarms. And then I saw it on Facebook, people were reaching out to me, are you okay? I was like, ‘I didn’t know I was not [okay].’ And then I realized that we actually had a tornado touchdown.”
About 11 miles North of where he stood, the twister ripped through parts of Pinellas Park. The damage was clearly visible which included fallen branches and limbs have sort of overtaken parts of a building in a business park nestled between Bryan Dairy Road and Belcher Road in Largo.
The tornado then made its way as an EF1 to Hillsborough and Polk counties where sheriff’s deputies responded within minutes. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd recounted at a press conference, “Upon [deputies’] arrival, they saw significant damage to the streets. There was at least two houses that appeared obviously to be uninhabitable. At this point, we started going door-to-door to check for safety, security and to make sure there were no injuries.”
Despite the damage, no injuries have been reported in Polk or Pinellas Counties, but tens of thousands lost power for at least a few hours. Damage assessment teams with the county, power crews and emergency management officials took to the roads Thursday morning as business owners and residents began their own cleanup efforts. Lutz says of the experience, “Besides the preparation, make sure you check on your neighbors. Make sure you check on the well-being of the people you care about and that are immediately around you. That’s really what it’s all about.”
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