Tornado damages 17 homes in North Port

Although Jimmy Jones’ home was damaged in Thursday evening’s tornado, he called a roofing company to secure his neighbor’s roof after parts of it flew off. The two families had only a few moments’ warning before the twister ripped through their Highland Ridge neighborhood near South Biscayne Drive and North Port Boulevard, damaging 17 homes.

Around 6:30 p.m., Jones called 911 to say it looked like a funnel cloud was forming down the street from his home.

“I got off the phone and the funnel came toward my home. I told my wife and daughter to get in the tub,” he said Thursday night. “It was so loud it sounded like a freight train was rushing through the neighborhood. It was very scary.”

Seconds later, parts of his fence became projectiles, embedded in the exterior wall of his home.

According to city Emergency Management Coordinator Richard Berman, a EF0 tornado with winds of 80 mph, about 150 yards wide, touched down in Holiday Park, hit a four-block radius around Gabo Road, then passed through the area by the Gene Matthews Boys & Girls Club.

Within two minutes, the tornado had damaged roofs and ripped apart pool cages, fences, tree limbs and sheds, then burst through Highland Ridge Park, knocking over wooden benches, toppling a tree behind the Boys & Girls Club and twisting metal bleachers at the North Port Bike Park. The roof of a manufactured home at Holiday Park also reportedly was damaged.

“The Sarasota (County) Sheriff’s Office sent (the) Air One (helicopter) up to do an aerial view of the damage,” said North Port Fire Marshal Mike Frantz. “Thankfully, no one was injured, including our first responders. The Red Cross came to help any of the (families) whose homes were damaged, and to help if firefighters needed them.”

Overall damage was estimated at $50,000, according to the National Weather Service in Ruskin, near Tampa.

On Friday, a man in a Lowe’s store vest drove near Elroy Hall’s Talbrook Road home. He said he was sorry about the damage to his roof and left a case of bottled water.

“I’m very appreciative of the help,” said Hall, who, along with his parents Elsie, 86, and James, 96, now is staying with his brother, who also has a home in North Port. “My neighbor Jimmy called Suncoast Roofing and they came over and put tarps and wood on the roof.”

Hall said he was at Winn-Dixie when the tornado struck the home with his parents inside. He said they were scared, but were all right.

Richard Edwards, who lives on Gabo, retrieved Hall’s rain gutter across North Port Boulevard near the tennis courts at Highland Ridge Park.

“I was in my backyard when I saw the funnel form above my head,” Edwards said. “I ran to get my camcorder, but realized it was serious. I ran inside and told my wife the tornado was in the backyard. As I said it, it moved to the front yard and jumped across the road. It was so loud and scary. My house only has minor damage. I think it may have started in (nearby) Holiday Park and reformed in my backyard.”

Lou Sperduto, city Property Maintenance manager, said the two sets of bike park bleachers probably would have to be replaced. They cost about $2,500 each.Gianni Tsiogas, 13, and two of his friends were riding their bikes along Talbrook when the tornado came toward them.

“We rode as fast as we could and then dropped our bikes and ran to someone’s front porch,” Gianni said. “It reminded me of when I lived in Port Charlotte during Hurricane Charley (in 2004). It was scary.”