2 Killed, 4 Injured in Duette Tornado
DUETTE -- A tornado roared through Duette at 3:20 a.m. Sunday and picked up Stephen Wilson's doublewide mobile home at 40305 Albritton Road. He and six family members were inside, including his wife, Kelli; his son, Stephen; and four grandchildren.
The tornado dropped the Wilson home 100 yards from its foundation, leaving "grandpa" Steve Wilson, 58, dead under the debris.
Wilson's wife, Kelli Wilson, better known as Kade, had emerged from the debris to help her grandchildren escape, but she later suffered a heart attack and was pronounced dead at Blake Medical Center, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said.
The tornado spared the lives of the Wilsons' son, Stephen, and his three children and a cousin.
The two girls were in serious condition Sunday, and two boys were in stable condition, a sheriff's office report confirmed. The son also is in stable condition.
All injuries to the survivors appear to be non-life threatening, the report states.
Sharon Barnhill, who lives on Albritton Road near the Wilsons, was the first of about a dozen nearby friends, aside from professional first-responders, who rushed to help.
Barnhill, who also lives on Albritton Road, got a tornado warning alert on her phone at 3:40 a.m., she said. That was 10 minutes after the twister had already come through and destroyed the Wilsons' home, she added.
"We were already out of the house checking on our damage at 3:30 a.m. when the phone went off," Barnhill said.
Stephen Wilson came running to their house shortly after 3:30 a.m., yelling, "I can't find my dad. Please help me," Barnhill said.
"I told him to jump in our truck but he said, 'I'm covered in blood'," Barnhill said.
Barnhill's first glimpse of the damage came when she
pulled up to the Wilsons' house and aimed her truck's headlights at the rubble.
It was when she stepped out of her truck and into the wet darkness that she heard it.
"The kids were screaming," she said. "They were screaming in the barn."
Stephen Wilson, who had hopped in the bed of Barnhill's truck, raced to comfort the children, who were in the nearby pole barn. More wind seemed to be coming up. With a flashlight, Barnhill found "Grandpa" Stephen Wilson in the debris.
"We knew he was dead," Barnhill said.
"Kade was laying there and saying, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe.' She was trying to get up. We covered her," Barnhill said.
Ambulances soon arrived for Kade Wilson, her son and the four children.
A fund has been established for the Wilson family at gofundme.com/tdjpcxek. The fund is titled "Duette Tornado Victim's Family," and is to help with medical expenses and burial costs.
No one was going to touch one stick of the Wilsons' devasted home, said family friend Randy Sharp.
Sharp, a native Canadian who has been in America since he was 13, worked tirelessly all day Sunday.
"We're picking up everything and anything family-related," Sharp said.
Neighbors who helped included Kelly McCormick, Glenn Maresca, Carl Corey and others, all of whom worked together to patiently pick through the debris to load boxes with family photographs, stuffed animals, toys, clothes and family heirlooms.
"All the photos and the kids' clothes, teddy bears," Corey said when asked what got to him the most.
Later in the afternoon, Barnhill told Sharp she was worried about someone coming by and taking something that had not been picked up.
"No one is going to touch this area," Sharp told her. "I will be here."
Sharp explained his dedication: "They've been neighbors and friends for five years," he said. "When they moved in they became not just neighbors but friends. And they were the best neighbors you could ever ask for. They would do anything in the world for you."
The Wilsons' property backs up to the backside of Sharp's property.
"It was one of those torrential rainstorms where we knew the tornado was coming," Sharp said. "We were warned and we were hunkered down. We were calling making sure everyone else knew and Steve and Kade didn't answer their phone. Then, I got a text message there had been a direct hit on Albritton Road. We thought we were coming to help them with shelter and came to find out we lost two best friends."
"it was bad," Sharp said about the tornado. "This is the worst I have ever seen destruction-wise in this area."
Power was knocked out in some parts of Duette at about 3:30 a.m.
The tornado in the Duette area knocked down 20 of Peace River Electric Cooperative's power poles, leaving nearly 500 residents without power, said Peace River spokesman Mark Sellers.
Power was expected to be restored to everyone by about 5 p.m. Sunday, he said.
When the power goes out, many rural residents also lose access to water because they are dependent on electric pumps to supply their houses, said Lenora Woodham of Duette.
"We have all available crews on scene now," Sellers said.
Donna King, principal of Duette Elementary School, said Albritton Road is several miles north of the school, and that she did not believe any of her students had been injured in the storm.
Although the tornado's path took it near the school, it was apparently undamaged.
A line of severe storms spawned tornadoes in Sarasota, Manatee and Polk counties early Sunday morning, BayNews 9 reported.
A tornado with winds estimated at about 70 mph knocked down numerous trees and signs, and damaged buildings near Highway 41 and Clark Road in Sarasota County. Condominiums in the 6200 block of Midnight Pass on Siesta Key were reported damaged.
Sarasota County officials estimated damage at about $12 million. A preliminary damage estimate for Manatee County is $75,000.
On Sunday, Sarasota County crews were pushing debris in areas affected by the tornado to the edge of the road to make way for emergency vehicles. The debris will be picked up as soon as possible. Residents who choose to move debris on their property should remember to handle the debris according to solid waste guidelines.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge was closed in the predawn hours as severe weather swept through the area, and again at midmorning Sunday because of high winds. Tornado watches for Manatee-Sarasota have been canceled.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7072 or on Twitter @RichardDymond