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'All I heard was a train whistle'

Tornado rips through north Cape neighborhood

October 22, 2019
Lehigh Acres Citizen

The buzz of their home alarm was the first sound Cape residents Frank and Mary Ann Casida heard Saturday morning.

It was followed by a sound much more high-pitched, significantly louder, and a whole lot scarier.

"At about 7 all I heard was a train whistle," Frank Casida said. "And I knew there was no train here."

Article Photos

A storm-thrown vehicle lies wrecked in the backyard of a damaged home on Van Buren Parkway. According to neighbors, the vehicle was picked up across the street by winds which then rolled the car before leaving it more than 100 feet from the driveway in which it had been parked. Eighteen homes along a blocks-long swath near the Coral Oaks Golf Course were damaged by what the National Weather Service has confirmed was an EF1 tornado with winds of about 95 mph. The city inspected 15 houses for structural damage and five of those houses were subsequently “red tagged” by the city as unsafe to live in until repairs have been made.

And just like that, it was gone.

They shut off the alarm and then checked the doors and windows of the Northwest 25th Place home they had shared for 16 years.

Everything appeared to be secure so they laid back down.

They were soon re-rousted by a neighbor.

"We went back to bed and a few minutes later a phone rang and my neighbor said, 'Frank, your house has been hit by a tornado.' I said, 'Go, on.' He said, 'Your trees have blown down.'"

Indeed they had.

Two huge royal palms lay across the front yard, one ripped from the ground, its finger-like roots exposed.

The home the couple had lovingly maintained had suffered significant damage -- shingles ripped from the roof, newly planted shrubs pulled from the ground, screen panels torn from the lanai. A heavy barbecue grill had been picked up and tossed in the side yard where foliage and debris lie scattered.

The Casidas, though, were among the luckier ones.

Eighteen homes along a blocks-long swath near the Coral Oaks Golf Course were damaged by what the National Weather Service has confirmed was an EF1 tornado with winds of about 95 mph. The city inspected 15 houses for structural damage and five of those houses were subsequently "red tagged" by the city as unsafe to live in until repairs have been made.

There were no reported injuries.

The tornado touched down at 6:45 a.m. just east of Diplomat Parkway and El Dorado Boulevard at Northwest 14th Lane, according to the National Weather Services office in Ruskin. It tracked northwest toward Van Buren Parkway for 1.03 miles before dissipating at 6:47.

"It was only on the ground for a couple of minutes," said Dustin Norman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Damage, though, was substantial.

In addition to heavy destruction to homes, the funnel picked up and rolled at least two vehicles, each more than 100 feet. The bumper from one of the vehicles, a Kia Soul, blown nearly three properties from a heavily-damaged house on Northwest 26th Place, rested between two palm trees across the street and another two homesites away.

Roofing lumber, shingles, pieces of metal soffit and facia, and personal possessions -- everything from tools and gardening supplies to vinyl albums, a little red wagon and a tiny toy dinosaur pressed into the ground -- lay scattered for blocks around the homes, along the rights of way and through a drainage ditch that ran between some of the properties.

The paths of the crushed vehicles were commented on by many who had turned out to help their neighbors clean up.

Kraig White and David Grant shook their heads in disbelief at one car that lay in a vacant lot on Van Buren, across the street from the Northwest 26th Avenue driveway in which it has been parked.

"You can see it cleared the road for 10 feet," White said, pointing as well to scrapes in the driveway and ruts in the lawn.

Meanwhile, neighbor helped neighbor as Kevin Mantor and Mike Baird, friends and family of one homeowner, tarp the roof of a damaged home on Northwest 26th Avenue.

That, the Casidas agreed, made things a little brighter.

"Hey, we're alive," Mary Ann said Saturday as she and Frank sat at their dining room table, family pictures all around and their dog, Kingston, padding about. "We still have a roof over our head. That's the important thing."

She paused, then explained that a family illness had put them out of touch for a while with some of their neighbors.

On Saturday, many of them -- so many of them -- reached out, she said -- offering tarps to cover the roof, help picking up.

"We'll take it a day at a time - we're alive, and we have a lot to be grateful for," she said.

 
 

 

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