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Highlands tornado damage: $1.37 million

Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2013 at 07:21 PM

Tornadoes spawned by Tropical Storm Debby Sunday caused $1.376 million in losses and damaged 28 properties in Highlands County, county spokeswoman Gloria Rybinski said.

While residents from Lorida to Venus were affected, the bulk of the destruction happened in the neighborhood of five streets: Lake June Road, Twin Lakes Road and Cloverleaf Road in the Lake Placid area, and Montana Trail and Bobwhite Road in Venus.

According to Rybinski's estimates Tuesday morning, four of those homes were destroyed and more than 10 severely damaged.

Todd Bradford, Twin Lakes Road resident, was one of those cleaning up the mess from the wayward tornado, which blew off part of his roof and two carports on both sides of the house, totaled the trailer home next to him but left many other houses on the street intact.

Bradford lives in South Florida but visits his home, fronting Little Redwater Lake, on weekends.

He was at a Marlins baseball game when the tornado rolled through.

The moment he found out from his neighbors, he drove back to salvage whatever he could, and Wednesday was bracing himself for a big-dollar damage estimate from his insurance company adjuster.

Wednesday morning, a blue tarp and tarp paper covered his damaged roof, which the tornado ripped apart, inundating his house with more than 2 inches of rain, he said.

The damage was frustrating for another reason.

"We had totally remodeled the house over the last two years," Bradford said.

They managed to save their furniture and move it into a storage unit, but he was concerned about mold problems from the wet floors and the possibility his trusses were compromised and the whole roof would have to be replaced.

Another thing worrying Bradford and his neighbors, Erika Johnson and Gary Sexsmith, was danger to boaters and water skiers from the flying and loose debris that possibly ended up in their lake.

Bradford has fished out aluminum sheeting and plywood he could see floating around but wonders about what else has sunk to the bottom and may surface later, or is not visible from the shore.

For instance, he has not located the remains of his carports and sections of his neighbor's trailer, he said, and is afraid they are in the lake, which has several boat docks.

Sexsmith pointed out to a water ski course that he said is frequently used for practice by a skiing team, and Johnson said she is afraid to take her children in the water.

"That's what I'm concerned about," Bradford said. "The metal parts and the concrete."

"There has to be stuff in there," Johnson added, standing on the edge of the lake, a few feet away.

The county's Lakes Manager Clell Ford said two residents from Little Redwater Lake and one from Lake Francis have brought those concerns to him.

Right now, he has no funds designated to help with the tornado debris cleanup in the lakes but has passed on the concerns to Scott Canaday, the county's emergency management director.

Canaday did not return a phone call by press time Wednesday but he told county commissioners at their meeting Tuesday that an emergency declaration speeds up paperwork and eliminates red tape in certain areas, but does not mean cleanup funds are necessarily available.

"It doesn't mean you will get reimbursement," he cautioned. "It means you may get reimbursement."

The county has received money to clean up lake debris after the 2004 hurricanes.

Ford remembered how federal funds paid for work to clear blockages in two to three canals.

But right now, unless the county sets aside money or disaster relief is made available to the county, the residents will have to do the work themselves.

Sexsmith, who was one of those who called Ford, said he wonders about the county's priorities.

He has seen county employees in "big" airboats look for invasive plants.

"I could stand here and tell you there is no Melaleuca in this lake," he said.

Johnson said the county will do something - when an accident happens, she said sarcastically.

"Geez! You are kidding me," Sexsmith added, referring to the county. "You don't have any reason to clean it up?" (863) 386-5831