TAMPA — For a few moments late Monday night, Jeff Hinton’s new home in Ruskin’s Paradise Mobile Home and RV Park felt less like paradise and more like his native Iowa’s "Tornado Alley."
In an instant, the rain that had come in waves through the day hit the roof sounding more like hail. Then a gust of wind tore through the community off U.S. 41 where Hinton, 49, and his son bought a mobile home only two months ago. The wind peeled up the roof from one home and then began to pull at the roof over Hinton’s bedroom before disappearing over the Little Manatee River, he said.
"I was lying on the floor watching TV when I heard this ‘whoosh’ of wind and crashing and banging, but by the time I could pull myself up to run to the door it was all over," Hinton said. "It was the weirdest thing, just doing whatever it wanted for whatever reason and you just had to hold on and watch it happen."
Monday’s storm sounded nothing like the monstrous tornadoes that Hinton hoped to escape by moving to Florida three years ago, he said.
But the National Weather Service says that’s exactly what blew through Paradise.
Meteorologists visited the 10 mobile homes damaged by the storm and developed several alternative theories before releasing a statement Tuesday afternoon confirming that a tornado formed as a band of rain moved onshore. The twister touched down yards away from Hinton’s home and traveled northeast through the park, the National Weather Service said. No one was injured.
Hinton and other residents spent Tuesday morning taking cellphone photos of the damage to mobile homes painted in Caribbean greens and yellows.
The storm ripped the running board from Hinton’s blue Trailblazer, but the screen door he installed on the house that morning never blew open. Next door, the wind twisted an elderly couple’s metal carport into the shape of a horseshoe but pink bougainvillea and orange hibiscus flowers still clung to bushes.
Park manager Rick Beers helped residents pile pieces of their homes into a large trash bin that had spun in the storm like the needle of a compass, he said.
"The park has survived hurricanes for years, but we had more damage from a freak gust of wind than we’ve ever had from a hurricane," Beers said.