Buddies watch tornado while surfing in Gulf of Mexico

10:02 PM, Jun 25, 2012   |    comments
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Pass-a-Grille Beach, Fla. -- People in Pass-A-Grille are still cleaning up the damage left by a tornado from Tropical Storm Debby that slammed into the area Sunday night.

Strong winds ripped the roof off the marina there. Steel beams and boats are now sticking out the top of the building. The winds may have been between 80 and 100 miles per hour.

Travis Pinsler, a surfer, can believe it. He was surfing in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday with a buddy when the tornado stormed through. He says, "We were sitting out there in the water and all of a sudden we see this bright, white cloud coming at us and pretty soon everything broke loose. We pretty much grabbed a hold of each other for, like, dear life."

Pinsler and his friend, Cody Bohnet, say the waves are good when conditions are bad, but the thrill seekers got a little more than they bargained for this time. Pinsler adds, "The tornado actually passed right over -- sounded like a freight train. Truck started shaking, had a transformer blow up behind us."

The two could have rushed home to get away from the danger, but instead they headed toward it. Pinsler points to his buddy and says, "The boat blew off the lift back here, the "Offshore Hustler," and this man here jumped in the water and got into the boat and actually saved it before it ran up and hit the dock."

Bohnet adds, "I'm a commercial fisherman. This is what I do to make a living. I know the guy, so I can't see his life go down the drain and not make any money. So I'm like 'I'm going to go save his livelihood.'"

Monday evening, despite the repeated warning from authorities to stay out of the water, there were several dozen people in the choppy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Some were surfing while others swam.

Meanwhile, musician Chuck Helbling has had enough of the water Debby left behind. At the Coronado apartment complex at 1605 Pass A Grille Way, he was doing his best to collect it in a bucket and in a cooler. He says he's already emptied the cooler of water seven times. 

He was trying his best to protect his antiques and music instruments and equipment, but you could see the water pooling though in bubbles in the paint on his walls.

While some of the other residents there were packing up and moving out, Helbling doesn't know where he'll end up. He just moved in two months ago, he says. But BRC Restoration Specialists are working on critical repairs to make his life easier.

For tourists, Tropical Storm Debby has been a real downer. Shirley Schmitz is in town from Minnesota. She says, "I'm here for a class, so a couple of days of this is my vacation time, but I'll take what I can get."

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