Neighbors say powerful Palmetto tornado 'came out of nowhere'

11:34 AM, Jul 10, 2013   |    comments
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PALMETTO, Florida -- Pieces of carports and roofs littered streets in the Tropic Isles Mobile Home community on Wednesday morning, as inspectors and residents pored over damage caused by a tornado.

"It just came out of nowhere," says resident Gail Sherman.

Sherman was walking her dogs beneath clouds that looked like they'd bring a typical evening thunderstorm. Instead, she heard a loud, echoing boom.

"I thought it was an explosion," she says. "I saw a lot of roofs blowing, a lot of debris blowing up in the sky and I thought it was my house. My husband's on oxygen and I thought the oxygen tank exploded."

That's when she realized a tornado had touched down and rushed to take photos as the storm dissipated. It tore through several mobile homes belonging to her neighbors, but left hers untouched.

"Thank you, God," she paused. "I'm still in shock."

She feels lucky, just like so many others in the neighborhood. Even those who suffered damage say there's a lot to be thankful for.

"I'm glad I wasn't inside," Jeff Hill says.

He returned home from a vacation just minutes after the tornado blew through. He and his wife had seen clouds overhead, but had no idea what happened until they saw a gaping hole in their carport. Part of their neighbor's roof had slid onto theirs.

"You always hear about it happening, but you never think it's going to happen to you," he says. "It's a reminder of how precious life is."

Hill and his wife are staying at a hotel thanks to help from the Red Cross, an organization Hill has volunteered with during hurricanes.

SEE ALSO: Viewer Pics: Stormy weather July 9

Cleanup crews arrived early Wednesday morning to pick up debris as a steady stream of residents stopped by to take in what had happened.

"I never saw anything so powerful in my life," says neighbor Dan Willett, who was sitting by the community's pool when he saw a funnel cloud. "I heard a whooshing sound, so I got out of the pool and looked up in the air and saw pieces of roofs flying all over the place. I couldn't believe it."

As a few residents wait to gain access into their homes and get electricity back, they say they're grateful that what they value most -- the lives of their neighbors -- is intact.

"I don't care about anything in there," Hill points to his home. "I'm just glad everybody's OK."