Madeira Beach storm damage: Thunderstorm winds tear off hotel roof, ruled not tornado damage

12:55 PM, Sep 7, 2011   |    comments
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Madeira Beach, Florida -- Wooden beams were thrown dozens of feet through the air as a blast of wind tore the roof off a hotel during Wednesday morning's thunderstorms.

More than a dozen rooms at the Holiday Isle Resort were opened up to the driving rain as the storm front moved through at around 1 a.m.

Photo Gallery: Storm Damage in Madeira Beach

Wooden beams as long as telephone poles and sheets of black roofing material landed on top of, up against, and all around a neighboring hotel, the Palms of Madeira Beach.

Jerry Gasualdo was jolted awake as he slept in a second floor room at Holiday Isles. 

And then, the ceiling came crashing down.

"I got knocked out when it came down, landed on top of me in the bed, and I woke up and got out myself out of there," he said.

Holiday Isle's property manager Steve McDonough was asleep in a first floor unit when he woke up the sound of wood ripping from the building.

"The next thing I know the building was shaking, the wind was roaring and people were screaming," McDonough told 10 News. 

"My first initiative was to check on the guests, had to go in to make sure the guests could get out of the room, some were trapped because of debris falling against the doors.

Cars parked nearby had windows and at least one sunroof shattered by flying debris. Despite all of the airborne asphalt sheets and chunks of wood, investigators say no one reported being hurt.

In all, Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies say 28 people from the two hotels have nowhere to stay.

The American Red Cross has responded to offer help to people looking for a dry, safe place to go, deputies said.

After an inspection, two government agencies have labeled the event the result of "Thunderstorm Wind Damage," and not a tornado.

"No apparent damage was observed on surrounding structures or trees," says an official report from the National Weather Service, making the case that the ripped-off roof was the result of ferocious wind gusts and not a swirling tornado.

Inspectors indicate the building's age may have led to its partial destruction. Another report from the National Weather Service makes a point to call it a "very, very old two-story condo structure."

Property records say the building dates back to 1958.

Up the road, Dorian Fielding woke up to a large tree falling on his house and truck.

"Like a freight train, it came through, looked out the window and the next thing you know, wham.  I ran to the back of the house," he told 10 News.

He's spending the day working to remove the tree from his house and pickup truck.  His house appears to be okay, but the back end up his truck was crushed, along with a ladder.

Ironically, he says he installs hurricane shutters for a living.

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Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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