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Family, dog rescued on boat during tornado warning near Sunshine Skyway Bridge

8:47 AM, Jun 26, 2013   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida-- Coast Guard crewmembers rescued five people and a dog around the time of Tuesday night's tornado warning after their boat stopped working near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Scroll down to watch a waterspout near the St. Pete Pier!

See also: Tornado, funnel clouds & waterspouts seen in Pinellas

The boaters were adrift, floating through storms and a shipping channel. No doubt, they were in serious danger. So they called for help from Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg at 8:50 p.m. After their rescue, they talked only to 10 News about their harrowing trip.

Photos: 10 News viewers share shocking storm pics of Bay area

Oscar the dog and his five human friends faced a frightening night when their 24-foot boat's engine died south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Awful weather was moving in.

"Grab some life jackets and hold on," is how Cory French explained the reaction of the five people on the boat, all family members. "It started picking up and getting rougher and rougher and lightning just started hitting all around us -- and we were honestly scared for our lives."

French says a private towing company made them wait for hours and then refused to respond, claiming it was just too rough. But French got no excuses from the U.S. Coast Guard -- only action.

The Coast Guard sent a boat nearly twice the size of French's from Coast Guard Station Cortez to find them amid the crashing lightning and pelting rain.

"It was absolutely terrible," French said. "The Coast Guard, as they were pulling in, we were trying to fire off flares and everything because they were maybe about 150 yards in front of us and they still couldn't see us."

"My wife was sitting there praying. It was really scary. It wasn't just kind of a joke out there, we were really absolutely scared. And when we saw them coming in, just a wave of relief came shooting over us."

Coast Guard crews got everyone off the struggling boat and towed it to St. Petersburg. Everyone, even Oscar the Puggle, made it safely back to land with no serious injuries.

The boaters were trying to avoid the nasty weather. As they headed in to dodge the approaching storms, something apparently clogged the fuel line, shutting down their engine. By the time they'd spent an hour working to fix it, then two-plus hours waiting for a towing company, the situation was dire.

They did have safety equipment on board -- a radio and cell phone, flares, and life vests -- that helped them survive.

"The Coast Guard highly recommends boaters to check weather before heading out on the water," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Arrieta, a search and rescue watchstander at the sector. "Weather can be unpredictable and can take a turn for the worse while on the water."

Follow 10 News Reporter Beau Zimmer on twitter @Zimm10

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