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Historic Venice Theater destroyed, homes damaged in south Sarasota County

Driving through Downtown Venice, it's nearly impossible to miss the gaping whole that once was the structure of the Venice Theater.

VENICE, Fla. — On Woodingham Trail in Venice, palm trees are uprooted, some laying on top of homes. Linda Jones lives has lived on this street since 1990.

Walking through her home, you can't miss the large pile of ceiling debris that sits on top of her furniture, slowly developing a stench in the air from the wet material sitting there for days.

Looking up, the entire ceiling from the bedroom into the main hall is wide open and you can see the pillars of the home holding up the roof.

It's a scene Jones says she did not anticipate happening to her home.

"This was coming here further and further out," Jones said, referring to where the damage extended on the ceiling. "So, we just gathered up and went to my neighbors, not knowing what we were going to come back to."

Jones says she was home with her family, including her great-granddaughter, when her grandson noticed a large leak in the wall. She says it only took minutes for them to realize the problem was much bigger.

"Not too long, we started seeing this kind of sinking down and all of a sudden, it just went," Jones said. "It wasn't two seconds later, the roof on the lanai collapsed. We were standing here in disbelief, like 'what just happened?'"

Jones' power was restored as of Saturday night, after she and her family had to keep the floors dry from the water flowing into their home from the flooding.

She says she's called her insurance company over the past few days to file a claim for the damage to her home. She says the workers told her they are swamped with calls and she'll have to wait a few more days to get an estimate.

Just several minutes down the road, driving in Downtown Venice, there's another sight passersby just can't seem to ignore...a gaping hole where the historic Venice Theater once stood tall.

The almost 96-year-old theater now stands with thin pillars holding up ropes and strings of light fixtures. Down below is only what managers describe as a large mess.

The theater's production Executive Director, Murry Chase, says it'll likely cost millions to repair.

"Part of the building is in pretty good shape, but we're trying to salvage what we can to make this thing work while we're rebuilding," Chase said.

Standing in front of the yellow caution tape, staring at the skeleton of what's left of the theater, is actor Rik Robertson. He's called the theater home for the past decade after performing in several plays.

"I've built memories and friendships and relationships here that can never be replaced. I saw pictures of it before coming down here, but I wasn't prepared to see it like this," Robertson said. "We'll all end up stronger because of this, but that doesn't take away the pain in the moment."

Despite the devastation, Robertson and Chase say this damage will not be the theater's final bow.

"I know it's going to come back better than it was before, but it doesn't take away the impact of seeing it like this," Robertson said.

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