Various Towns, FL Tornado Damage, Apr 1966
NINE PERISH IN FLORIDA TORNADOES.
Tampa, Fla. (AP) -- A squall line bristling with tornadoes cut across central Florida from coast to coast Monday, injuring hundreds, leaving hundreds of others homeless and destroying millions of dollars of property.
At least nine persons were killed as the tornadoes thrashed through six cities and smaller communities from Tampa to Cape Kennedy.
Two big counties, Polk and Hillsborough, were declared disaster areas by Gov. HAYDON BURNS. Police and National Guardsmen cordoned off trailer parks and subdivisions to prevent looting while they sifted the wreckage for bodies.
In spots, entire blocks were razed. People's life savings were wiped out in 15 minutes.
In sections of the citrus belt where tornadoes touched down, entire groves were destroyed, leaving the ground yellow with fruit.
A 23-foot house trailer and a car were picked up on the Sunshine Skyway bridge at St. Petersburg, turned full circle and then smashed back down almost in place.
A 16-foot boat was lodges in a tree. At what was once a two-story building only a linen closet -- the sheets and towels still nearly folded -- was left standing.
The tornadoes first swirled out of the Gulf of Mexico into an exclusive St. Petersburg subdivision about 8 a.m. They skipped across Tampa Bay creating waterspouts and barreling into northern Tampa, the state's second largest city with a population of 247,000.
They whirled inland through Lakeland and a cluster of smaller towns -- Winter Haven, Auburndale, Haines City and Davenport -- before striking Cocoa and ripped just south of Cape Kennedy around 10 a.m.
Nine were injured at St. Petersburg, 68 at Tampa, 92 at Lakeland, and 133 at Cocoa, where six trailer parks were struck.
The Red Cross said 158 homes in Tampa were destroyed, 186 received major damage and 211 minor damage. Six shelters were opened to care for the homeless.
"It looks exactly like Normandie," said JACK SLAYTON, sports editor of the Lakeland Ledger and a veteran of the World War II invasion of France.
Dozens of homes in a fashionable residential section of the north side of Tampa were demolished or badly damaged. National Guardsmen blocked off an area five blocks wide and 20 blocks long.
About 40 homes were damaged in St. Petersburg, just across Tampa Bay.
MAL OGDEN, administrative assistant to the governor, said 100 National Guardsmen were ordered to Hillsborough County, another 100 to Polk and a smaller number to Cocoa.
Tampa is in Hillsborough County, Lakeland in Polk.
FARRIS BRYANT, former Florida governor now head of the U.S. Office of Emergency Planning, talked to BURNS and promised all possible assistance.
OGDEN said early reports from Hillsborough and Polk counties indicated heavy looting in some areas and "many, many deaths."
AUDREY SMITH, 13, was home alone in a North Lakeland residential area.
"The wind started blowing stones against the windows," the girl said. "I went to the phone to call my mother, but the phone went dead. Then the whole house blew apart."
The youngster suffered only cuts and bruises.
More than 30 planes were tossed about and splintered at the Lakeland airport, and a 50-foot-tall radio tower was jerked out of its concrete pilings and slammed to the ground.
The launching of an Orbiting Astronomical Observatory from Cape Kennedy was postponed because the storm kept workers off the launching pad.
The space center was not hit directly by a tornado, but wind gusts at the Cape were clocked at 70 miles an hour.
A guard shack at the Cape's south gate was flattened, an unused Polaris missile service tower blown over and some antennas were knocked down. Otherwise, damage at the Cape was minor.
The twisters came spinning viciously out of a dark squall that moved rapidly westward across the state from the Gulf of Mexico. Torrential rains accompanied the storm.
Although the most serious damage was reported in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Lakeland, Auburndale, Winter Haven and Cocoa, several other communities also were struck by twisters and high winds.
Windows were blown out, signs flattened and trees uprooted at Clearwater, about 30 miles northwest of Tampa. A 20-foot boat on a trailer was hurled through a filling station window.
Daily Capital News Jefferson City Missouri 1966-04-05