Gulf Breeze, FL Tornado, Feb 1971



Gulf Breeze, Fla. (UPI) -- ARTHUR PRIOR had his head wrapped in a crown-to-chin bandage covering along line of stitches, his belongings were buried beneath a fallen tree, and he felt lucky.
PRIOR and hundreds of other vacationers and residents in the beer-and-surfing coastal resort were shaken from their beds in a flurry of flying glass Sunday when a pre-dawn tornado ripped across the sandspit enclosing Pensacola Bay. The twister sliced through the Sandy Acres Motel, where PRIOR and his wife, KAREN, had a cottage, and the English Cove Apartments across Highway 98.
"Everything started coming down. We tried to get out," said PRIOR, a Tenafly, N.J. Air Force enlisted man stationed at nearby Eglin AFB. "I went to an aid station and they put 20 or 30 stitches in my head, but I don't mind that -- we're just lucky to be alive."
No one was killed in the tornado, which struck at 4:20 a.m., but Red Cross officials estimated that 250 were injured. Red Cross Supervisor Virginia Stuart said most of the injured were treated at three local hospitals and released, but one woman was admitted with severe lacerations.
Rescue units from Santa Rosa and Escambia counties counted 55 cars, two small boats and four trailers destroyed by the twister. Total damages were estimated as high as $5 million and damage to the motel and apartment complex alone was put at $2 million.
TERRIS NEUMAN, 19, was asleep on a couch at the English Cove when the storm awoke him. He dashed upstairs and flung himself across his widowed mother as the tornado blasted out a plate glass window fronting their apartment.
"I looked out the window and saw things were flying by real fast," NEUMAN said. "It sounded like a train coming. It was rumbling and rumbling, and your cars kept pressing."
Most of the homeless were able to stay temporarily with friends and relatives, Mrs. Stuart said at the Red Cross headquarters set up at Gulf Breeze Elementary School, about a mile from the motel and apartment complex.
She said the Navy took care of its own, reopening an old bachelor officers' quarters for the military families who had lived at English Cove.
"It's just uncanny," said City Councilman James Lee, standing in the littered courtyard of the English Cove. "How they got out of here. I just don't know."

Ruston Daily Leader Louisiana 1971-02-08