Storm cancels downtown New Year's celebrations


Waiting to cross the street downtown, Kyla McGee, left, and Janica Kidney huddle under an umbrella to keep dry from the steady rain that put a damper on plans for a New Years celebration at the Community Plaza dowtown Tuesday night and kept traffic at area bars slower than usual.

ROB C. WITZEL/ The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 12:32 a.m.
Severe weather downed trees and power lines, damaging several houses in Gainesville, and prompted city officials to cancel the downtown New Year's Eve celebration Tuesday.
The thunder, lightning, rain and winds up to 50 mph started at about 5:30 p.m. and continued for several hours. At about 7 p.m., a tree fell on a house at 1017 NW 16th Ave. and caved in part of the living room roof.
Jenny Lou Halsey, 82, was in the house when the tree struck the room just a few feet away from where she was standing. "I was standing in the kitchen when it fell," Halsey said. "There was a real flash."
Part of the ceiling and insulation fell on the floor and a kitchen counter was knocked over, narrowly missing Halsey, Gainesville Fire Rescue spokesman Michael Heeder said. Rain began pouring in.
Halsey ran outside into the rain and flagged down Regina Ward, a passing driver. Although Ward doesn't know Halsey, she stopped and let Halsey sit in her car out of the rain and called 911 on her cell phone. She stayed with Halsey until her neighbors and the Red Cross arrived.
"She's an angel," Halsey said of Ward. The tree was a dead pine that broke off above the roofline, Heeder said.
Trees also fell on and damaged houses at 311 NW 16th Ave. and at 1107 NW 7th Ave., Heeder said.
The threat of severe weather persuaded city officials to cancel the Downtown Countdown: A New Year's Celebration at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"I've never had to cancel an event of this magnitude before and it's very hard, but it had to be done," said Laural DeWild, events coordinator for the city of Gainesville Department of Cultural Affairs. "We have a lot of electrical equipment outdoors and that and lightning and thunder doesn't mix."
When the event was supposed to have started at 8 p.m., it was still raining. The cancellation will cost the city about $13,000 because performers and part of the catering and equipment have to be paid for.
One Gainesville resident who had planned to go to the event found himself downtown and wondering what he was going to do Tuesday night.
"I don't know what my plans are going to be now," said John Sowell, adding that he thinks it was a good idea to cancel the celebration. "I'll figure something out later."
If the lightning and rain weren't enough to cancel the downtown celebration, high winds also were a problem.
Wind gusts of 50 mph were recorded in northwest Gainesville by several Alachua County Skywarn severe weather spotters.
Todd Sherman reported a wind gust of 50 mph just before 6 p.m. that lasted at least 10 seconds in the 8400 block of NW 13th Street. Another Skywarn spotter reported a 50 mph wind gust in the 900 block of NW 12th Avenue and a third reported winds of 40 to 50 mph and heavy rain in the 2600 block of NW 13th Street.
Nearly an of an inch of rain was recorded at the Gainesville Regional Airport by 8 p.m. Tuesday night.
A flood watch was in effect for Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Marion, Putnam, Suwannee and Union counties through 7 a.m. this morning, according to the National Weather Service. Up to 4 inches of rain was possible in some areas of North Central Florida and the ground is still saturated from recent rainfall, according to the National Weather Service.
Fire officials also responded to wires down and transformer fires, Heeder said.
Trees falling on power lines caused power outages for 3,800 Gainesville Regional Utilities customers, spokeswoman Marsha Anderson said. The outages happened in the 5300 block of Newberry Road and along Glen Springs Road. About 100 people were still without power at 9 p.m.
No injuries were reported associated with the storm.
Kathy Ciotola can be reached at 338-3109 or ciotolk@ gvillesun.com.

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