Storm's noise covered sound of trees falling

Published: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 11:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 11:42 p.m.

Friday night's burst of violent weather sent large oaks into houses, pulled down powerlines and created a scary headache for residents.

The worst of the storm apparently hit north of Northwest 39th Avenue between Sixth and 13th streets, where crews from Gainesville Regional Utilities and tree companies worked throughout Saturday to saw up tangled messes of pines and oaks and to restore power on a hot, humid day that suddenly had Gainesville feeling like summer.

Some of the residents in the hard-hit area said they didn't even hear the trees coming down because of the sound of the wind, rain and lightning.

Alicia Shindle, who lives on Ninth Street near 42nd Avenue, said she felt the storm.

"It was raining really hard and a few seconds later everything changed. My ears started popping and my husband said he could feel pressure on his shoulders," Shindle said, looking at a downed pine in her yard. "He said that maybe there was a tornado and that we should move to a safer part of the house. We didn't hear any of these trees break."

The tree carnage in the neighborhood resembled the damage much of Gainesville endured during the 2004 hurricane season, when two storms washed over the area and took down thousands of trees from giant oaks to spindly pines.

At the peak of the storm late Friday night, about 13,000 GRU customers had lost power, said GRU spokeswoman Kathy Kopacz. That number was reduced to 500 by Saturday afternoon as crews had to clear trees on the hardest-hit streets before new lines could be strung.

Meteorologist Al Sandrik of the National Weather Service in Jacksonville said the storm resulted from an impulse in the upper atmosphere - an area of energy that moved across the area.

Such impulses can create downbursts of intense energy - the kind that caused the most severe damage in Gainesville, Sandrik said.

"The winds inside the thunderstorm are sort of like a funnel or hose. They just come straight down and contact the ground. When it hits the ground, it has no place to go, so it spreads out and pushes everything in front it," Sandrik said. "It will go along the ground for a while like a bulldozer and then lift back up."

Lisa Ring, who lives in the 4100 block of Northwest Ninth Street, said an oak that fell along the side of her yard missed her car by just inches.

Ring said she and her boyfriend, Torey Williams, took cover when they heard the tree fall.

"We heard this big old crack and got up and ran. We ran to our hallway and heard a big boom," Ring said. "I was sitting in my bedroom. When the lights went off, we were watching the lightning. And then all of sudden the wind started roaring. Then we heard the crack."

Her next-door neighbor's house could not be seen from the street because of the trees that fell on it.

The woman did not want to talk to The Sun about the incident, but Gainesville police said the woman - who they said was in her 80s - wasn't feeling well Friday night and decided to lie on her couch. In the storm, a tree crashed through the bedroom roof where she would normally be sleeping, police said.

"She was trapped inside," Williams said. "We could hear her voice - 'hello, hello, can anybody hear me?' She said to call 911 because her house was demolished."

Jeremiah Torres had a harrowing drive through the storm while returning home to Ninth Street from the movies.

"There were a whole bunch of trees falling. I've never seen anything like it," he said.

But those fallen trees mean business for some.

Dakota Robinson was driving through the hard-hit area with his lawn service trailer looking for work.

Meanwhile, certified arborist and Gator Tree Service owner Anthony Dobosiewicz said he was busy all day.

Dobosiewicz said that while the misfortune of some homeowners is sad, the storm will be a mini-economic boom to tree services, roofers and other types of businesses.

"We have certainly had quite a download of trees. It seems to be concentrated in the Stephen Foster area. It's very reminicient of the hurricanes," he said. "It's certainly bad that people have damage to their homes, but economically it really is helping out a lot of contractors. That money will filter back out into the community. It's almost like a little natural economic stimulus."

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