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Polk County Homeowners Cleaning up After A Tornado Touches Down

The tornado that skated through the Tampa Bay Area Wednesday evening left a lot of work for homeowners. 

“Our house wasn’t hit, but we’re helping to clean up,” said one North Lakeland resident. 

Complete Coverage of the Tampa Bay Tornadoes

No injuries have been reported from the incident, but some families were taken to the Red Cross. 

“There are some in Lakeland and others that were transitioned into the Orlando Red Cross,” said emergency management response. 

Spectrum Bay News 9 spoke with a North Lakeland woman, who said she was happy to still have a roof. 

“Some houses were hit harder,” Carol Ames said. “I was just about to take my granddaughter to gymnastics practice; my granddaughters were at my house when the tornado hit.” 

Both Ames and her grandchildren told me they heard loud noises and then saw the trees right outside the window. 

“They were scared and crying,” Ames said about her grandchildren. “If we would have left the house just five minutes before, we would have been caught [in the storm.” 

Lakes Church in Lakeland partnered with Feeding Tampa Bay to provide food to anyone affected by the tornado. 

They will be at the church every Monday afternoon


‘It’s just crazy’: Polk County man’s home destroyed by EF-1 tornado

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Polk County man is feeling like the unluckiest guy in his neighborhood.

His home was the only one destroyed by a tornado that seemed to target him on Gibson Shores Drive in north Lakeland.

“I walked in the house and all of a sudden, the house got hit by a tornado,” said Scott Leavitt, still in disbelief.

Leavitt hadn’t heard much about storms headed his way Wednesday evening. After he got home, he went to take his flag down, noting the high winds.

When it got too windy, Leavitt ran inside.

“As soon as I shut the kitchen door, it just sounded like a train was coming through,” he remembered. “Everything just started shaking. My ears were popping like crazy, I guess from pressure or something. And when I got maybe halfway through the living room, everything behind me was disappearing.”

Just like that, it was over.

His cat, Ash, hasn’t been seen since Thursday morning. His beloved Harley Davidson motorcycle and ‘67 Mustang sit under debris. He’s unsure about their fate.

“I’m in shock. I look at my vehicles and I look at the house and it’s just crazy. I know it can be replaced but still, you work your tail off all your life and it’s gone within a couple of seconds,” he said.

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The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-1 tornado hit the neighborhood just north of Lake Gibson at 5:15 p.m. after traveling 13 miles from just north of Plant City.

Wind speeds peaked at 110 miles per hour.

“The one that we’re in front of now is the only one I’m aware of that I would consider destroyed, based on the amount of structural damage,” said Paul Womble, Polk County’s emergency management director, while standing in front of Leavitt’s home. “The tornado hit just a very small area, luckily.”

While Leavitt’s was the only home destroyed, other homes were damaged in the area.

“We lost a shed in the backyard and a lean-to that was totally lifted up, flooring and all, and it was anchored down. It went over the power lines and was strewn across the backyards of the two houses in back of us,” said Luke Dickerson.

Dickerson’s daughter and grandchildren were home. They hid in the bathroom, terrified.

“She heard what sounded like the infamous freight train. She had never been in something like that before. It was very loud and she heard things hitting the window, just hundreds and thousands of taps and branches and she heard trees falling and metal twisting,” he said.

A large tree toppled over, narrowly missing a home on Daughtery Road.

Nobody was hurt.

“It was unreal. It was unreal. Still gives me chill bumps every time I think about it,” said Leavitt.

In October 2019, an EF-2 tornado hit the area of Kathleen, damaging a middle school and destroying several homes.

That area is a five minute drive from Gibson Shores Drive.

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Polk County preparing for rain, not much wind from Elsa. Tornado watch issued

LAKELAND – Polk County was included in a flood watch Monday night because of Tropical Storm Elsa, which could reach hurricane strength when it makes landfall early Wednesday on the Gulf Coast, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Tuesday.

Emergency Management Director Paul Womble said Polk County is projected to get a lot of rain but no more than what’s expected from a mild thunderstorm.

“We are not in the cone and haven’t been for a day or so now,” Womble said. “The main thing to watch is the strong band of rain. So, an area flood watch means a lot of rain. The forecast calls for two to four inches. We can get that during any afternoon thunderstorm.”

Previously:Elsa expected to bring rain and strong breezes to Polk County

Gov. DeSantis warns Florida Gulf Coast to brace for storm surge, rain from Elsa

In addition to the flood watch, Womble said he is also concerned about the threat of tornadoes. About 1:50 p.m. on Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for Polk County until 11 p.m.

At a Tuesday morning County Commission meeting, Womble encouraged residents to ensure their phones are set up to receive warnings and alerts.

Polk County Roads and Drainage employees Johnathan Hodges, left, and Carlton Pridgen load sandbags into the back of Pauline Fuller's car at the Roadway Maintenance Unit 5 facility on North Campbell Road in Lakeland on Tuesday.

The Polk County Roads and Drainage Division began offering sandbags at roadway maintenance sites at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and planned to offer them until 5 p.m., according to Polk County Unit Chief Clerk Julia Schroeder. Those sites are:

  • Mulberry, 900 NE 5th St., 863-519-4734
  • Auburndale, 1701 Holt Road, 863-965-5524
  • Dundee, 805 Dr. Martin Luther King St SW, 863-421-3367
  • Lakeland, 8970 N Campbell Road, 863-815-6701

At the North Lakeland site on North Campbell Road on Tuesday morning, the sandbag packing site was set up under a sheltered area behind the roadway maintenance building so people could pull up and fill sandbags without having to stand in the rain. There are prepacked sandbags for anyone unable to fill the bags on their own. Each vehicle can take no more than 10 bags, operator Carl Pridgen said.

“If it’s not so busy, we do what we can,” Pridgen said. “We try to help with the bags.”

Polk County Roads and Drainage employees Jerome Moore, left, and Dustin Pemberton fill sandbags in preparation for flooding at the Roadway Maintenance Unit 5 on North Campbell Road in Lakeland on Tuesday.

Pauline Fuller of Lakeland said she did a Google search on where to find sandbags in the community because her neighborhood near North Brunnell Parkway and Memorial Boulevard gets a lot of flooding and she wants to be more prepared than she was during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“I put sandbags around the front of my house,” Fuller said. “And around the side because that’s where it’s the lowest.”

As of Tuesday morning, Elsa was about 240 miles south of Tampa, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. While Elsa was forecast to make landfall early Wednesday, heavy rains are expected and most of Florida should feel impacts of the storm, DeSantis said.

“It’s important that Floridians don’t focus on the [forecast] cone,” DeSantis said. “Impacts are expected well outside that area. And if you look at how the storm is, it’s incredibly lopsided to the east. So, most of the rainfall is going to be east of the center.”

Ledger reporter Rebecca Lee can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @RELReports.

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