CLEARWATER — The tree fell late Sunday. An enormous cedar, at least 40 feet tall, with branches blanketing two back yards.
The trunk, as wide as a couch, crushed a chain-link fence. The limbs tangled in power lines, wrestling them to the soggy ground. Wires snapped one power pole and bent another, whose lines pulled on the pole across the street, snapping those.
When people in the modest neighborhood behind Spectrum Field emerged after Hurricane Irma, they saw the splintered tree, the broken poles and dangling lines — and resigned themselves to being in the dark....
It was called one of the most powerful storms in recorded history. It was bigger than Andrew, bigger than the state.
First it aimed for Miami, then Naples. Twenty four hours before landfall, it set its sights on Tampa Bay.
Fleeing cars packed highways. Homeowners hammered plywood onto windows and anchored garages with sandbags, with scenes of a water-logged Houston fresh in mind.
"Stay safe," they told their neighbors....
Times Staff Writer
GULFPORT -- Street signs blew down, tree limbs crushed fences and Spanish moss blanketed the town. But the roads were clear, just puddles even down by the beach.
So at 8 a.m. on Monday, bartender Sally Douglas rolled open the metal shutters at O'Maddy's Bar & Grille, as she has every morning for 35 years.
"Folks were already here waiting," she said, pouring a shot of Absolut into cranberry juice. "Of course we're open."...
09/10/17 Public Safety
ST. PETERSBURG — Maddy Lee, 19, and her parents had to evacuate their Zone B home in Edgemoor Saturday night at 7 p.m. They moved into her aunt's two-bedroom house in Gladden Park with 10 other people, four dogs and a cat.
Sunday morning, when her dad, John Lee, went back to turn off the power, he saw the garage door was open. Someone had broken the lock on the kitchen window, climbed inside, and ransacked the house....
INDIAN SHORES - In the front of the sanctuary, all the aviaries are empty.
Grace, the great-horned owl; a golden pheasant named Donald; Isis, the red-tailed hawk with one eye, all went home with volunteers who offered to shelter them from the storm.
A total of 50 birds, most of them injured, had to be evacuated from the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary this week as Hurricane Irma threatened to crash across Florida....
03/11/17 Auto racing
At the edge of the racetrack, on a wide pad of asphalt, Susie Wheldon stooped to help her small son.
Sebastian, 7, already had wriggled into his Puma fire suit. Susie slid the chest protector over his head, to keep his lungs from being crushed. She strapped on the neck brace, to protect his spine. She tied his tiny racing shoes.
"Ready to go?" asked his coach.
The boy nodded, and climbed into his new Kid Kart. As soon as he pulled the helmet over his spiky blonde hair, his usual grin melted. He scrunched his freckled nose and set his jaw. "Getting his game face on," Susie called it....
03/01/17 Human Interest
She slumps beside the sidewalk on a plaster stump, right arm resting on her thigh. Her right hand fell off long ago. Her left arm is gone.
Her torso, draped in concrete cloth, is turned toward the house, as if she were watching it. But her eyes are closed — as if she can't bear to see.
The statue is life-size; its features, eroded. It sits on the edge of 22nd Avenue S, at the edge of 46th Street, next to a no-name corner store. Its bare feet are rimmed by broken Snapple bottles....
The special service wouldn't start for an hour. But by 5 p.m. Thursday, people were pouring into the church.
Men in dark suits, hoisting toddlers on their hips. Women in high heels, pulling lace veils over their dark hair.
They came from Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville, to Florida's largest Syrian Orthodox church. They came to see the church patriarch, to take communion with him, to get his blessing and hear his news....
02/02/17 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — He first saw her onstage, dancing in a silver sequined dress.
He whispered to his friend, "That's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."
Taylor Simmons, then 23, had just moved from California to Florida, to play Jack in freeFall Theatre's Into the Woods. Some cast members were being honored at the 2014 Theatre Tampa Bay awards, so he had gone to clap for them at the Palladium. ...
11/01/16 Human Interest
Time capsule: This is a recurring Floridian magazine feature that allows readers to re-experience some of the Tampa Bay Times' best stories with the wisdom of hindsight. Writer Lane DeGregory got a phone call last month about this story, from the children of Dr. Ayestaran. He held on to that box for years, they told her. But he never got close to finding out whose remains were inside, where they came from or where they belonged....
10/28/16 Human Interest
OCKLAWAHA — He called the newsroom with a warning: They can't move that house.
"I'm worried something terrible is going to happen," the man said in a thick New York accent. "I have to warn somebody."
Then he told me a ghost story.
His name is Donald J. Weiss. He's a 62-year-old retired police patrolman from upstate New York. He had moved to Ocala several years ago and visited the house where gangster Ma Barker had been killed. He had wanted to see the site of the longest shootout in FBI history: four hours, more than 2,000 bullets....
ST. PETERSBURG — The dance came from a conversation. About having conversations. Some of the best ones, the two dancers agreed, had been with strangers.
So they started there.
Kellie Harmon, 27, told her friend about a girl she had met on a New York subway. The girl was 6, maybe 7, and asked Kellie if she had any princess songs on her phone.
Crystal DelGiudice, 30, told her friend about a man she met in an Ybor City bar. He looked like some hipster jock but wanted to discuss philosophy and astronomy, the meaning of life....
09/28/16 Human Interest
One night last spring, Gordon Stevenson plugged his name into Google. Up popped a link to an episode of Antiques Roadshow.
"Gordon Stevenson," read the link. "Portrait of a Man Painting, ca. 1940."
His grandfather, his namesake, had been a painter. Gordon had only one of his works, a portrait of his departed dad. It hangs above Gordon's bed in his Tampa home, and was watching over him that night....
07/16/16 Human Interest
ORLANDO — They stood on the second-floor balcony of his townhouse, staring over the chain-link fence, into the parking lot of what's left of Pulse nightclub.
One month to the day after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, cleaning crews scuttled in and out. Police still surrounded the broken building, their red and blue lights striping the streets.
From their perch, Brock Cornelius, 40, and his friend Samantha Stone, 36, watched the throngs stream to the makeshift memorial, cradling daisies, setting up candles, dropping to their knees to pray....
07/10/16 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — After the transplant team finished its rounds, after nurses checked her oxygen level and a doctor came to say: Yes, she would have to have surgery again today, Maddie Price asked her mom to hand her the paisley drawstring bag hanging in her hospital room.
Maddie, 16, struggled to sit up. She was pale and puffy from all the medication. A month earlier, she had received her second new heart and suffered all kinds of complications....