Editor’s Note: Lula Dovi is a long time resident of Original Carrollwood. She still resides on Lacewood Road.Over the years she has been a writer, editor, correspondent, teacher, mother, tennis player and much more. Almost 40 years ago a huge twister cut a wide path through Original Carrollwood. Here’s what The Caroler reported on that storm.
Low hung black clouds on the morning of April 4, 1966 foretold the destruction that would soon follow in the path of a tornado. The storm took a hit and miss track through Original Carrollwood and across Lake Carroll. A few houses were unroofed and severely damaged, some lawn furniture disappeared completely and residents who experienced the fury were in a state of shock. Luckily there were no fatalities in our neighborhood
I was teaching at Hillsborough High School when a phone call came from my husband Steve. He was going to our home on Lacewood Road, where I still live, to check on things. One of his office workers was crying when she came into work because of a “terrible storm” she had driven through in Forest Hills. A neighbor and colleague of mine, Von Bottenfield, said he would also be going to his house on Picwood Drive to check out any possible damage.He had a fence knocked down, he later said.
When my husband arrived at the Carrollwood entrance, he had to produce identification showing he lived there. Deputies had sealed off all entrances to Carrollwood. Our neighbor at the time, Charles Wildy, who also lived on Lacewood Road, was deputized to help patrol the area for any possible vandalism. Fortunately our house was spared from any damage and our youngest daughter Lucretia and the housekeeper didn’t even know there had been a storm.
At Chamberlain High School the students who lived in Carrollwood were released to go home to help with any problems. My children, Rick and Marguerite, left Chamberlain to help search for damage and people that might be injured.
On-the-spot observers that morning were Dr. Tony Zaitz of Carrollwood Drive and his wife Mary Ellen, a nurse. He happened to be home because of his USF class schedule. As the roar of the storm’s intensity approached, they dropped to the floor. Their house escaped damage but across the street, Dr. Don Harkness’ house suffered a punishing blow from the twister. Tony and his wife went into the street to see what havoc or injuries there might be. They saw that no one was at the Harkness house. Then they went from house to house to see if anyone had been hurt or needed help.
The Carrollwood Caroler of May 1966 stated that the storm took only five minutes, from 8:22am to 8:27am, to wreak its damage on Lake Carroll Way, Nokora Drive, Korina Lane, Carrollwood Drive and Samara Drive. As the article described it, “Men, women and…children came with buckets and shovels and brooms and mops – to dig out, sweep out, to uncover and save what could be saved. Some gathered up babies and toddlers and took them quickly to the quiet calm of their own homes, keeping them day and night so mothers and dads could work freely at the salvaging. Others took away…sodden clothing and linens to wash…” Emergency services from organizations were coordinated by the Carrollwood Civic Association.
Standing at the glass door to her patio, Charlotte Dunn was trying to decide whether to brave a trip to school to drop off her daughter Janice. What she thought at first was hail coming down in the driving rain turned out to be the tiles from her neighbor’s house. She and Janice ran down the hall to take cover. Janice ran into the bathroom while Charlotte went to a corner of the living room.
Some bedroom windows blew in and shoved furniture into the hallway. Charlotte had to move furniture out of the way to free Janice. The carport roof disappeared as well as the roof over the kitchen and dining rooms. Dr. Sarett walked over from across the street and told them she had lost everything including clothes. Since she was still in her night clothes she asked for something to wear and Charlotte got something for her.
For the next four months Charlotte and Hampton Dunn and their family lived in their house on Half Moon Lake while the rebuilding took place. “It was remarkable to me that the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army were able to set up their mobile unit so fast out here,” said Charlotte.
The timing of the storm was fortuitous in that most people were at work or school. However, at one house checked by Mary Ellen Zaitz, only the entrance hallway was left standing. And there in shock, was the owner, Dr. Alma Sarett of USF, who was trembling but at the same time grateful to see someone offering help. The storm’s caprice caused the landing of an automobile on a house a block away. Again, fortunately there were no injuries.
Susan Zaitz Chandler recalled seeing lawn furniture twisted into the electric wires above the street and sparks flying out from some wires. At the corner of Carrollwood Drive and Orange Grove Drive she saw a car in the driveway with another car upside down on top of it.
Sunstate Builders, founded by Matt Jetton, rebuilt all the damaged homes, according to Margaret Baumgartner. Some residents such as her mother had to say in motels or elsewhere while reconstruction took place. Margaret’s husband Charlie was in the sales department of Sunstate. (Margaret and Charlie still live in Original Carrollwood). According to a Tampa Tribune article, Matt Jetton said at least 75 to 100 homes were destroyed and more were damaged beyond repair. The article reported that three people were killed outside Carrollwood in the Tampa area and six others died elsewhere in the state. The same article said that three school buses, two of them with children, had overturned.
Slashing its way along, the storm ripped at Carrollwood from Dale Mabry Highway through Lake Magdalene, Forest Hills and then on the University of South Florida. Although the roof of a USF dormitory buckled, some 300 female students escaped.
Dr. Jean Battle was in his office at USF when his secretary Myrna Raney asked how he had gotten to work because Carrollwood had been hit by a tornado. Jean was quoted as saying “I thought something was wrong.” His wife Lucy, a counselor at Plant High School, heard about the storm while at school. Their home on Carrollwood Drive escaped damage.
It was their daughter, Carol Battle Salmon, who encountered firsthand some of the shock in the aftermath. She was en route to Lutz Elementary School, where she taught, when she heard the roar and saw many downed trees everywhere. She encountered a man trying to warn people about the devastation ahead. At that time she was living at Habana Place Apartments. Carol said the National Guard was brought in to patrol and help enforce a curfew with their sound trucks. A corner meat market on Dale Mabry offered to store frozen food to prevent spoilage, she recalled. For years she said boaters could see debris such as a refrigerator door on the bottom of the lake.
Loss of a home or severe damage to it caused some people to leave the neighborhood. Dr. Walter Kruschwitz, retired from the USF physics department, came to Carrollwood in 1967 and bought a house on Korina Lane that had suffered a lot of damage and not been re-occupied by the owners immediately after restoration.
Cousins of mine on the east side of Lake Carroll had so much damage that it prompted them to sell the long-held family property and move south to Bull Frog Creek at Ruskin. Catherine and Harry Cunningham had so many trees downed on their property along the lake that they couldn’t drive in or out for a few days. Her father, T. Van Rhyn Carty, escaped with a few broken ribs when his second story garage apartment blew over on its side. He walked out of the window with some help. At that time my Uncle Van was an elderly person. All of those relatives are now deceased.
When the storm smashed houses, trees and other property, the real spirit of Carrollwood rose up to face the community disaster. Neighbors offered help of all kinds by searching and patrolling and giving comfort. More than 130 residents offered to patrol and work with law officers to guard the area against possible looting. Many women furnished food for the emergency workers. The memory of the black clouds, rubble and destruction has stayed with all of us who lived through the tumultuous time. But a great cooperative spirit emerged from the disaster which also left its lasting imprint.
Official record from the National Weather Service on the Carrollwood tornado