Tornado-ravaged Palm Bay Estates continues to heal months after Irma

'Unbelievable' damage serves as reminder to take evacuation orders seriously

By Mark Lehman - Reporter

PALM BAY, Fla. - More than eight months after Hurricane Irma swept through the Sunshine State, the Palm Bay Estates mobile home community still bears the scars from the storm.

An EF 0 tornado touched down there the morning of Sept. 10, just as the hurricane was in full swing in the Central Florida area. The twister destroyed six mobile homes and damaged many others.

The eye of Hurricane Irma was hundreds of miles away when the outer rain bands spawned a water spout over the Indian River Lagoon that swept onshore with its aim on the 55+ community on Indian River Drive.

[READ: All the hurricane-related myths you need to know during a storm]

Mary King, a resident of Palm Bay Estates, remembers the morning vividly. She evacuated from the mobile home community ahead of the storm and sought shelter somewhere safer.

"The damage was unbelievable," King said.

King watched anxiously as News 6 reports showed crumbled homes, debris littering the streets and first responders assessing the wreckage.

"(A) telephone pole fell on the house. The pole in the back fell on the back of the house," King said.

While the damage to King’s home was considerable, she was one of the lucky residents who was still left with a home. William Loveland and his wife weren’t as lucky.

[READ: How to put together a hurricane-ready safe room]

For 16 years, the couple lived in what they called their little piece of paradise, but it was paradise lost when the tornado unleashed its wrath. The couple’s roof was ripped off, leaving their home completely destroyed.

"My heart's right there in that lot and all of our memories,” Loveland said, pointing at the blank space where his home once stood.

Although only memories remain, Loveland said he’s thankful that nearly everyone along his street evacuated before the storm, meaning no one was injured.

"All it takes is one little tornado to completely wipe out a family," Loveland said.

Since September, some residents have left the Palm Bay Estates, but others, including Loveland, decided to stay. He said generous neighbors helped him until he could find a new home just a few doors away from his old one.

“When you've got people like that and you got a community like that, you want to stay," Loveland said.

As many people are making hurricane preparations this year, Loveland hopes his story will serve as a life-saving reminder.

Neighbors said the damage definitely demonstrates the need to take evacuation orders seriously. As the 2018 hurricane season begins, Palm Bay Estates residents said they’ll keep in mind the lessons they learned from last year and will turn to each other if another storm hits.

"If anybody wants to stay in a mobile home -- just to get out. I don't think it's worth it. Your life is not worth it," Loveland said.
 

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