Two minutes of terror at Kings Point: Tornado leaves many in 55+ community west of Delray homeless
Jim Travis’s cell phone told him a tornado was coming and to seek cover. It was 9:15 Tuesday night, and he was about to ignore the warning when terrifying sounds spurred him to action. Travis, confined to a wheelchair, barricaded himself inside a bathroom at his Kings Point condo, west of Delray Beach.
“It took five seconds for me to get in there and I felt things blow past my head and face. Did not see anything but heard it. Then just like that, it was over. When I opened the door, my apartment was destroyed.”
Pieces of the wall littered the apartment.
Another Kings Point resident, Claudia Dechow, had a tree in her walk-in shower and closet. Her picture window blew in and rain was pouring into the apartment. “You heard a noise, and that was it,” she said.
Travis and Dechow were among more than 20 residents who had to abandon their homes to be moved to the safety of the South County Civic Center Tuesday night. The number was expected to grow, possibly by as many as 100 people, as county inspectors took measure of the buildings. .
The National Weather Service in Miami confirmed it was a tornado that caused the extensive damage to the retirement community of more than 10,000 residents.
The tornado took only about three minutes to rip through the area, damaging at least five buildings, with 48 units each.
Officials first sought to connect the suddenly homeless residents with relatives or put them up in hotels, but rooms were scarce, taken up by west coasters fleeing Hurricane Ian.
Resident Ingrid Robinson said the ordeal lasted only about five or six seconds.
But those seconds were devastating. Robinson's neighbors lost their patios, windows and substantial portions of their roofs.
"It was shocking," she said. "It was so quick, and so loud and so fast. You really thought it was the end of the world, I seriously thought that for a minute."
Robinson was in the bedroom of her second-floor apartment when it struck. Alarmed by a loud noise, she followed her two small dogs, who'd just run into the living room. They were shaking, and so was she, as the windows in surrounding apartments shattered.
"Nobody knew what was going on," she said. "I think people thought they were going to die."
She said she knew of two people who were injured, but she did not know how seriously.
Tornado rips through Kings Point: 'As bad as it was, it could have been a lot worse'
“This is a real tragedy,” said Frank Iovine, president of the Kings Point homeowners association. “It is going to take quite a while for these buildings to be repaired. What was amazing was that the tornado was very localized. A building across from one that was damaged was never touched.
“I want to commend the work of the Sheriff’s department and Fire Rescue. They responded very quickly.”
Iovine said Kings Point is like a city, adding: “As bad as this was, it could have been a lot worse.”
Barbara Baldwin said she was disappointed she was not allowed to go back into her unit to get needed medication, clothing or car keys, adding: “Looks like I will be in the same clothes now for three days,” she said as she huddled under a Red Cross towel.
State Rep. Kelly Skidmore, State Sen. Laurie Berman and County Commissioner Maria Sachs all spent part or all of Wednesday at the Civic Center.
“Things were a bit chaotic,” Berman said. “There was a woman with dementia that was brought in after she was found wandering the streets. She kept saying we needed to call her nephew. He was about 10 feet from her when we got him on the phone.”
Tornado rips through Kings Point: Many buildings are unlivable
Firefighters were dispatched to the community around 9:15 p.m. when someone called 911. A roof collapse had trapped her in a bathroom.
When firefighters arrived , they found cars toppled, roofs blown off of several top-floor apartments, windows of buildings and cars blown out and trees snapped and blown into buildings.
The person trapped in the bathroom was rescued, two people were taken to an area hospital; their conditions were unknown as of Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities from both county fire rescue and the Sheriff's office went door-to-door checking on residents. Fire rescue officials reported at least 30 people were told they could not stay in their homes.
Tornado rips through Kings Point: Community rattled by recent news events
The National Weather Service office in Miami oversees a seven-county area that includes Collier, Hendry and Glades counties, which are closer to Hurricane Ian's path.
That said, meteorologist Robert Garciawasn't sure when a survey team would be able to review the damage, but the office was able to confirm the tornado usingvideo and photos.
It was the third significant news event in the past six months at Kings Point.
In April, Robert Levine was arrested after he fired five gun shots at Herbert Merritt, who was walking his dog too close to the golf course, sending Merritt to the hospital.
In July, a water main broke that left dozens of residents without water and created a massive sinkhole in the parking lot.
Kings Point was the subject of a documentary that aired in 2012. The critically acclaimed film that tells the stories of five seniors struggling with love, loss and the universal desire for human connection can be seen on HBO. The development, built from 1975 to 1983, features one and two-bedroom units in two-story buildings. It is one of the largest retirement communities in South Florida and its residents consist of working class families. The median age is close to 80 years old.
It was not all that long ago when units at Kings Point could be bought for as little as $30,000. With the surge in real estate values, units today start at around $100,000.
Robinson, who lost her car a few months back to the sinkhole, said she was ready to move out of the state after Ian struck, comparing her neighborhood to a war zone.
"At least I went from being the star of a terrible movie to the co-star," she said.
Mike Diamond is a journalist covering the county and transportation at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help support our work. Subscribe today.