No-Name Storm: 20 years later - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

No-Name Storm: 20 years later

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

It was one of the most devastating storms to ever hit the Gulf Coast of Florida, but we're not talking about Andrew or Charley or Wilma.

This one didn't even have a name.

It's now been exactly 20 years since the "no-name" storm slammed into our state, packing tornadoes and wind gusts of more than 90 mph.

The storm may have had no name, but it's the big one no one can forget.

It was dubbed the "Storm of the Century" after it swept in with almost no time to react.

"It was up to your waist 5 o'clock this morning," said one distraught woman we interviewed back then.

Boats got tossed around like toys. Car windows smashed.

"The water was in our cars about a foot," said another woman who was being evacuated.

There were massive evacuations.

"Never seen anything like this before," said a woman who was just visiting Pinellas County at the time. "I was scared all night."

"Major storm surge, like this in March, it's pretty unheard of," said Todd Barron, who is an emergency response meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Ruskin.

At least 11 tornadoes were reported across the state.

"This storm pretty much had the same impact as a hurricane would, even though it wasn't a hurricane," said Barron.  "It was just a really intense squall line."

Barron said it slammed the shoreline with 70 mph winds. Some reported wind gusts were higher than 100 mph.

"We had storm surge up to 12 across parts of the Big Bend area and then across Pinellas County, I think it got up to about 7 feet," said Barron.

Back then, we didn't have the powerful Doppler radar we rely on today.

"Basically from Tampa Bay, up towards the Nature Coast, Citrus County, so that's where some of the strongest winds were actually reported," said Barron.

Three people died from an F2 tornado near Chiefland in Levy County.

In Ozello, Torii Croft told us, she was starting to panic at work.

"The phone's just ringing and ringing and ringing, there was no answer, so that's when I started freaking out," said Croft, who couldn't reach her in-laws Mary and Charley, who were watching her 6-month-old baby, Kirsten.

"My mother in-law is 4-foot-11. Charley was 6-foot-2. The water was already waist-deep on them," said Croft. "Both of their trucks were floating, he's got Kirsten in the carrier over his head, Mary's hanging onto his belt in the back because her feet kept being swept out from underneath her."

They all made it to safety.

Jeff Loercher was only 11 years old and vividly remembers he was staying at an uncle's in Hudson, with plans to go fishing that next day.

"I remember turning over in the middle of the night and being soaked," said Loercher, who was sleeping on a small cot in his uncle's living room.

He said, his uncle towed his aunt, their dog and brother in a boat as the floodwaters rose.

"The water was so high, it was literally over cars and he was swimming and kind of towing the boat," said Loercher.

So what are the chances of something like this happening again?

"You gotta think it's a small chance," said Barron.  "Because we haven't had a storm like this, in over 20 years, so I think it's relatively small."

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Editor's note: a previous version of this story said Chiefland was in Citrus County. It is in Levy County; the story has been changed to correct the error.

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