Thankful survivors resume cleanup after EF-1 tornado hit Jacksonville

Man says father who passed away last week was watching over his family

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two days after Tropical Storm Elsa and an EF-1 tornado ripped through parts of Jacksonville’s San Jose and Lakewood neighborhoods, cleanup is underway.

Residents and businesses in the area can expect noisy machinery like chainsaws and generators to be a part of the process.

PHOTOS: Florida, Georgia clean up after destruction from Elsa

People who survived the storm say they are glad to be safe.

Several homes on Mendoza Drive in the San Jose area had tarps on their roofs to cover damage, and trees were cut down and removed on Friday.

Davor Malbasic said despite the damage to his home, he’s grateful his family is safe. His father passed away just last week.

“We’re trying to keep the house to remember him,” Malbasic said, adding that his father was watching over his family. “God helped us, he helped us that’s all that matters.”

Malbasic was home with his seven family members when Wednesday’s storm headed for their house.

“It sounded like a train coming from far away and then it got near us and then we were hearing it more and more,” Malbasic said.

A large tree fell on a home on Mendoza Drive (WJXT)

Malbasic said he and his family ran to the bathroom to take cover. When he came outside after the storm, the damage was evident.

“Half of the roof and some of the shingles are missing,” he said.

A large tree also fell on top of his house. Crews were seen cleaning up the debris on Friday, and Malbasic and other neighbors said they were thankful for the help.

Malbasic said his family will repair his home, just like his father would want it.

Joe Moran, general manager at Reads Moving Systems of Florida, had just made it home from a day at work when he got a frantic call from his coworker.

“She called me hysterically, so I got my wife and came back, and at 5:15 (p.m.) we saw the devastation. It was already over at that point,” Moran said.

The tornado tore off part of the business’s roof, knocked down trees outside and flipped a semi. Moran said at least a dozen of their trucks or trailer were damaged.

“Looked like a bomb hit the place,” he said.

Moran said there’s also damage from water getting into the building. The sales office was flooded, destroying their electronics and halting business.

“The flooding mainly did damage to our offices, so we were very lucky there. The neighbor across the street lost his whole roof,” Moran said.

The warehouse, thankfully, was spared.

“Nobody was hurt -- that’s the main thing,” Moran said. “I mean the rest can be fixed, eventually. It just takes time and money.”

City officials and property owners are determining who is responsible for the cleanup in the wake of the tornado, which the National Weather Service said produced wind speeds of up to 110 mph as it moved north nearly 4 miles through San Jose, across Interstate 95, and into Arlington.

INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: Videos, photos show the path of a destructive Jacksonville tornado

Along the way, the 150-yard-wide twister snapped trees, flung fences, and caused damage to homes along Old Kings Road South, Powers Avenue, and beyond.

The path of an EF-1 tornado that tore through Jacksonville during Tropical Storm Elsa.

The tornado reached peak intensity and width as it crossed Philips Highway and moved along Bowdendale Avenue. Significant damage was reported to several industrial buildings in that area, NWS said.

RELATED: Neighborhoods begin recovery from Elsa tornado damage in Jacksonville | Businesses survey aftermath, clean up in wake of EF-1 Elsa tornado

One woman who is from the Midwest told News4Jax the sound of the tornado was very familiar to her. Even though she has lived in Florida for 30 years, she knew what it was. She described it like a freight train.

At Baker Skinner Park on Powers Avenue, a toppled tree was leaning against one of the ballpark fences, metal signs were shredded, protective netting was ripped, a flag pole was knocked over and the batting cages were left in a heap of twisted metal.

About the Authors:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.