Florida picking up the pieces after deadly storm - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

2/3/07-LADY LAKE, Florida

Florida picking up the pieces after deadly storm

Sandra Bush walks through the debris that the storms left in her Lake Terrace back yard. Sandra Bush walks through the debris that the storms left in her Lake Terrace back yard.
Pastor Larry Lynn picks through the rubble of the Lady Lake Church of God. Church members helped him assess the damage. Pastor Larry Lynn picks through the rubble of the Lady Lake Church of God. Church members helped him assess the damage.
Pat Price surveys her damaged home Friday in The Villages, Florida. Pat Price surveys her damaged home Friday in The Villages, Florida.
Nancy England, right, comforts Richard Cox, a fellow member of the destroyed church. Nancy England, right, comforts Richard Cox, a fellow member of the destroyed church.

 Displaced central Florida residents spent the night in shelters after a line of thunderstorms packing at least one tornado killed 19 people and caused catastrophic damage.

A massive cleanup effort awaits.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he would be touring the area Saturday morning with FEMA Director David Paulison. Crist declared a state of emergency in four counties and said he hopes federal officials will do the same.

Crist praised those involved in relief efforts after Friday's early-morning storm. "There are heroes all over Central Florida," he said.

Damage survey teams were to be sent into the areas Saturday after emergency crews completed their work so the weather service can determine the strength of the tornado and its exact path, the weather service said.

"We have complete devastation of homes, businesses, religious institutions. It was unlike perhaps even the hurricanes of 2004," said Christopher Patton of the Lake County Emergency Operations Center.

That county was the hardest hit -- 13 people died in Paisley, on the county's eastern edge, and six in Lady Lake, on its western edge an hour-and-a-half drive away. Lady Lake is about 50 miles northwest of Orlando.

The Church of God in Lady Lake was flattened. A steel structure previously used as a hurricane shelter, it's a Pentecostal church serving Lake, Sumter and Marion counties.

Churchgoers gathered there after the storm, consoling one another.

"We're going to have church on this ground on Sunday," one woman said. "The building's gone, but the church is still here."

Five shelters for displaced residents were open in three counties, the state Emergency Operations Center said. State and local officials said they were moving resources into place to assist victims.

The fatalities were caused when at least one tornado touched down during a thunderstorm that struck Lady Lake about 3:15 a.m. and Paisley a half-hour later before crossing from Lake into Volusia County, where DeLand was hit about 4 a.m. and the New Smyrna Beach area about 4:30 a.m., the National Weather Service said.

The thunderstorm was one of about five in east-central Florida overnight, according to the weather service.

Authorities searched through the debris, using dogs to help locate survivors or bodies. By afternoon, Lake County officials had shifted to a recovery mode, said Jerry Smith, emergency management director.

Storm damage was also reported in Seminole and Sumter counties.

"The time of day was the most lethal aspect of the tornadoes," the National Weather Service said in a written statement. Although tornado warnings were issued that would have given nine to 16 minutes for residents to seek shelter, most people were asleep.

The region lacks tornado sirens.

Students killed

Among the dead were two high school students -- a 17-year-old girl and a boy who was a freshman, said Anna Cowin, superintendent of Lake County Schools.

The boy, one of triplets, was killed along with his parents, while a sister, also one of the triplets, was listed in serious condition at a hospital, Cowin's office said.

Cowin also said a 7-year-old boy and his father were killed.

In Lady Lake late Friday, Crist told CNN the storm damage was the worst he has ever seen in the state, even after witnessing hurricanes while serving as attorney general.

"It's like a bomb went off in central Florida," he said.

Crist declared a state of emergency in Lake, Seminole, Sumter, and Volusia Counties. He said he had spoken with President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff regarding the importance of receiving federal aid.

"It looks like a total war zone about 300 yards wide," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of the Paisley area after touring the region with Crist and others.

Thousands of people were temporarily left without electricity, but it was expected that 90 percent would be restored by midnight.

"This storm showed no conscience," Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said. "It took out mobile homes. It took out apartment complexes. It took out high-dollar homes."

In addition, the storm tossed tractor-trailers around like toys on Interstate 4 in Volusia County, said Kim Miller of the Florida Highway Patrol.

One truck driver was pinned inside his rig by a second tractor-trailer until authorities were able to get him out, she said. And one of the trucks was partially "disintegrated" by the time officials arrived.

Volusia County officials preliminarily estimated property damage at $80 million.

Gone in 15 seconds

Some residents said they awoke to the sound of the storm and had their homes collapse around them.

"You heard a train. And then the windows imploded. Then the wall came down. And then it was over," said one main.

Eighty-six-year-old Gene Barthauer spent 20 minutes huddled on his bed amid the debris of his mobile home before neighbors came with flashlights to help.

His neighbor wasn't as fortunate, he said. Little remained of her home except a concrete slab and a couch. She and the trailer were blown into a nearby field.

"The whole place just blew right over the top of mine, and along with her," he said.

Some wound up trapped in their homes by falling trees wedged against their doors, said Volusia County sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson.

As night approached Friday, curfews were being established in some of the affected counties.

"If we find anybody looting, we're going to deal with it," the Volusia County sheriff said at an afternoon news conference.

A man identifying himself only as Joe told CNN affiliate WKMZ that his home had survived four hurricanes without losing a shingle. But he said it only took 15 seconds for the house to be demolished Friday.

"I don't care how tough you think you are, you're not that tough," he said. "When you hear your roof come off your house, you'll find out just how strong you really are."

Source: CNN Newsource

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