Severe weather rips through Florida

February 8th, 2007

Last Friday, numerous tornadoes touched down just north of Orlando, killing dozens of unsuspecting residents in a matter of minutes.

Florida is no stranger to natural disasters, however tornadoes in early February are somewhat of an anomaly.

The severe weather hit central Florida between 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., while most were sound asleep.

Trailer parks and homes were completely destroyed, and tractor trailers traveling along I-4 were overturned by the incredibly strong winds, according to The Associated Press.

The usually beautiful landscape of central Florida was littered with debris and the priceless possessions of those unfortunate enough to be in the storm’s path.

The small town of Lady Lake, which is about 50 miles northwest of Orlando, was particularly hit hard.

The Lady Lake Church of God, which was built to sustain winds up to 150 miles per hour, was totally wiped out.

Parishioners gathered outside the ruins of their place of worship undeterred by the events of the night before.

The victims and their supporters also turned out for Sunday service at the demolished church, trying to stay optimistic about the long road to recovery that lie ahead.

A gospel choir even sang on a makeshift stage where the church’s broken cross was propped up next to an American flag.

Rev. Larry Lynn exemplified the parishioners strong spirit saying, “That’s just a building. The people are the church. We’ll be back bigger and stronger.”

Newly elected Governor, Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency for Lake, Sumter, Volusia and Seminole counties, which were the four hardest hit by the violent weather.

More federal aid is expected to come in to help the people affected rebuild their homes and lives. While severe weather is not rare this time of year, strong tornadoes in Florida are.

The United States is used to seeing storms like this form in the Spring and Fall when air masses clash over the mid-section of the country, but early February is not a prime time for this type of instability.

Very warm weather in southern Florida was interrupted by the coldest air of the season hemorrhaging out of Canada causing the severe weather, according to the AP.

The last time a scenario like this materialized was in February of 1998 where five tornadoes hit the Orlando area, killing 42 people and damaging or destroying about 2,600 homes and businesses, according to the National Weather Service.

Some victims hit by the weather complained that there were delays and red tape in the disaster aid, even though officials said they’ve learned from Hurricane Katrina.

Chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, David Paulison and Gov.

Charlie Crist said they were quick to respond to three tornadoes that killed 20 people and left hundreds homeless near Orlando.

However, more than 670 households have complained about delayed aid efforts thusfar.

77-year-old Allan Smith spent an hour in a makeshift tent on the phone with a FEMA spokesperson about how to rebuild his home, but emerged with few answers.

“If I didn’t have in-laws, I wouldn’t have a place to go,” Smith said. “You take people that’ve been through this, they’re already at a loss, so that’s what hurts.”
FEMA spokesman, James McIntyre defended the agency, saying that President Bush didn’t declare the area a federal disaster until last Saturday, according to The AP.

Residents must register with FEMA to even apply for federal aid, but they couldn’t do it in person until the command center opened on Monday.

FEMA provided the homeowners with brochures and phones so they could call family members or friends toll-free.

McIntyre warned that FEMA was just a helping hand, but that people shouldn’t rely on them but loans and other assistance to get back on their feet.

“They have to understand that FEMA cannot make them whole,” he said. “That is not the purpose of the agency.”

FEMA is putting people in existing vacant housing rather than temporary trailers.

The weather also began a conversation on how to notify people whose communities don’t have tornado sirens.

Paulison ultimately said that these particular communities need to have some sort of warning system.

Gov. Crist and other officials are reviewing whether these systems should be required, according to The AP.