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A day of reckoning for Florida storm survivors

February 04, 2007|SAL RECCHI | Orlando Sentinel

In Saturday's dreary rain, Bill Barth returned home to see what he could salvage from the storm that killed at least 20 people as it raced through central Florida a day earlier.

What he saw brought him to tears.

His Lake Mack mobile home was in tatters, ripped apart by a tornado packing winds of up to 165 mph.

It was a day of reckoning for Barth and hundreds of other victims across central Florida who hoped to find something -- anything -- of value amid the twisted aluminum, tree limbs, bricks and dirt that once was home.

"It was the only time I had to cry," said Barth, 45, who added that he and his wife had "put our heart and our souls into this home."

As authorities finished identifying the dead, National Guard troops, jail inmates and volunteers offered their muscle and money to help survivors.

President Bush declared Lake, Sumter, Volusia and Seminole counties a disaster area, giving storm victims the opportunity to apply for federal aid and move into temporary housing.

In Lake County, at least 1,500 homes were damaged or destroyed by the fast-moving storm, which spawned at least three tornadoes. Across Volusia County, 690 homes and business were damaged, most of them severely.

Workers slogged through the rain to spread blue tarps across homes with missing roofs.

Bush promised a "quick and sure" response from the federal government. Offers of aid from businesses, private groups and religious organizations were pouring in.

Joining rescue workers in the most damaged areas were teams from the National Weather Service, which had their own reasons for surveying the ruins in Lake and Volusia counties.

Their goal: to determine how many twisters had hit the area and how strong they were. Late in the afternoon, they established that Friday's storm probably carried at least three tornadoes.

The main damage occurred along a 70-mile west-east path.

On the coast, officials with the Volusia County Health Department were trying to figure out how to continue providing medical services for thousands of low-income residents. The county's largest clinic was ruined, along with its pharmacy.

Joe Duff had his own reasons to mourn Saturday. The pilot and co-founder of Operation Migration reported that Friday's storm killed all 18 endangered whooping cranes that had been guided south from Wisconsin by an ultralight plane.

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