Published January 13, 2015
President Bush designated four central Florida counties as disaster areas, releasing millions of dollars in aid as residents began recovering from tornados that ripped through the region, leaving at least 20 people dead.
National Guard troops, neighbors and residents cleaned up in the rain Saturday, pulling blue tarps over houses that still had walls.
The victims from the second-deadliest series of tornadoes in state history ranged from a 92-year-old man to 17-year-old Brittany May, killed by a falling tree that crushed her bedroom.
Forecasters said Saturday that at least three tornadoes, with winds possibly as high as 165 mph, hit between 3 and 4 a.m. Friday, when few people were awake to hear tornado warnings on radio and TV.
The cleanup task was daunting Saturday as showers soaked roofless homes and piles of twisted aluminum siding, bricks, belongings, tree limbs and lumber. Power lines were down and traffic signals out in many areas.
Neighbors helped Sherry Reeves, 48, sort through her belongings and patch a big hole in her roof. Reeves was amazed that her home wasn't leveled like hundreds of others in this area about 50 miles north of Orlando.
"The Good Lord slipped and missed, or luck of the draw," she said.
The governor, handling the first natural disaster since he took office, said some stricken areas looked like "the surface of the moon." Crist canceled plans to attend Sunday's Super Bowl in Miami to stay in central Florida.
Crist praised the residents and charitable groups who pitched in to help clean up. Neighboring Marion County sent a group of low-risk inmates, dressed in green-and-white striped jail clothes. Some religious groups served food to rescue workers and victims, while about 40 National Guard members distributed blankets, food and water.
"This is not just government. This is people helping people and doing what's right," Crist said at a news conference with Paulison, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez and other officials.
Paulison said his agency, criticized for inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, had housing trailers, water trucks and other aid already on the way. Bush's disaster declaration for Lake, Sumter, Seminole and Volusia counties also frees up loans and other assistance to individuals.
At least eight trailers with emergency supplies had arrived in the Orlando area Saturday afternoon, and more were to follow, said agency spokeswoman Alexandra Kirin late Saturday.
Tate Tapscott, 38, who lives in an area called Cooter Lake, went looking for neighbors after the storm and found a father and son dead, buried under debris.
"He was still holding on to his son," Tapscott said.
Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders said Saturday he did not expect to find any more victims. "We think that everyone is accounted for," Borders said.