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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Deadly Storm in Central Florida
Aired February 2, 2007 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Massive destruction, deaths and injuries. Breaking news out of Florida, where severe storms and suspected tornadoes hit with devastating fury early this morning.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: The storms ripped through the central part of the state. Authorities in Lake County say at least two people were killed, two mobile home parks in the town of Lady Lake were hit. Other homes were also damaged or destroyed -- Heidi.
COLLINS: Authorities in Volusia County also reporting extensive damage and people possibly trapped in the debris. Look at these pictures now.
COLLINS: Tractor-trailers were blown off the road. One woman described what happened as the storm ripped the roof of her home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We heard the train. We tried to make it to our walk-in closet. I did, my husband didn't. He ended up on the floor beside the bed. And the closet door caved in on me and then the roof was gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is your husband OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're all OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank God.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their ceiling's falling. We shouldn't probably be standing here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So your house is?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That one. Demolished.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Demolished.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Demolished. Nothing.
Her house is going to be condemned because the roof lifted up. As you can see, her living room curtains are hanging out there. And so the whole place is going to be condemned.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: Across central Florida, trees and power lines are down. Homes have been reduced to rubble.
We are on top of this breaking story. We will continue to bring you the very latest information as it comes in to the NEWSROOM here.
HARRIS: Devastation on the ground, the scene from the air, shocking. Whole areas looking more like a war zone than central Florida neighborhoods.
Dan McCarthy from our affiliate WESH has more.
DAN MCCARTHY, REPORTER, WESH: We are looking down from Lake Griffin Drive -- or Lake -- or Griffin View Drive, and the destruction we see here is just beyond words. Homes completely destroyed, moved off their foundation. You can't even tell that there were some homes in this area.
Destruction is probably at this point a mile, two miles long. I see EMS on scene, fire rescue on scene. Searches on the ground, helicopters overhead. The medevac helicopters are just arriving on scene, because the weather is just now getting safe enough for them to fly.
Trees uprooted, cars flipped over. It's like out of a horror movie. Just -- and then you see houses -- 20 houses in a row destroyed, and then the 21st house is fine, no destruction whatsoever.
We're in the Lady Lake area, as I said, just south of Griffin View Drive. And the destruction in this area, as I mentioned, is at least a mile long and the devastation is enormous.
COLLINS: You heard it there, the devastation -- and you can see it, of course -- is just enormous.
Chad Myers joining us now from the severe weather center.
Chad, when I look at those pictures, and I guess it's the way the helicopter is being flown and the similar terrain, but it just reminds me of Hurricane Andrew.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, absolutely. Sure, you've got those same type of wind speeds here taking roofs off of stick-built houses.
You know, I mean, since -- since Andrew, all the codes are higher, all the codes for manufactured homes are higher, for mobile homes are higher. And clearly, whatever those codes were for this particular mobile home or that particular mobile home that was knocked down next to you or in the video you see here, not high enough to withstand this type of weather. And probably nothing was. We're talking about some of these concrete block stucco homes completely losing their roofs. And we're talking -- that's problem an F-2 or an F-3 tornado.
We're going to say -- we're going to hear the word "probable" tornado or tornadoes all day today, ad nauseam, just because the weather service has to go out there and tell us that it is. Because even though we know it looks like it from here, other things -- wind speeds of 120 miles per hour in a collapsing, down-drafting, micro- bursting thunderstorm, can do something like this. But not typically when one building basically is standing and the building right next it to is not.
And so that's typical of what we expect from a tornado.
There were many, many watches and warnings on these storms yesterday and all overnight. The tornado watch was posted well in advance of the storm, warnings posted as well. The storms now have traveled across Orlando, down to the south. Not quite south of Melbourne yet, but south of St. Pete.
Some pretty significant weather here now just has moved on shore here as well. You can see the storms from Palm Bay, to your west. They're not really all that intense. They're kind of spotty, they're not all put together.
But now we get down into Sarasota and points southward, almost down to Venice. Now you're seeing some of these bigger cells roll onshore. And still, some of them in the past half hour or so, at least one over near Frostproof, into Polk County, Florida, that was spinning about an hour ago. But as I look at my printer, there are no tornado warnings printed off now in the past 30 minutes.
COLLINS: Well, that's at least a little bit of good news there.
All right. Chad Myers, we know you're watching it very, very closely. Thank you.
MYERS: You're welcome.
HARRIS: Let's, Heidi, get more of a view of this from the ground.
Anna Cowin is the superintendent of Lake County Schools. Anna is on the line with us.
ANNA COWIN, SUPERINTENDENT, LAKE COUNTY SCHOOLS: Good morning.
HARRIS: Before we talk about the damage to some of your buildings, infrastructure, your buses, employees, personnel notification, let's talk about your personal story. When did you get word a storm was moving through your area?
COWIN: Well, actually, I live in Leesburg area, and I saw the heavy lightning at that time without any rain or noise. And I knew something was happening, but not familiar with the tornado. I really didn't know until early this morning, around 5:00.
HARRIS: About 5:00 this morning?
HARRIS: Tell me, were you impacted at all personally?
COWIN: No. No.
COWIN: My husband is an orthopedist, so he ended up having to be on alert for the Villages Hospital. But other than that...
HARRIS: Oh, OK.
Tell us the steps you took immediately after you became aware of the storm.
COWIN: Well, the first inclination -- the first inclination was that the bus routes would be jeopardized. Our schools were OK. We checked all the schools. But we realized that the buses couldn't get through north of Fruitland Park (ph).
We -- I closed the Villages Elementary School knowing that the damage was severe in that area, which is up in the Lady Lake area. And we put out an alert.
We have a special alert system where we can notify parents at schools when there is an emergency, or just notification. So I put out an alert to all the faculty and students at the school to let them know that it will be closed.
HARRIS: Hey, Anna, let me stop you there. Tell us more about that alert system. It would probably be helpful for more school districts to know how your system actually works.
COWIN: What we have is -- some time ago, it had happened when we -- early in the morning, when we had a person with a gun traveling an area where children were waiting for bus stops. So at that particular time, I realized that we needed to have some system to tell children and their parents early on, in the case of an emergency other than a lockdown. And this worked out very well this time.
So, we put a file together of every school and all the phone numbers, which is updated annually, even quarterly -- with the phone numbers, and we put in a recorded system, where I get on the phone and identify myself and tell them what the emergency was. In this particular case, it went out within, oh, minutes, five minutes of the call.
COWIN: We had the system already in place. I recorded a message and sent it out to all the parents to notify them that school will be closed.
HARRIS: Anna, let me -- are you looking at some of these pictures?
COWIN: No. But I can.
HARRIS: Yes. I would appreciate it if you would. Just turn the set on and take a look at some of these pictures.
I'm wondering what your thoughts are about your community.
COWIN: Well, it's sad, because it doesn't affect just real estate. We had one student who passed away. And what we have done is sent some grief counselors to the high school. It was a 17-year-old student.
I'm also getting information that there may be some parents of children who have passed away, and some children that are actually injured. I'm verifying that and probably going to be on my way to the hospital to see the students myself.
HARRIS: So this storm has affected your system in a very personal way then?
COWIN: Well, whenever a child...
COWIN: ... or, you know, a family gets hurt, and beyond even losing property, it's a very serious issue, not only for the family and the children, but for their friends. It really is hard.
HARRIS: Yes. OK.
Anna, what do you have to do now? Kind of a full assessment of the system. Do you have to check all your buildings to make sure everything is OK? Your entire infrastructure to make sure everything is as it should be?
COWIN: Yes. That was done already, and everything is fine in that regard. We -- we are opening the Villages Elementary School for a shelter for people in the Lady Lake community. It's one of our shelter areas, with the school being closed.
HARRIS: And that's the Villages Elementary School?
HARRIS: You're going to open that as a shelter to folks who might need some help.
COWIN: Especially with the weekend, I think it would be helpful. HARRIS: Yes. I think you're right.
All right. Ana, thanks for your time.
COWIN: Well, thank you very much.
HARRIS: Anna Cowin is the superintendent of Lake County Schools.
Be well, be safe.
COLLINS: We want to go ahead and get to some sound now. This is coming to us from one of our affiliates in the area, WKMG, Volusia County. This is the remarkable story of a woman who made it through the devastation that you are looking at on your screen right now.
Let's go ahead and listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And as we keep these pictures up live above the area where Shardel (ph) is -- Shardel (ph), we understand you're talking to a woman who was hit by an air conditioner.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We're talking to that woman, and fortunately, she's OK. EMS just left her House just a few moments ago, and we have her right here.
And come on over.
She's with her son.
And your name again, ma'am?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Karen Bailey (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And your son?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeremy Bailey (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, tell me exactly how you incurred your injury. What happened?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As I was -- after I told my husband to get out of bed because it was a tornado, he went in towards the bathroom. I went upstairs because it's a two-story house and I had three teenagers up there.
And as I was going up the stairs, you could hear it getting closer. And the AC unit blew out of the wall, and as it blew out, I was actually in the staircase where it came out of. And my son -- I didn't know he was coming down, and he was actually there with me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So the air conditioner hit your head?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It caught me in my head. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened -- what happened from there was, like, when she came and she couldn't see me at the stairs, right? The wind blew me down the stairs, right? And then when I got down the stairs and grabbed on to my mom, and the air conditioner thing came down, blew out, hit me right in the back as I was grabbing on to my mom and just -- that's why she got sort of like her head trauma from it, because, you know, I was trying to protect my mom there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it's nice to know in a day with all this destruction and all this loss, there is a story of survival. But, of course, your home is now destroyed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Yes. It's at a state right now it's going to be considered condemned. So thank God I have a place to go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, of course, at least you have your life as well.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry about this morning. I know it's been a very trying time. Thank you for speaking with us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, you're welcome. There's -- like I said, there is one person that I really want to be recognized, was the military guy named Chris (ph) that came and helped us. And I appreciated him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a neighbor who came along and saw you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. He was one of my neighbors and I didn't even know he even existed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I understand you had your injury and you waited several hours for EMS to help you. They couldn't get to you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It was over three hours before anybody showed up to help me. And, I mean, it's a little excessive for them to take so long. And I understand it's hard to get back in there with all the power lines and trees. So it's better than not -- you know, so I'll deal with what I've got.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Well, hopefully, you can rebuild your House, but also, it's wonderful that you're OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right.
And this is her home right now, as you can see. There is a hole -- there is a hole on the right hand side of the screen. It's a hole in her home. Her bedroom was right in front. That's what she says, Karen (ph) says, saved her, was her bedpost. Her bedpost was so big, that it was able to protect them when their window blew out. But, of course, just minutes later, she had gotten hit in the head with an air conditioner, but her son came to her aid and now she is OK. She's trying to recover today, but also trying to rebuild her home as well.
Hopefully, we can find some more of these stories of survival as well. But, again, a lot of destruction, as you can see, behind me and pretty much throughout central Florida.
Back to you guys.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, Shardel (ph).
COLLINS: As we continue to get the stories coming in to us this morning from central Florida and the people that live there, we want to go ahead as we continue to look at the live pictures as well to bring in Dottie Myers. She's coming to us from the Villages in Florida. This is just about five miles from Lady Lake. This is obviously one of the areas worst hit by the storm damage.
And she is also our Chad Myers' mother. So it is our great pleasure to bring her in.
Dottie, Heidi Collins here. I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about what you experienced overnight.
DOTTIE MYERS, CHAD MYERS' MOTHER: Well, this morning, when we heard that the tornado was -- had already hit Lady Lake, we became a little concerned. And, of course, Chad called us, made sure we were OK.
D. MYERS: So, we went out in our car and we started to survey some of the damage. We weren't able to go too far to the devastated areas, because they were already blocked off.
So then we just proceeded to -- to just go into little villages that we -- that were opened, that we could go in to see. And we just saw a lot of damage to these newly-built homes.
COLLINS: And there was mostly new construction that was also devastated?
D. MYERS: Pardon me?
COLLINS: Mostly new construction that you saw that was devastated, too?
D. MYERS: It was new homes that people had just moved into that were -- that were just -- the roofs were -- the roofs were off, just everything in the yard was scattered. The walls were still intact, and the roof was still intact on most of the houses, but still, all the shingles were gone. And just everything was just strewn all over the area.
So then we went to another area, at the Sunset Harbor -- no, it's the Sunset Trailer Park, and there was so much damage there. It was just unbelievable.
COLLINS: It must have been very, very frightening, and even for a person who has been around meteorology and weather for a long time, with a fine meteorologist like Chad Myers. It must have still been very, very frightening.
I know that you and Alfie (ph) have lived there for about 10 years.
D. MYERS: Yes, we have.
COLLINS: Ever seen anything like this before, to this extent?
D. MYERS: No. Never. Never saw anything like -- there was something, oh, a few years back, but we never got to go to see the devastation.
But this morning we did. And -- but thank you for saying that about Chad. I do think he is -- he's just one of the best.
COLLINS: How are you doing this morning, Dottie?
D. MYERS: A little nervous right now.
COLLINS: Yes. Well, you know what? We'll try to relieve some of the nerves there. We'll bring Chad Myers in...
D. MYERS: OK.
COLLINS: ... and see what he has to say about all this.
Boy, Chad, this seems like a very close call.
C. MYERS: Yes.
Mom, you know what? When I called you this morning, I don't know what time it was, 4:00 something, 5:00 something. You didn't really know that this had happened.
D. MYERS: No.
C. MYERS: In your voice, you went, "Yes, we kind of got -- we got in the corner, and then it was over, and then we went to sleep."
So, you never heard a siren. You never -- other than -- there was no outside warning other than you turning on a TV and then turning on your weather radio.
D. MYERS: Exactly. C. MYERS: Wow. Now, there was a warning on the storm. In all fairness to the weather service, there was a warning for rotation on this storm. But no sirens at all in that area?
D. MYERS: No. There were no sirens in the area, not close by that I could hear them. So...
C. MYERS: Now, we lived in Nebraska a very long time, and we lived very close to a siren, and we were very happy about that.
D. MYERS: Yes, we were. Yes, we were.
COLLINS: So, Chad, explain that for me. Is it just because you can't hear them, or is it because there isn't one in Lake County?
C. MYERS: Oh, I'm sure there are a number of them in Lake County. And as they go off, it depends on how close you are to that warning -- to that siren.
D. MYERS: Exactly. Exactly. And we are not close to one of them.
So, therefore, it was just turning on the TV and seeing the radar and knowing that the storm was very near us. And then we just took it from there.
D. MYERS: We just grabbed our pillows and ran into the corner of the house which we felt was the safest part.
COLLINS: So, Chad, what can you do? I mean, you know, you can't really rely on the sirens to wake you up. I mean, one of the most frightening things about this storm and many other storms we have seen is it happened overnight, the most dangerous time, when people are sleeping.
C. MYERS: What a great question, Heidi. And I'm holding it in my hand.
This here, this is the weather radio, that clearly, I don't have programmed correctly for my mother because it should have went off when the warning went off. But it's called SAME, SAME technology. And it will only go off for the counties that you program it to go off in.
The old weather radios were a bore, they were laborious, they went off all the time. And by the time the tornado got to your county, you already...
COLLINS: Too late.
C. MYERS: ... had it shut off and thrown out outside because it had gone off 10 times already. But you need to buy one of these, $40, $60. You can get probably at RadioShack. I know you used to be able to. You can get them online. It will save your life. It's maybe the best gift you will ever give anyone whether you live in Tornado Alley, or Florida, or not.
There's been a tornado in every single state in the union. So -- and pretty much almost in every -- every continent across the world. So the weather service making this SAME technology. Very, very important to save your life.
COLLINS: And it may sound really silly, but just in case you didn't mention it -- if you did, I'll repeat it...
C. MYERS: Go.
COLLINS: ... get batteries for it. Because right now the entire area is without power. So it will not do you any good if you don't have those backup batteries. No question about that.
C. MYERS: Thanks, mom. Be safe. It's all over for you now, but the storms are going to be down in south Florida today. We'll talk about that in a little bit.
D. MYERS: Well, thank you so very much.
COLLINS: Thanks for being on, Dottie. We sure do appreciate it.
D. MYERS: Thank you, dear.
COLLINS: You, too, Chad.
HARRIS: And let's just sort of reset the picture right now.
A likely tornado has leveled several central Florida neighborhoods. At least 100 homes destroyed.
Look at these pictures.
The counties of Volusia, Sumter and Lake particularly hard hit by this storm that moved into central Florida in the small hours of the morning, Heidi, while folks were sleeping, 3:45, 4:00 a.m., in that time frame.
At least two fatalities reported by the Lake County Sheriff's Office. At least two mobile home parks in Lady Lake hit. A new development of homes in that general area also heavily damaged.
Just a moment to thank our CNN affiliates in central Florida, WESH and WKMG, for these pictures.
As a matter of fact, let's go to DeLand, Florida, right now and bring you this report from one of the affiliate reporters for WKMG. This is DeLand, Florida.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to go now to Mike DeForest (ph), who is in the Lady Lake area.
Mike, what are you seeing on the ground?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ground is obviously a much different perspective than what you're seeing from the sky there, because you're seeing the big swathe. But to show you the power that this storm had on little things -- and I'm talking relative little things -- right here, see this dirt patch? There used to be a huge metal dumpster here.
You want to see how far this thing traveled? This is it here. It flew through the sky, a big heavy metal dumpster, and actually landed on top of a tree. So, you can imagine the power of the storm that was rocking through here early this morning.
We're actually standing right next to the Lady Lake First Church of God here. We've been showing you this throughout the morning.
This church leveled by the tornado here. You could see parishioners have been showing up all day. But there is very little left of this church.
Just behind this church is a neighborhood that had hit-or-miss damage. We talked to some of the residents. We're going to let you hear from them right now.
And although they did sustain some serious damage, it's not like some of the destruction we've seen elsewhere in Lake County here. Let's see what they had to say.
Just behind this church was a neighborhood that had hit-or-miss damage. We'll talk to residents we'll let you talk to in a minute. Although they sustained some serious damage, not like some of the destruction elsewhere in lake county. Let's see what they had to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I woke up and it was hellacious -- thunder and lightning. And then I heard this roaring coming through and I said, "I think we've got a tornado." So...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But then we jumped out of bed...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and so, "Let's go in the other room."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... and we ran in the middle of the House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never made it to the crawlspace.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's how fat it came?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's how fast. And it was hitting -- it actually was hitting before we could roll out of the bed, because I fell at the foot of the bed and I got glass in my knee from a broken window. So It already had hit the side of the house.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 3:15, 3:30, I heard this -- I'm deaf. I wear two hearing aides, and take my hearing aides off at night.
And I heard this sound, and it got louder and louder and louder. And I knew right then, oh my god, it's a tornado.
And I just froze and I couldn't speak out for Willie (ph) to get out of bed. I just rolled off the bed and held on to the carpet. And the next thing you hear, crash. Like it was exploding everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And thank God we're alive. You wouldn't think so. Look at this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's a sentiment we've heard throughout the morning, "Thank God we're alive." Unfortunately, we are hearing at least two fatalities from this storm.
Again, we're out here in front of the Lady Lake Church of God that you can see was leveled by this storm. And the pastor was telling me this morning that during the 2004 hurricane, this building here actually was a shelter for people. And it was built to withstand winds up to 150 miles an hour.
And the pastor says, when you look at this damage here, in his estimate, these winds must have certainly been stronger than 150 miles an hour to cause this kind of destruction here, as well as throughout this path.
HARRIS: And that's the view from Lake County, Florida, right now.
We want to talk to Christopher Patton. He is on the line with us from the emergency operations center in Lake City, Florida.
Christopher, good morning to you.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON, LAKE COUNTY EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER: Good morning.
HARRIS: Christopher, give us a sense of the scene right now, as this story continues to unfold for you all on the ground.
PATTON: Well, we have disaster response teams out on the ground. We have two areas of the county that have been affected. I think you were just talking to someone in the Lady Lake community.
PATTON: That's one of our areas that we're responding to. And the second one is in the Paisley-Lake Mack community, which is also in north Lake County, but farther to the east.
HARRIS: Christopher, what is the name of the second community again?
PATTON: It's the Paisley -- it's actually two communities, Paisley and Lake Mack.
As you can see, if you draw it on the map, Lady Lake, Paisley, Lake Mack, and then (INAUDIBLE). It kind of cut a swathe across central Florida, a straight line almost exactly.
HARRIS: Christopher, have you had an opportunity to actually visit those areas and assess for yourself the extent of the damage?
PATTON: No. But we do have helicopters in there, and we have multiple disaster teams, emergency response teams on the ground reporting information in to the emergency operation centers to coordinate resources to those areas.
HARRIS: What are you hearing, Christopher?
PATTON: Excuse me?
HARRIS: What are you hearing in that reporting back to your office?
PATTON: We have complete devastation of homes, of businesses, of religions institutions. It was unlike perhaps even the hurricane of 2004, where had minor roof damage, you know, screen damage, pool damage. This is way far more devastating.
HARRIS: What's the population of those two communities that you've named, Paisley Lake, Lake City (sic)?
PATTON: Paisley and Lake Mack are rural areas. They're on the border of the Ocala National Forest. The Lady Lake community is far more urban, with more dense population.
HARRIS: So what kind of needs are we talking about now? Give us a sense of how you begin to respond. You mobilize -- obviously mobilize to do what kinds of things?
PATTON: You get the roads clear and you'll be able to get paths into these communities so we can get emergency workers in there. We couldn't obviously go rushing head in without clearing roads and make sure it was safe for people to transverse in and out of these communities.
Secondly, we want to just set up shelters. We have two shelters open now. Each in one of those communities that we talked about previously. We're hopefully opening up a third here in the next hour.
HARRIS: Can you give us the names and locations of those shelters?
PATTON: The first one that opened at 7:30 this morning was at North Lake Presbyterian Church, and that's in Lady Lake, behind the Home Depot there. And the second one is at the Baptist church in Paisley. HARRIS: OK. Is this a -- are you conducting any rescues at this point?
PATTON: Oh, there's multiple reports of missing persons. We are definitely still in search and rescue mode.
That's why we're trying to keep the 911 line open. We're advising people that do have damage, that are OK -- you know, if their life is OK and they feel their safety is OK, to report that damage by calling 352-343-9732.
That's our citizen's information line. But we desperately want to keep open 911 lines for families that are -- have missing.
HARRIS: All right. Let's do this again, Christopher. Let's get the basic information.
You mentioned a couple of shelters for folks in the area. So anyone who might be watching, give us the names of those two shelters again and where they're set up.
PATTON: The first one we opened at 7:30 this morning, at the North Lake -- I'm sorry, the North Lake Presbyterian Church at 975 Rolling Acres Drive. That's behind the Home Depot there in Lady Lake.
PATTON: The second one opened at 8:45 this morning is at First Baptist Church in Paisley. And the address is 25145 Fisherman's Road.
HARRIS: And the phone number again for folks who may need some help right now?
PATTON: The area code is 352 here in Lake County. The phone number is 343-9732.
Christopher Patton on the line with us from the emergency operations there in Lake City.
Christopher, thank you for your time this morning.
COLLINS: Want to go ahead and talk with someone now who is working to set up an emergency center in Paisley, Florida. That is in Lake County, as we just heard from the gentleman on the line there.
Mary Frisinger, she's a Red Cross volunteer.
Mary, I am curious to know from anyone that you have been able to talk to this morning how people seem to be doing.
MARY FRISINGER, RED CROSS VOLUNTEER: We have not had anybody in the shelter yet. We've got -- we're volunteers and we live at the Villages. And we got a call at 6:00 this morning to set up a shelter in Paisley, Florida, which is quite a distance from our home. And so we just put the signs out and we're just coordinating and setting up things right now. And they just got the word out to the people in the area that this shelter has just now opened.
COLLINS: OK. I'm curious, also, is that the First Baptist Church, is that the one that you're working on?
COLLINS: OK. Just curious there.
What exactly are they asking you to do? Are you putting out cots, working with food? What usually happens at this point?
FRISINGER: At this point, we have to wait and see how many people come and what their needs are.
FRISINGER: And then as the day goes on, we just play it by ear and do what we need to do when the time comes.
COLLINS: Mary, have you ever done anything like this before?
FRISINGER: I have not done a shelter. I have been in training for this.
COLLINS: As you drove over to the area of Paisley, as you said, it was kind of far from the Villages. What did you see on that drive?
FRISINGER: We did not see very much storm damage. We did see some.
COLLINS: What are your thoughts this morning as you are one of the people who have gone through this awful storm themselves?
FRISINGER: When I woke up this morning, I heard hail on the window. And it was evident that there was a tornado outside. But our home was just fine.
COLLINS: Well, that's terrific news for you, especially because, as we've been reporting, you are one of the lucky ones because of the devastation of this storm. And we continue to look at some pictures now of, boy, just demolished homes and cars and people trying to clean out of this awful storm there in central Florida.
COLLINS: We certainly appreciate your time, Mary.
And as we do continue to look at these pictures and we know that the Red Cross workers are setting up emergency -- emergency shelters, I should say, think it's important to remind everybody what the gentleman on the line -- I believe his name is Christopher...
HARRIS: Christopher. COLLINS: ... said, and that is very, most importantly, don't call 911 if you are OK. There's a different phone number to call if you're in this area and you have needs or you want to report some damage. It's a different phone number, because they've got to keep those 911 lines open, specifically because they are still in search and rescue mode. There are stil several missing people, according to Christopher with the emergency services that we spoke to just minutes ago in Lake County, Florida.
HARRIS: And Heidi, as you take a look at these pictures and the folks at home take a look at these pictures, amazing that at this point -- and yes, it is still very early in the day -- assessments going on all over Lake County, Volusia County, the other counties affected by this storm -- that, so far, we have reports of just two fatalities.
COLLINS: Yes, unbelievable.
HARRIS: Just amazing at this point.
A lot of people received the warnings, acted on the warnings, were able to get to a safe place either in their home or get to the immediate area. We are getting wonderful stories from survivors, people who made it out OK, but are returning to their homes to find very little left.
Let's listen to a couple of those stories from people on the ground in DeLand, Florida. This is Volusia County brought to us by our affiliate, WESH.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Describe for our viewers what it was you heard at that hour of the morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I heard was trees breaking and pine tree smell, glass breaking, and people screaming at 4:05 this morning.
I'm going to ask this lady something. She's out here. You probably just came from the office. I have pair of shoes if you don't want to walk in this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll be OK, Lillian. But I know you're still worried. You have a neighbor who usually sleeps in the front bedroom. It front bedroom was destroyed. What made her not sleep there last night?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said she got an answer from God not to sleep in that room that night, to go in the back bedroom. And she's fine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Otherwise it could have been disastrous?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you look around your neighborhood, Lillian, what are you thinking?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All my neighbors that just have nowhere to go. They can just stay at my house.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're a sweet girl. You take care, honey.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have just one piece of aluminum off my house. But they can all come.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're sweet, Lillian.
COLLINS: Good morning once again, everyone. I'm Heidi Collins.
HARRIS: And I'm Tony Harris. Welcome to the NEWSROOM.
A lot to tell you about this morning, the story, at the top here, at the bottom, throughout the morning is going to be what happened overnight in the small hours of the morning in central Florida; homes leveled, lives lost, the terrifying reality this morning through much of central Florida, a vicious winter storm packing suspected tornadoes ripped across the state.
COLLINS: Officials in Lake County, Florida say at least two people were killed. We want to remind you we are very aware they are still in search and rescue mode there, on the ground. We are not sure those numbers, unfortunately, will stay so low as that.
Several injuries are also reported. At least two mobile home parks were hit and hit hard. Trees and power lines are down across the area, emergency crews are searching neighborhoods for residents who may still be trapped. Victims describe some of what they went through.
(WOMEN SOBBING, EMBRACING)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I didn't hear the noise but the roof fell in on me and that's what woke me up. We're lucky to be alive, I think.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard the noise. Sounded like a freight train coming. Then all of a sudden, it was just gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look at your house, can you believe you're here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I can't. I'm just thankful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It took that one, it took it all the way over here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There wasn't nobody in --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Nobody -- it was empty, it was for sale. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm from Pennsylvania. And this is unheard of. Once in a blue moon you'll have something like this, up through central Pennsylvania, up the western part of the state.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this the worst of it, right in here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I seen and have been told, this is the worst, right here in the front of the park.
HARRIS: The storms' winds so powerful, can you believer this? Tractor-trailer trucks were literally blown off the road and power outages, as you can imagine, extensive.
COLLINS: No kidding. That one report, too, of the guy who showed us the dumpster that had just picked up.
HARRIS: Yes, yes.
COLLINS: And thrown like a little trinket across the street there.
Want to go ahead and bring in Chad Myers now, who has been watching all of this news happening overnight, and throughout the morning hours.
Tell us, if you would, Chad, the exact area, too, that we're talking about. I know you're very familiar.
CHAD MYERS, CNN SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: I am. Actually, Lake County, you have Marion and Sumter kind of surrounding it, up in that top corner up there. I'll show you a map in a little bit. That moved across -- here we go. Here's a map of Lake County, here's Lake County, this big curvy one here. You have Marion and Sumter. Right there is the villages.
To the south would be Lady Lake, proper, and the storm traveled across the northern part of Lake County, even talked about the Ocala National Forest on one of those reports. And then on up toward Deland and New Smyrna Beach.
But I want to get to this, really quickly. A brand-new tornado warning for a new storm -- and I just checked -- it is seriously spinning here, Southern Brevard County including cities of Grant, Barefoot Bay, Indian River County and also for East Central Florida, including Roseland, Felsmere (ph), Blue Cypress and Blue Cypress Lake.
This storm is now spinning not too far to the west, maybe 15 feet west of Barefoot Bay. If you ever remember that name, if you ever remember that name, hard, hard hit by the hurricanes back two years ago. One of those areas that we did live shots; I did live shots with Anderson Cooper over and over from this storm. While this storm is now moving off toward the east at about 45 miles an hour, it is still kind of in the swampy area to the west of the populated area here, along there the I-95 corridor.
Now is your time to take cover. You've seen what can happen with these storms that were spinning overnight; and they're still spinning now this morning -- Heidi, Tony.
COLLINS: All right, Chad. Thanks so much for that.
HARRIS: It is still such a devastating scene as we go back to more of these live pictures. We talked a moment ago with Christopher Patton, who gave us the information on shelters that are being set up for folks, if they need help at this time. I can't imagine they wouldn't.
More than 100 homes destroyed. Look at this, just twisted up. You would never know they were homes there from this vantage point. You can see a couple folks there wading through, trying to pick up whatever is left, whatever valuables they can salvage from this horrific scene.
Again, our affiliates doing great work for us, our affiliates there in central Florida, WFTV, the picture up right now and WKMJ, as well as WESH.
COLLINS: We know at least two people, so far, have been confirmed dead, one of them a 17-year-old girl killed in a mobile home park. Absolutely devastating, I am sure, for her family and all those people who knew her.
We do want to go ahead and try to bring you sound from people who made it through this. Let's go ahead and listen in to see about their stories.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About two minutes before it hit, she woke me up. I said, it sounded like, I said, that sounded like a tornado, because they had been talking about it at night. I said, let's go the bathroom. So we go to the bathroom, closed the door, laid on the floor. About that time it hit, bam, it sounded like a freight train hit the house.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember the storm hitting, the storm coming, thunder and lightning. The lights kept going off and on. When I heard my chimes going crazy, and the wind, is when I knew it was coming. We heard the freight train sound and we dashed for the bathtub. It lasted -- seconds -- just a matter of seconds and it was gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At about a quarter to 5:00, I got up, thank God, off the couch, I was sleeping in there. Sounded like hail. Then you heard a train, and then the windows imploded, then the wall came down. Then it was over.
HARRIS: All right. New video, Heidi.
COLLINS: Yes. This video coming in to us from Sumter County now. We believe this is the first chance to take a look at what may have happened in this area. This is an area just a little bit west, immediately west of Lake County. Obviously, the storm would have traveled through here first before getting to Lake County.
Look at this. Chad Myers joining us once again.
MYERS: This very well, Heidi, could be the southern end of the villages that my mom was talking about.
MYERS: Yes, because this is where the newest biggest, and most expensive homes are now being built, obviously hard to tell. Obviously, hard to tell when you look at all these -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
MYERS: But when you see damage like that, and you actually see the trusses down below, even if the trusses are still there, you're probably talking about an F-1 possible damage here. This could have been very well the starting point. Because it is points west, almost due west of the Church of God in Lady Lake here. So, if this is where the storm first touched down, it could have clearly continued off toward the east, right into downtown Lady Lake, over that Church of God, which is completely flattened.
What amazed me about that Church of God story -- that we just heard about -- is that was rated as a shelter -- rated to withstand winds to 150 miles an hour. I did not know that.
COLLINS: Holy cow!
MYERS: That thing was completely leveled. So, either it didn't stand up to its 150 or it just -- or the winds were bigger than that, and put it right down on its knees.
COLLINS: You bring up a good point, too. Because we have not determined how big those winds were. We have not heard from the Weather Service. Just reminding viewers at home, Chad, that they are the ones that have to make the determination whether or not this was a tornado. It seems strange, I'm sure, to viewers at home, looking at these pictures. You look at it and you say, of course, it was a tornado. But there's a process to all of this.
MYERS: There is. I'm going back to mine in box here, because one of my meteorologists just put this in for me. One of the little statements that came out of the Weather Service office. Why don't you send that, Sean. Can you send that again for me? The one saying they are looking at a likely tornado?
COLLINS: Uh-huh. MYERS: Hold on a second. I'm clicking on it. I have so many e- mails.
COLLINS: I have one here, Chad, that says from one of our wires, within CNN, that says the National Weather Service said, quote, "Tornado damage likely occurred in east central Florida." That's the wording.
MYERS: We're going to use the word "potential," "probable," whatever, we talk might talk about. And that's just because we don't want to report anything that is not accurate. We do our best, to tell you the truth.
Here is the NWS survey says, the NWS team, the National Weather Service Team survey, on the way, en route to northern Sumter County and to Lake County to meet up with emergency management staff to conduct a survey between Wildwood, Oxford and The Villages, because of the likelihood of a tornado earlier this morning.
We already know it. We don't know what the number is. We don't know if it an old F-1, F-2, F-3, whatever it might be. I will dig up some of these great maps we have on Google to see if I can find the locations of these little cud-de-sacs, that are obviously, off a road here.
What you will notice on the road to the left -- you just missed it -- but there is a lane, it looks like to anybody else who lives in Connecticut or New York, it looks like a bicycle lane. But in fact, in The Villages, that would be a golf cart lane.
MYERS: This is an awful lot like you see, other golf cart communities. My parents take their car, they drive it into the garage, and never get into it again for a week until they have to go to the doctors, or something. Because they drive their golf carts everywhere. You can get to Albertsons, you can get to all of the stores you need to get to on golf carts alone.
Now, not that road. That looks more like a highway and then off to the right, still a fairly undeveloped area of national forest, possibly, or just a forest area -- Heidi.
COLLINS: Chad, and you know what else, as I look at the small weather watchbox, down on the right hand side of our screen, there. Talk a little bit, if you would, about the size of this storm. To me, again, I am so not the meteorologist here, obviously, it looks very narrow, very skinny. How fast is this thing moving now?
MYERS: It looks narrow. The path of the damage also looks narrow. That's because that's typical of what would be a tornado. Where one house across the street is absolutely fine and then the house right next to it is completely gone. And this is devastating for the people that are there.
This is very much what we call high season in central Florida. These are retirement communities 55 and older communities, and people come down somewhere, either after Christmas, or around Christmas time. They stay all the way to Memorial Day or maybe when their grandkids get out of school, and then go back north to maybe some of their other homes there. My parents are full time residents, don't go back north, but they live there all the time.
This is a time where you can't get a tee time, you can't get dinner reservations, you can't do anything without traffic jams, because everyone is down there now. Obviously, the most dangerous time to be down there at this point in time when the El Nino season, like we have now; similar to El Nino season we had in 1998, where we had that storm go right through Apopka.
Now about a month ago we also had storms in Lady Lake and Tavares (ph), only about, I'd say, maybe -- if I think about it -- seven, eight miles to the southeast where this tornado hit. That was only four weeks ago.
COLLINS: Boy, it's like a cluster isn't it? We have been hearing the classic descriptions of what happens when you are in, or you see, or are very nearby a tornado. You hear the train sounds. You're supposed to get in the bathtub. We had both of those scenarios reported on our air this morning.
MYERS: It's hard to imagine -- yes, exactly. It's hard to imagine better pictures than what you're seeing here. But let me tell you, a helicopter doesn't do justify to the devastation that people are feeling here.
If you have a camera and cell phone and you want to show us, maybe, your property, or what happened to you earlier. Please go to cnn.com/ireport, if you have power to do that. You can also just basically e-mail us a photo right from your phone, if you'd like to, firstname.lastname@example.org.
HARRIS: Well, Chad --
MYERS: You have to use your thumb to get all those symbols in there but there you go. If you notice, see that area on the right hand side of your screen there?
I'm looking at a different picture. Sorry. This is Lake County. I was looking at that old Sumter County video, and you could see a line of trees -- right there, right there. That is the damage path. That's where the tornado continued right through the trees, took the tree tops off that's how we're basically going to figure out how wide that tornado its.
It's hard to figure out how big a tornado is when it hits a mobile home park. But structures like these, these are big-time homes, well built, after Andrew homes, hurricane straps, all of the things that make these homes strong and sturdy enough to withstand hurricanes. Clearly they couldn't withstand what they had here today. This is like F-0, F-1 damage, you lose shingles and so one.
But look at the scope. Look at the scope. I mean, that's just not one block, that's not one house. That's blocks wide. And that very well, when that happens, that could be a microburst, or downdraft type of damage.
Here is kind of a wider scale there. You can see one of the pools. It's not Savannah Center, but certainly I believe this is part of the Southern Villages Complex down there. I'm going to get on Google Earth and I'm going to figure out where this is and I'll get back to you.
HARRIS: Thanks, Chad.
Time to hear from some of the officials. Some of the representatives of that state. And I think you've seen at the bottom of the screen there, that we will be hearing from Florida's Governor Charlie Crist, that is happening at 10:30. Let me double check that time, 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time?
HARRIS: OK, 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time, we will of course bring that to you live in the NEWSROOM. Want to give you the bird's-eye view of the chopper pilot from WKMG, in their Sky 6 helicopter, as he took a tour of Volusia County.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quite similar, very similar, Lauren. We have moved about two miles from where we were. We're in the area of The Villages, southside, I believe of The Villages, a more concentrated area of residents' homes. It's a golfing community here. And just row after row, street after street of devastation, of damage.
First responders having moved in. Sheriff's helicopters landing, coming and going. Let me zoom in, here. I think I have a fire crew going in here. You talked earlier about search dogs going from house to house. We've been seeing that ever since we arrived here, over a few minutes ago.
It looked like they've set up a command post here at the clubhouse. As we move across the fair way here, let me show you some of the other devastation. These twisters came through and tore into many of the houses here. Let me get my bearings here. As you can see, a lot more of concentration of damage here. If nothing else, mangled screens over pools, landscaping torn up. This is in the path of the tornado.
And there's further stuff right, up in here, sides torn off of houses. Neighbors checking on each other. We've seen a lot of people going from house to house, going through the damage here. Many houses untouched -- but check that out. It speaks for itself. That house is coming down. It will be condemned. There's more, more -- row after row, like I said, street after street, of where this twister touched down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chuck, you know, we saw some shots earlier, back where you guys were at -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) all over the place. Checking out what has happened to their houses, much like Osceola County and western Orange County, after the '98 twisters. Let me show you the clubhouse here, clubhouse roof severely damaged. It just goes on for quite a few more miles -- Lauren and Todd.
COLLINS: As we continue to look at these pictures, want to go ahead and bring this report to you now, once again, from our affiliate coverage has just been spectacular. We so appreciate it. This one coming in to us from WESH , reporter Amanda Ober, she's in Lake County -- Lady Lake to be specific. Let's listen.
AMANDA OBER, REPORTER, WESH TV (on camera): What's happening right now, is urban search and rescue crews have been brought in to go through the rubble, especially in those mobile home parks that were just devastated. Those crews are looking for any possible storm victims, folks unaccounted for.
I want to show you some fresh ground video we just fed back a few minutes ago. This is that church, the Lady Lake Church of God, which is located on Highway 27. Our photographer, Mark Rice was there, as about a dozen church members showed up when the sun came up. They were devastated, many of them crying, comforting each other.
They had just done some pretty serious renovations to that building. And it's not even recognizable. It's just a big pile of rubble. Now, of course, that's the material damage. We're seeing that all over, widespread throughout Lake County. We don't have an accurate count yet, but we know that hundreds of homes were damaged. Again, two lives lost.
A state of emergency has been declared for both the city of Lady Lake and Lake County. A shelter has been opened at the Home Depot in Lady Lake. People are just being warned to be very careful, not walk in the debris, and if they can, just try to stay indoors. Live in Lady Lake, Lake County, Amanda Ober.
HARRIS: I want to check in, once again, with the superintendent of Lake County Schools, Anna Cowan.
Anna, give us the very latest. I understand you have a bit of an update for us?
ANNA COWIN, SUPERINTENDENT, LAKE CO. SCHOOLS (via telephone): Yes. We're still in the process of trying to confirm the identity of the 17-year-old that we believe was a student at our schools. That's not been confirmed yet.
The four children that are injured, that I had reported earlier, we are trying to confirm again they are Lake County students, as well. As you can tell, things are a little on the spotty. We will be having an update with the sheriff's department at 11:30, coming from the Emergency Operations Center.
HARRIS: We can confirm that the -- I don't know we've been able to independently confirm that information, it was reported us that the 17-year-old girl had been killed -- that report came from the Lake County Sheriff's Department.
HARRIS: But you just don't know, at this point, whether or not it was student within your school system?
COWIN: Right. We assumed -- we assume that it was because the student had been supposedly going to a Lake County School, and that would be Leesburg High School. But we can't confirm the identity right now, and if that was the same person.
HARRIS: That's fine.
COWIN: I wanted to make sure your listeners had the up-to-date information.
HARRIS: Right. And the four children injured, the same story, you're just not sure if they were students in your system?
COWIN: Right. The report came to us from a food service worker that we have in another school, and it was her -- either her son, or her daughter, and the spouse who was -- who she reported were killed. They were neighbors, and she reported were killed. They have four children who were injured. They are going -- were going to the hospital. Again, we're assuming they are Lake County students
HARRIS: How will you confirm this?
COWIN: This all needs to be confirmed.
HARRIS: How will you go about the process of confirming that? I'm sure you'd like to know.
COWIN: We will know by 11:30.
COWIN: The sheriff's office I believe is in the process of trying to identify some bodies. It looks like there might be more than just the two they've confirmed. We should be having a news conference on that. I'm on my way to the Emergency Operating Center, right now.
HARRIS: Anna Cowin, the superintendent of Lake County Schools. Anna, thank you for that update. We've been saying that the reporting, so far, from the Lake County Sheriff's Department is of two fatalities.
But when you look at these pictures, it would not be surprising to anyone if later reporting indicates more people, unfortunately, lost their lives in this horrible event.
COLLINS: Yes. Because they have made it quite clear that they are certainly -- and you can only imagine from pictures like this -- that they are still in search and rescue mode.
Just to remind everyone, as well, we will likely get more information on the updated situation coming your way at 10:30 Eastern Time. We will be hearing from the governor, Governor Charlie Crist, division of Emergency Management Director, and several members of the State Emergency Response Team. We'll bring that to you when it happens.
For now, though, want to let you know more about the current weather situation, Chad Myers now with us.
Chad, there is a new tornado warning out?
MYERS: There is. In fact, there is the tornado that we talked about, about 20 minutes ago. The warning that was out, southern Brevard and Indian County. This tornado now, is on the ground. Reported by the public, just south of Grant, headed to almost Felsmere (ph). Now, this area here is fairly -- I call it either agricultural or fairly swampy area. And then all of a , and you get to I-95 and it gets very populated.
There are still people that live here. But when you get to Felsmere (ph) and you get over towards Sebastian, you can begin to see all of the little roads through here and all of those roads have residences on them. And we do know that this tornado, you can even begin to see the hook echo here, we do know the same tornado that we talked about -- when it was back here, 20 minutes ago -- has now put a tornado down on the ground and if you are east of this area, anywhere from Sebastian -- all the way farther, maybe even 10 miles north or south of Sebastian.
That's the area you need to be taking cover with now -- as the tornado is reported on the ground, and it is moving to the east at 45 miles an hour.
Just because we had damage already, there may be more, and you need to be out of the way if you know about this.
COLLINS: Certainly. And bare with me for a minute, Chad, but a little Tornado 101 for us, for people who may not live in tornado areas, and not experienced tornadoes in their lifetime. When we talk about and we see video where those homes -- one side of the street are perfectly fine, an across the street, they're demolished. The tornado moves up and down, you know, touches down from place to place, how does it happen?
MYERS: It can skip. But typically what happens, when one tornado will hit one side of the street and not the other side of the street, you have to realize that the vortex, that is the tornado, the wind speeds are possibly four times as great within that vortex as around the outside. Literally 100 feet away, or 50 feet away, from the smoke and the cloud and the dust and the debris that you see, that is a tornado.
MYERS: The winds can be 140 or 150 in there -- they could be higher, obviously, if it's an F-3, 4 or 5. But let's say here, this was probably 120 miles per hour, maybe a 150 miles an hour storm. Right across the street, the winds may only be going 50, and you may not notice any damage to those homes. Because 50 may take a couple shingles off, but certainly not take the roofs off.
Now, this is what I wasn't seeing earlier. I was actually happy that I wasn't seeing that earlier. Didn't see an awful lot of search and rescue going, because I was thinking well, probably everybody in that area is accounted for. Now maybe we're getting more personnel into the area, and now we're going to see possibly more found, we don't want to know about, right?
COLLINS: In fact, I do have an update on that for you, too, Chad. According to the Associated Press, we have just gotten word that across central Florida, so that is all the counties we have been talking about, Sumter, Lake County and Volusia, 14 are reported dead now.
COLLINS: Again, according to the Associated Press, at least 14 people have been killed in this -- again, it has not determined to be a tornado yet, we are waiting for word on that. In this storm, 14 people reported dead by the Associated Press, all across central Florida. We will, of course, continue to watch all of this throughout our program today.
In the meantime, want to get to Nehemiah Wolfe, he's with the Sumter County Sheriff's Office.
Nehemiah, can you hear me?
NEHEMIAH WOLFE, SUMTER CO. SHERIFF'S OFFICE: Yes, ma'am.
COLLINS: Tell me what is happening in your county at this time.
WOLFE: As you know, the one thing that we all fear down here are all these storms coming through in the middle of the night and catching people off guard, and by surprise.
WOLFE: No one's prepared for that. We have quite a bit of devastation down here.
Fortunately, as of this time, we have no reported deaths as a result, in Sumter County, from these storms. There is a lot of damage, vehicles overturned, houses just totally destroyed. There's quite a bit of damage out there.
COLLINS: We are looking at some pictures right now, live of Sumter County, coming in from our affiliate WFTS. As you talk us to, we are able to see some of the devastation in your county.
Are you still in search and rescue mode as well? I imagine so.
WOLFE: We are very much so in search and rescue, trying to get to anyone that is possibly injured. The Emergency Management Operation has been set up, as well as the fire department, paramedic command center, and we are going through, trying to help anyone that is injured. As well as trying to take care of the law enforcement issues that arise any time you have devastation of this nature.
COLLINS: Lieutenant Wolfe, were you in the area last night? Did you feel it coming through?
WOLFE: Actually, I got a phone call from my dad at 3:15 this morning. I live within a half mile of the devastated area. He called to check to see if we were OK. It was bearing down on us at that time. We were fortunate, and suffered no damage at my house.
COLLINS: What did you see? What did you hear?
WOLFE: The wind, there was a loud roar, like a train was going over. The wind was blowing the trees, it was whipping around. As I look out the window, it was like I don't know, the trees seemed like they wanted to twist and bend.
COLLINS: Snap in half, I bet.
WOLFE: Yes. Yes.
COLLINS: We're certainly glad you're all right. I know you have a lot of work to do today, and certainly first and foremost, trying to keep people calm, I imagine, in your area, Sumter County. Once again, you see the latest news. We appreciate you being with us, Lieutenant Wolfe.
We want to remind you about what the Associated Press is reporting. You see it on the bottom of your screen. The number of casualties we've been reporting two, all morning long, we are now hearing from the Associated Press, possibly 14 people dead all across central Florida.
HARRIS: Just a horrible toll from this storm already. More of the reactions of people on the ground, who survived this, lived through it. Let's get to you our affiliate, Central Florida News 13, in Deland, that's in Volusia County.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, where we are, right in front of Redland Drive is where a lot of mobile homes are and 69 homes in this area damaged.
But let me show you what's interesting here. I'm holding up a piece of roofing and not only that, there are some tree branches. Here's what's interesting, I didn't carry them to the median, they were all blown here from across the area, from over there in the Estates area.
Take a look behind us. What you are going to see are work crews there, as they coming through. And also people on the roofs now. There are some folks up there who are trying to repair the damage already. Essentially, we have seen roofs that are missing and what the homeowners up there are doing, they're obviously, they're covering over the inside of their homes with tarp because if any rainstorms happen to move through, damage will be compounded.
What they're up there doing right now is trying to secure their homes, not much they can do other than that.
Meanwhile, as we were telling you earlier, 800 homes with power damage at this point, or power that is off. That is being restored. That's what power crews here are trying to do and restore it along the line.
Then, we're going up to a tree here and show you what, perhaps, is the most striking image from this community. This will show you the power of this tornado. That is a piece of a home wrapped around the top of that tree there. Some lighter metal wrapped around during these early morning tornadoes here in New Smyrna Beach.
That is what the homeowners here had to contend with, that is what they heard, and that is now why they're cleaning up about 69 homes in this community that have damaged by this tornado.
Certainly, a lot more clean up to go here. And power crews and rescue crews just beginning to assess all of this. The one good bit of news, here, they say only one minor injury in New Smyrna Beach -- Laura.
COLLINS: As you know, those numbers could be changing as we continue on here.
Good morning, everybody, I'm Heidi Collins.
HARRIS: And I'm Tony Harris. Spend a second hour in the NEWSROOM with us, this morning, and stay informed.
Here's what's on the rundown. The destruction absolutely breathtaking. Three central Florida counties hit fast, hit hard, by likely tornadoes this morning.
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