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Storms Rip Through Florida

Aired February 2, 2007 - 21:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was definitely loud and it was just like a freight train was coming right through the house.


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, death in the dark -- massive storms and a killer tornado slam into central Florida overnight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to get out of here now.


KING: Today, a death toll in double digits and stunning scenes of devastation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like a total war zone.


KING: Cars and mobile homes tossed into trees, hundreds of houses smashed in a flash. A single family lost both parents and one of three triplets. We'll talk with their pastor and hear more stories of survival and rescue, live on the scene next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

Thanks for joining us tonight.

We've now learned that a second one of those triplets has died. And we'll hear more about that terrible story in a moment.

But first, let's recap.

At least 19 people were killed when storms hit central Florida around 3:00 a.m. Friday morning. The storm was the state's deadliest in a decade. Thousands of homes are damaged. Fields are littered with clothes, furniture and splintered lumber.

And now we turn to CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano for an update -- Rob, what was this? ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it was a today. There's no doubt about that. The question is how strong was that today. National Weather Service survey teams, storm survey teams came out here today to analyze the situation. They have yet to publicly -- to publicize that report.

But I suspect it's going to say that this was an intense tornado, probably in the F3 or greater range, judging on some of the damage.

Not only was it a strong tornado, but it was one that lasted quite a long time, may have skipped a few places, but the general damage swathe of the thunderstorm that produced this tornado is almost 70 miles, from here in Lake County, in the western parts of -- the central part of the state and off toward the east-northeast all the way toward New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County.

This was a big storm, certainly, even by Florida's standards. And here in the wintertime this is the time when they're going to get their tornadoes.

Here in Lake County, they're telling me, Larry, that this is the worst natural disaster that this county has ever seen.

As you mentioned, 19, at least, dead. The search and rescue efforts are ongoing tonight and will continue at least through tomorrow -- Larry.

KING: Rob, I -- I know we associate Florida with hurricanes, but tornadoes?

MARCIANO: Yes, they see quite a bit of it. You know, all it takes is a strong thunderstorm to produce a tornado. And the tornado season pretty much goes north and south with the seasons. It heads north in the summertime. And then as that jet stream sags south and that colder air gets to sag south and interact with this warm, humid air that Floridians are familiar with, that's where you get the pop.

So it is December. It is January and February. Those are the three months where you're going to see tornadoes in Florida.

In an El Nino year, which is what we're in right now, that jet stream is even stronger. So that's when they'll typically get their strongest tornadoes.

But even by those descriptions and standards, this one was a doozy and has affected a whole lot of people.

KING: Anderson Cooper, what's the first thing that struck you when you arrived?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Just the -- the randomness of this. You know, you'll see a couple of houses in a row that have been completely destroyed and then the tornado would seem to have skipped a couple. And it's the kind of thing we've seen before. We certainly saw it in Katrina. You know, you go to a wrecked house, it's completely destroyed, but there's a child's doll that seems untouched sitting in the middle of a living room.

There is, you know, there's wreckage all around, but then a couple of plates are untouched, still in a glass case.

It's a -- it's a surreal feeling. And I was just at this church -- at the Church of God in Lady Lake. The entire church was destroyed and yet the parishioners are there. They are determined to keep going. They are determined to have Sunday services.

One woman said to me, you know, the church is -- is just a building, you know, what really made the church is what's in people's hearts.

And that remains strong -- Larry.

KING: Thanks, Anderson.

We apologize for that difficult audio there.

Reynolds Wolf, our CNN meteorologist who's in -- at the CNN Weather Center -- are these things predictable?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh -- oh, they are predictable, but as Rob mentioned, I mean this is not the normal kind of thing you'd see in central Florida at this time of year. I mean, in central Florida, you do have thunderstorms. In fact, this is the thunderstorm capital of the United States. The only other place on the planet that has more thunderstorm activity would be in Rwanda in Africa.

Now, in terms of tornadoes, they do occur, especially, as Rob mentioned, during El Nino years. And this is certainly a year that we've had a decent El Nino. And the reason why we talk about El Nino so much when you have sometimes these events in parts of Florida is because whenever you have the El Nino effect, that warm water that builds up in the Pacific and it wreaks havoc with the jet stream, especially if there's a tropical jet.

And when you have an El Nino year, that pulls right over parts of central Florida. So all it takes, Larry, is one strong frontal boundary to make its way through the center part of the state. That strong jet stream aloft helps enhance lift and that's what gives us a good chance of those showers, those storms, and, of course, the tornadoes.

Back in 1998, in fact, in December, the largest outbreak of tornadoes ever in central Florida hit Atocha, Florida, with 42 people dead. So it does happen. They are predictable. But it's not something you see everyday, certainly nothing that is very common.

KING: And why weren't these people warned?

WOLF: That's an excellent question, Larry.

The number one reason why they weren't warned is because they don't have sirens. They did not have sirens in that part of the world.

The second thing, this thing happened at 3:00 in the morning. In fact, the first warning popped up right at 3:02. The first today struck around, oh, about 3:30 a.m.

In fact, Larry, take a look at this radar image. This still image shows you that tornadic super cell that spawned that big twister that caused that damage in places like Lady Lake and eventually caused the damage in Paisley, killing 19 people.

Again, this happened late at night or early in the morning -- complete darkness. And remember, Larry, because tornadoes, or, rather, severe thunderstorms are common in central Florida, if someone at home happens to hear thunder, they see lightening, they're not going to think automatically that it must be a tornado. They're going to think a thunderstorm. And there are many of those in central Florida.

They didn't have the, of course, the sirens. Many people being asleep, they didn't have the televisions on. And many of them did not have just a weather radio that could help wake them up, although many survivors did say they did happen to have one of those weather radios and that certainly made a tremendous difference in saving their life, no question.

KING: Rob, could this occur on Super Bowl Sunday in Miami?

MARCIANO: I don't think the same setup is going to be with us in Miami on Sunday. The main energy with this system has pretty much passed, although the front that's lagging behind is sagging across the state and sagging down across the southern part of the state.

But the main oomph, the dynamics in the atmosphere that really got things cruising along has passed off toward the north and east, unless Reynolds is seeing something in the Weather Center that I can't see here on the ground.

My instinct says that the danger from this particular system has moved off to the east.

KING: Reynolds, I lived in Florida for 20 years. I don't remember storms, thunderstorms and this in the winter.

WOLF: Yes, it's usually a summertime event, Larry.

I mean the reason why we normally see them during the summertime is because you have the sea breeze that kicks in from both the Atlantic, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. And when you have that daytime heating, all of that air right in the middle of the peninsula rises up.

Well, you've got to replace that air that's gone up with something else. And that air that comes in is from either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic. And when that moves across that warm, warm Earth surface, well, you have a lot of convection. Those big clouds tend to form and it seems every afternoon you have those showers, you have the storms. Sometimes they can be severe.

And you can have tornadoes. The thing is, most of the tornadoes that you have in central Florida are the very weak variety. They're never really that strong. That's why this one is so amazing, its power and just violence. It's pretty unusual.

KING: Anderson Cooper, one more thing from you. I know you've got to prepare for your show at the top of the hour.

How much work is going to go into repairing this?

COOPER: It's going to need a lot of work. I mean there are already work crews out here. As soon as I arrived, that was the first thing we saw, power crews up, trying to get up these power lines up.

They're still trying to figure out the full extent of this damage. I mean there's still rescue crews out there trying to find anyone trapped in any of this wreckage throughout these four counties. Obviously, then, that's the number one priority, then, trying to find out anyone else, any bodies, anybody else who may have died who is still out there.

It's going to be days, if not weeks, before a full, really, understanding of just how much economic cost this is and how much damage has been done is fully known -- Larry.

KING: Thanks, Anderson.

We'll see you at the top of the hour.

We'll check in with you later in the hour, of course.

By the way, before we go to a break, you'll notice I'm wearing red. This is wear red day. It's to focus attention on women and heart disease. And all people around the country are being asked to wear something red and we're doing our part with this.

And we'll be back with the governor of Florida, right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then all of a sudden bam. It just -- it was just a big, big explosion.



KING: We'll be hearing from Governor Charlie Crist, the newly elected Republican governor of Florida, in a couple of minutes.

Let's check in in Lady Lake with Anna Cowin, superintendent of Lake County schools.

Some of her students and their families may have been killed.

What do we know, Anna?

ANNA COWIN, LAKE COUNTY, FLORIDA SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: Well, right now we have four students that have been killed by the tornado. A 17-year-old girl in a Leesburg High School. And we have a family that was really devastated. The home -- the food service worker was the aunt who called in the injuries and both parents, her brother and sister-in-law and two of the triplets, children of a family of six, were killed.

We also have a father and his 7-year-old son that were killed in another section of the western part of the county.

KING: How old are the triplets?

COWIN: Fifteen years old, a boy and a girl. And one girl still survived. And there were two other siblings.

KING: And they were in your school system?

COWIN: Yes. That was pretty tragic. The aunt who lived just a few doors down from the house actually discovered her brother and her sister-in-law and the family. And the one triplet survived and was taken to the hospital, but died during surgery. The family is pretty devastated. It was a pretty hard thing.

KING: What's the physical damage to your schools?

COWIN: Actually, our schools survived very well. You know, we have hurricane -- our schools are all hurricane shelters.

KING: Yes.

COWIN: We did close The Villages Elementary School, which is in the -- in Lady Lake, which serves the predominant area. That we closed early because the buses couldn't go in that area. And we opened it, then, as a shelter for the -- for that particular area.

But all the other schools...

KING: Joining us...

COWIN: ... stayed well.

KING: Thanks, Anna.

Joining us on the phone is Pastor John Roszak.

He is pastor of the First Baptist Church.

He's pastor to the Downings (ph) family. The rights and two of their triplets were killed by the storm. Another boy from his church, a second grader named Nolan (ph), was also killed.

Pastor, how are you dealing with this?

PASTOR JOHN ROSZAK, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, PAISLEY, FLORIDA: Well, first of all, we -- we had some bad information and we got some good information. Heather, one of the triplets, did not die. She's in stable condition and she's going to have surgery tomorrow. That -- that was some bad information that got out there somehow and we just received word from a family member that -- that Heather is alive and stable at Florida Hospital South in Orlando and that she's scheduled for surgery tomorrow.

KING: Are the other two dead?



ROSZAK: The one that was reported to be dead is not. That was -- that was a bad report.

KING: So who's alive in that family?

ROSZAK: Both the -- it's -- David was lost. He was the one -- the one of the triplets that was lost. And Heather is in the hospital. Kayla is OK.

KING: Wow!

And the parents?

ROSZAK: The parents were both lost in the storm.

KING: How are you -- how do you deal with something like this, pastor, from a -- from a standpoint of caring? What do you do? What do you say?

ROSZAK: Well, you know, Larry, there never are the right words out there. All you've got -- all we're doing is loving on people. And that's all we can do at a time like this is support and love on them.

I haven't had any contact with the family yet today. I've been trying all day to get a hold of Kayla, one of the -- one of the girls. But I haven't been able to do it.

One of the family members who was up here earlier got a hold of another family member and that's how we found out the good news about Heather. And so we're -- we're rejoicing in that.

But it's -- it's -- the whole community is heavy hearted here today. And they're just -- there's just a great outpouring of things. People are just bringing stuff here in the church. It's just -- you know, to give families out in this area that lost it all. It's just being poured inhere today.

KING: How much physical damage to your church?

ROSZAK: The church didn't get any physical damage. We were -- we were blessed in that area. At about 3:20 this morning, I woke up by my radio alarm clock. And it -- and it was going off all night with a different storm here and a different storm there. But when I heard that Paisley, I got to my feet and I called the people in a mobile home park there adjacent to the church, our people that live in these small mobile homes.

And we got them up here at the church and we were all up here by about 20 minutes to four.

And the storm went, really, I believe it literally went over the top of us and then landed over there in the Lake Mack area on Kuter Pond Road (ph), where all the damage happened.

KING: So let's get it straight.

Of the triplets, one is missing, two are alive?

ROSZAK: No, one is in -- one is gone, yes. And two are alive.

KING: Right.

And the parents are gone?

ROSZAK: And the parents are gone.

KING: And another boy from your church, a second grader named Nolan, was killed?

ROSZAK: The last name is Nolan. His name is William Jacob Nolan (ph) and he frequented our church. All these children were in our youth group and/or our Sunday school from time to time. And especially the Downing triplets. We have known them for a long time.

KING: Wow!

ROSZAK: And but -- we just -- the Nolan boy recently had a -- had lost an eye due to -- from a kick from a horse. And last November we were having a fundraiser here for him and some other children. And then we heard this news this morning and it was just terrible.

The mother, we're still trying to find out where the mother is. There -- we don't know where she is at.

KING: Thank you.

ROSZAK: But we've been looking for her.

KING: Thank you, pastor.

ROSZAK: Oh, they located her.

KING: Thank you.


KING: Thanks.

That's good. We've got some good news.

ROSZAK: Uh-huh.

KING: Pastor John Roszak.

The governor, Crist, will join us right after the break.


KING: Our meteorologists remain with us.

The governor should be joining us shortly.

We're checking in now with Gregg Welstead, deputy county manager of Lake County. His office is the coordinating -- coordinating disaster response.

Also in Lady Lake is Anna Tataris, a reporter with Bay News 9.

What does that mean, Gregg, that you're coordinating the disaster response?

GREGG WELSTEAD, DEPUTY COUNTY MANAGER, LAKE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Well, Larry, as part of the normal response procedure for any kind of emergency, we activate our emergency operations center. And that involves coordinating all of the efforts county-wide, including municipalities, coordination with the state, working with local relief agencies, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, to ensure that all of our citizens are taken care of.

KING: How wide an area was hit?

WELSTEAD: It's actually a fairly wide area, but some of the damage is fairly localized. Very heavy in particular areas. We do have a number of buildings around the county that were totally destroyed, as the one in back of me.

KING: Anna Tataris is a reporter with Bay News 9.

How early did you get on this story, Anna?

ANNA TATARIS, BAY 9 NEWS REPORTER: Well, we arrived early this morning, about 8:00 a.m. There were crews that were there overnight that got there shortly after the tornado. But still, when we came at 8:00 a.m. there was so much damage in the area, it was unbelievable.

My photographer and I actually went on foot into areas that no one could pass through because there was so much debris down. The trees were blocking the roads.

We were able to climb through the trees, go through and talk to people in areas. And they were just devastated. They didn't know what to do. They were taking a look around, seeing all the damage that was done to their home.

And, you know, as you can imagine, most of them were just thankful to be alive.

I mean we're standing in front of the Lady Lake Church of God, which was demolished. And a lot of churchgoers gathered here early in the morning to take a look and they were just heartbroken to see their church gone.

But their faith remains strong tonight.

KING: Did the storm awaken you, Anna?

TATARIS: I have to tell you, I've been reporting for 10 years and this is the worst devastation that I have seen when it comes to a today. I've covered a lot of tornadoes and it was just unbelievable how this crossed over major roadways. I mean, there's Highway 27 that runs through here.

And we were going back through mobile home parks looking at all the damage on one side of the road, crossing the road and seeing the same kind of damage on the other side, where it was just as strong. It just went right through the area and stretched, you know, for miles.

And there was just so much devastation. We -- when we got to the scene, there was actually one family that was standing on a pile of debris that was their house. And the only thing that was standing was an American flag, that they took and placed. The American flag was shredded, but they placed it at the top of a stack.

And I asked him, I said, "What made you put the American flag right on top?"

And he said, "We're all Americans and this is when we come together."

KING: Gregg Welstead, what is happening right now?

WELSTEAD: Actually, we're -- our -- we're actually in the process of getting people into field. We've got curfews in a couple of areas in the county and deputy sheriffs and police are monitoring those areas to ensure that no damage is further incurred, people don't get the idea that they can go in and just -- just look around and take things.

KING: Are many injured in hospitals, Gregg?

WELSTEAD: We've heard of a number of people who are injured. A lot of cuts and abrasions from flying glass, limbs and the like. We don't have a real good feel for it at this point in time. But a lot of the traffic was just individuals who came in on their own to the local hospitals, were treated and released.

The hospitals themselves had a peak this morning, but that -- that's obviously, at this point in time, fallen away.

KING: Anna, any problem with sight seekers, people trying to get a look? TATARIS: Yes. There's actually been a lot of people driving up and down the highway. It's really backed up traffic in the area, because they're trying to look. There's also been people, of course, walking into neighborhoods, taking pictures.

The authorities are obviously trying to keep as many of those people out -- they're asking for identification to walk in and they're not letting a lot of cars back into the area, obviously worried about people stealing from these people who have already suffered so much.

But just like any natural disaster, people always want to get a glimpse. So there have been a lot of people coming out, trying to check out the damage.

KING: Gregg, how long do you think cleanup is going to take?

WELSTEAD: Because a lot of the area that we're dealing with is fairly localized, heavy damage in two particular areas, we think that the damage in Lake Mack should not take very long to clean up. The area in some of the Lady Lake area may take a little bit longer simply because it's more widespread.

One thing that we're -- we're very interested in is working with FEMA. They've been here. They were here this afternoon, out with some of our crews. And we're very interested in ensuring that they help us in getting proper response. That means actually getting onto private property, having authorization to do that, to help these people who have nothing at this point in time.

KING: Thank you, Gregg.

Gregg Welstead and Anna Tataris.

When we come back, we hopefully will check in with the governor.

We'll be checking back with our meteorologists, Rob Marciano and Reynolds Wolf.

One reminder, tomorrow night a major program on the subject of beyond a reasonable doubt. Major attorneys. You will not want to miss tomorrow night's edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Back with more.

Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the worst, right here in the front of the park.



UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: You see a mobile home and that's where we were. That's what we were in.



KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. Joining us now from Lady Lake, Florida, the newly elected governor of Florida, Governor Charlie Crist. What a way to begin, huh?

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST, (R) FL: It's amazing. You know, I have seen an awful lot of storms. I was the attorney general before being elected governor, and we have seen a lot of hurricanes, as you know, Larry, in Florida the past few years. And to see the devastation we have seen today is unimaginable. When it's a tornado, they are much more surgical and much more intense in their strike. And that certainly is what happened today in Central Florida.

KING: I understand you have spoken with the president, is that correct? And if so, what happened?

CRIST: Yeah, I did. I spoke with president bush this afternoon, expressing to him our concern about getting federal aid through FEMA and homeland security to make sure that Florida got enough to make sure our people got the provisions that they need. The food, the water, the ice, the kinds of thing the federal government can come in with.

And aid, the state government and local governments as we respond to this disaster today.

KING: What did he say?

CRIST: He was very encouraging and the -- he was very encouraging, as I say, and said we should expect help very soon. The FEMA director is going to be down here in central Florida tomorrow morning. We expect to take a tour with him probably around 9:00 tomorrow morning. So we are very pleased about that and that quick response.

KING: Do you want to declare it a disaster area?

CRIST: I'm sorry?

KING: Do you want to declare it a disaster area?

CRIST: Yes, sir, absolutely. Of course we do, Larry. This morning as governor I signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency. It's the first step in that process. In addition, we want them to declare it a disaster area. That gives us the opportunity to have federal aid that reimburses the state and local government for some of the cost for making sure that the people of Florida are getting what they need.

And the response and the conversations I had with the president today, the director of FEMA, with Secretary Chertoff at homeland security, were all very encouraging along those lines. We have had at present count about eight fatalities here in the state. The devastation is unimaginable. You can see some of it behind me right now and I cannot tell you how proud I am, though, how local authorities, local officials have responded to this disaster here in our state.

It came upon us, as you know, about 3:30 or 4:00 this morning without much of a warning at all. You get much more of a warning with a hurricane than you do a tornado. And the way Floridians have responded is the way they always respond. We are a people that are very strong and used to this kind of thing, although that's unfortunate.

But I'm very pleased how Florida has responded yet again today.

KING: Were you in Tallahassee when it happened?

CRIST: Yes, sir, I was. I was in Tallahassee this morning. Got calls early from my office and Office of Emergency Management in Tallahassee. Went to the emergency operation center and right after we did an information opportunity with the press corps in the capital city, came down here to Central Florida. Did a tour on Black Hawk helicopters with the National Guard. They were very kind in helping us to be able to get that accomplished. Also with the attorney general Bill McCollum, Senator Bill Nelson and our new chief financial officer Alex Sing.

So a lot of people were here on the ground. We had the opportunity to visit with a lot of the locals, understand what their problems are and what their needs are as we go into the next few days of being able to respond to this in an appropriate fashion that helps our fellow Floridians at a time of need.

KING: A couple other things, governor. What is the first thing that struck you when you arrived at the area?

CRIST: The first thing that struck me was the level of devastation, Larry. It was like something I had never seen before. As if a bomb had gone off. Some homes were completely off their foundations. It was dramatic. It was, as I say, like nothing I had ever seen before.

And I gone in 2004, 2005 as then the attorney general after the hurricanes that we had had, and this appeared much more severe. All of these natural disasters are severe, don't misunderstand me. But the level of intensity and the concentration that a tornado brings to bear are -- it's just incredible.

KING: Are you going around and meeting people?

CRIST: Yes, sir, I am. In fact met with a lot of people today. That's why I wanted to get down here as quickly as possible, get on the ground and meet with people and find out exactly what their concerns are, what their needs are, how we can be helpful from the state level, how with can coordinate better in terms of communication, making sure our people are safe, that they are secure, that they are getting the health care and the medical attention that they need.

We have been in touch with all of our agencies after hearing from the people here on the ground and making sure each and every one of those agencies are responding and responding in a way that is compassionate, that cares about them, that reaches out to their needs and I'm very pleased with how Florida has, again, responded to a natural disaster.

KING: And one other thing, governor, with the concerns, logical concerns about FEMA in the past, are you concerned about them tomorrow?

CRIST: Well, we are always concerned but as I say, after the conversations I had today with the director of FEMA, with the president of the United States, I'm very much encouraged. And I appreciated them being responsive as they were this afternoon, just hours after this really happened.

Going to tour the area, again, as I said with the director of FEMA in the morning. And I'm hopeful that after that tour the devastation I had the opportunity to see today and after he has the chance to see it firsthand tomorrow, that we will get that kind of response that Floridians want and that our compassionate country would certainly want to have for fellow citizens in a situation like this.

KING: Thank you, governor. And good luck.

CRIST: Thank you, Larry, appreciate it.

KING: Governor Charlie Crist, the governor who was sworn in just one month ago. The advantage of a tornado in cleanup factor is it is not over a widespread area. These are compact areas. I think we are going to get at it pretty quickly. We will be back with lots more. Don't go away.


KING: Our expert meteorologists are still standing by as they have from the git-go, Rob Marciano and Reynolds Wolf. We will be checking in with them in a moment. Trooper Kim Miller of the Florida Highway Patrol is in Lady Lake, Florida. She -- multiple tractor- trailers were turned over on I-4. And John Herrell is Lake County Sheriff's public information officer. We will get an update from him.

But first, Trooper Miller, how bad was it?

KIM MILLER, FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL: It's bad. We were lucky that more people were not injured and killed. It started off early this morning on the roadways. Our interstate systems were clogged because we had tractor-trailers blown over due to the suspected tornado.

KING: Can you compare it to a hurricane?

MILLER: We have been through so many. Troopers respond to all these natural disasters all over the state. For us, I think we are not as prepared for something like this. Hurricane gives us more time to prepare but we get up and go. And I think you can say it's localized but it is just as bad as a hurricane.

KING: But just not a widespread as area, right, trooper?

MILLER: Right, not as widespread but the devastation is horrendous. And for these people not only here locally but in the other counties that are also damaged, it is very bad.

KING: John Herrell, what is the latest on the dead and injured?

JOHN HERRELL, LAKE COUNTY, FLA. SHERIFF'S OFFICE: OK, basically we have 19 at this point that's confirmed dead. Injuries it's kind of hard to determine at this point. EMS has transported six people as of this afternoon to the local area hospitals. That's not to say that some more did not seek transportation on their own accord and all of that.

So the number of injuries, it's kind of hard to confirm at this point. But 19 is our latest confirmed death total.

KING: What is the weather now, John?

HERRELL: Right now it's clear and crisp and cold. It's starting to turn cool tonight.

KING: So there's no expectation -- it looks like the kind of weekend where results can happen, right?

HERRELL: Yes, yes. We are going to start the search effort up again in the morning. Right now we have saturated the hardest-hit areas with a large amount of deputy sheriffs. They are on ATVs, four- wheel drive trucks and patrol cars. And we just want to saturate those areas very heavily in an effort to deter any looting activity. And also be available in case if we do hear any cries for help or anything like that. So that's a possibility, too.

KING: These people do yeoman like work. We salute you both. Trooper Kim Miller and John Herrell, Lake County Sheriff's public information officer.

Let's go to Rob Marciano, he is in Lake County as well. Our CNN meteorologist. I understand you talked to a couple, an elderly couple which a man pulled a wall off his wife. What happened?

MARCIANO: Well, it's the couple that lives in the home or what's left of the home right behind me. The Suggs (ph), Edna and Gene Sugg and they live or lived in this house. This is not a home that's a track home or a mobile home. This is a home that's built with two by fours and four by fours and on cinder block foundation and built with bricks, Larry.

And right here in this corner of the room of the house, this is where the woman, Miss Edna, was sleeping in that bed. And literally the roof of the house and walls collapsed on top of her. Her husband was staying in the room right next door in his bed. Same deal, roof and walls collapsed on top of him.

He managed to crawl out, get the debris off him while his wife was screaming for his help. He came into the room, got the wall and all of the other debris off of her and managed to pull her out of the house as the storm passed and miraculously, Larry, they survived with just some bumps and bruises and a couple scratches and cuts. Obviously very grateful for having their lives intact but losing their home in the process.

Amazing story of survival. No doubt about that.

KING: Unbelievable. Reynolds Wolf at the CNN weather center. Been a strange year. Warm in the East, in the Northeast, cold in California. No hurricanes to speak of. What's going on?

WOLF: Well, I mean, all signs point to el Nino. Again, we were talking about that earlier near the top of the show. And again, all of the components really came together last night. You had that frontal boundary that made its way into the Southeast. You had the jet stream right on top, which enhanced the lift. And what you had was this storm path.

We are going to zoom in with the help of Google Earth and show you exactly what we have got. Let's zoom in if we can.

And this storm path, Larry, was well over 70 miles. It extended from Lady Lake and as we advance this between, you'll see this path goes from Lady Lake back over to Paisley, where we had a total of 19 deaths.

And from the devastation you have seen, Larry, from the video we have seen on the ground as well as choppers above, some people may argue that it's a miracle we only lost 19. This storm was just incredibly powerful.

Earlier this evening we saw a reporter reporting live in front of a church, the Lady Lake Church of God. Larry, that church was constructed to with stand winds of 150 miles an hour. That storm -- that church was built as a hurricane shelter. And to see that thing splintered into pieces is testament to how powerful these storms were.

KING: We will be right back with our meteorologists and others as well. As we look at what happened in Florida early this morning. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went through three hurricanes sitting right here. And I was scared. Nothing like this. Nothing like this.



KING: We are joined now in Lady Lake by Doug Tharp, president of the Villages Homeowners Association. We understand, Doug, there are 500 homes damaged and 100 not livable, is that right?

DOUG THARP, VILLAGES HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION: Yes, that's correct. We did have about 100 people that people cannot go back to. The other 400 had varying degrees of damage, all the way from severe to reasonably minor.

KING: How about your home?

THARP: My house was just fine. It hit two or three miles south of where my house is. We had severe thunderstorms and very severe lightning, lightning like I have never seen before, in the vicinity of my home. Fortunately, we were spared.

KING: Your Villages, your community raised $195,000 for Katrina victims in Mississippi, right?

THARP: That's correct. We adopted the town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi last year and between the developer and the residents of the Villages, we raised $195,000 to help them. And one of the early calls I got today was from the mayor of Ocean Springs asking if there was anything they can do to help us. Very heart warming story.

KING: Boy, it's a great story. What about these 100 homes? Can we make them livable again?

THARP: I don't think so, Larry. I think that they will all probably have to be completely razed and construction to start all over again. We are really thankful because of the quality of the homes there that we did not have any fatalities. We had some injuries but no fatalities. And I really attribute that to the quality of the construction of the homes in the Villages.

KING: Are they all well insured, to your knowledge?

THARP: To the best of my knowledge they are. I think that when folks moved in to new construction, they tend to be adequately insured.

KING: Is this a retirement community?

THARP: I beg your pardon?

KING: Is it a retirement community?

THARP: Yes, it is. Fifty-five years and older. The community was started back in the early '80s. And when we are all built out, we will probably be in excess of 100,000. We are about 65,000 now in Florida's friendliest hometown.

KING: Doug, that's a great story, you and that city in Mississippi. Great story.

THARP: Well, it really is. And it was a real pleasure. I visited Ocean Springs right after the devastation of Katrina and I can tell you that those folks were a lot worse off than we are, although we had a tremendous amount of damage here, I think the spirit of our own community we will be back up and running in a very short order.

KING: Thanks, Doug, Doug Tharp, president of the Village homeowners association. We will check back in with Anna Tataris of Bay News 9. With the FEMA director coming tomorrow morning, do you expect, Anna, things to go swiftly?

TATARIS: I think so. I think once they get out here and are able to see just how much damage there is, that things will go swiftly for the homeowners. Obviously, a lot of people are really concerned about what they are going to do and as the last person just said on there, a lot of people need to start over. These homes are just in such disrepair, that there is no fixing. A lot of these people are really going to have to start over. One guy we spoke to earlier today said, well, at least I have got the land. He's planning to rebuild in that same spot. But a lot of these people are just going to have to completely start from the beginning.

KING: Are there plenty of shelters for those without shelter overnight, without their homes?

TATARIS: There are. I mean, as early as this morning there was a Salvation Army and Red Cross out here finding places for people. When we were going through the neighborhoods, we actually saw two buses pull up and they were transporting elderly people, taking them to shelters tonight to make sure they had a place to stay because their homes were demolished.

Now other people have been trying to find a friend or family members and going and staying with them. So pretty much everyone we talked to tonight had somewhere to go.

And because of the ample amount of help today that actually came out to the scene, I mean there were people driving from two hours away just to come down and help these people. So it does seem like a lot of people do have a place to go tonight. And then we will be back out here tomorrow seeing what they can salvage.

KING: Thanks, Anna, great work.

TATARIS: Thank you.

KING: Anna Tataris of Bay News 9. We will be back with our meteorologists to wrap things up. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am, how did you get through it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. Really.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very frightening. Very frightening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank God my family got out safe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We began with our meteorologists. Let's check back with them, Rob Marciano in Lake County, Florida. Since these tornadoes are unpredictable, could it happen again tomorrow?

MARCIANO: Unlikely at this point, unless Reynolds is seeing something different from the SBC in our severe weather center back in Atlanta. Typically when you get a big buildup it's warm, humid air in one spot and then a cold, arctic air mass from another and that's what we have seen come down.

So right now that cold air is flushing out that warm, more unstable, humid air and pushing it out to sea. So at this point, it looks like the atmosphere has begun to settle down. Now the bigger story over the next several days is going be the cold air moving in, here, yes, but bitterly cold air moving into much of the eastern two thirds of the country. Larry?

KING: Reynolds, what do you see?

WOLF: What I see is pretty much an mirror image of what Rob said. Whenever you have a storm like this move through, it's ironic. Usually you have a cleansing effect in the atmosphere. The frontal boundary moves through, high pressure builds in behind it. And what's so weird, Larry, many times people will be sifting through the wreckage after one of these events and they will be dock so under mostly, clear, blue skies. It's quite a contrast and a very eerie one at that sometimes.

KING: Does the cold have any affect on cleanup or anything, Rob?

MARCIANO: It shouldn't. Temperatures here tomorrow will be probably around 60 or so degrees and then on Sunday will be maybe in the upper 50s. There is a chance because of the back edge of this system has kind of dragged its feet a little bit, the front is kind of hanging over the southern and central part of the state. We may get shower that pop up from time to time. But it shouldn't be downpours and the temperatures should not be such that it really slows the search efforts down.

So I think all cases considered, all things considered, weather will be shaping up fairly well over the next couple of days for cleanup to continue.

KING: Reynolds, when we think tornado, don't we think summer?

WOLF: Typically summer or spring. For much of the country it's really a springtime phenomenon where you have a lot of the moisture, a lot of the moist air that comes from the Gulf of Mexico and moves from the southern plains to parts of the southeastern United States. When you have the cold air that interacts it's right during that change of season, late spring that we see many of these outbreaks. But I tell you, Larry, tornadoes can occur any place on the planet. They are just more common in the United States, especially along the southern and into the Central Plains.

KING: And they don't occur more necessarily in the Midwest than in the Southeast?

WOLF: Well it depends. If you get the right combination of that moist air and that contrast of cooler air coming in right behind it, sure. I mean any severe thunderstorm has got the possibility of creating a tornado. But usually when you have all of the elements coming together, like the jet stream, the frontal boundary coming through, clash of warm air with that moist air, when you have all of that coming together, that's really when you can get a tornado outbreak when you see not just one but several tornadoes.

KING: When do you head back to Atlanta, Rob?

MARCIANO: That's tough to say, Larry. This is a big story and I think we just scratched the surface. Search and rescue efforts continue tomorrow. Hopefully not but it's entirely possible the that fatality count increases. Even if it doesn't, there's certainly a lot of survival stories we want to hear. So the CNN news team is down here in full force and we are going to scour the area and talk to as many people as we possibly can and cover it from all the angles. So I would love to be home for the Super Bowl on Sunday. My mom's coming into town. But, you know, this is a big story. So we will see what happens.

KING: Thank you both very much. Rob Marciano and Reynolds Wolf, yeoman-like work.

Super Bowl prediction -- Colts 27, Bears 7. Too much quarterback. Don't forget beyond a reasonable doubt tomorrow night. Terrific hour. Before we go, a very special happy birthday to a very special lady. Farrah Fawcett. How special a birthday and how special a lady. Today comes news Farrah is cancer-free, only four months after her diagnosis.

Her "Charlie's Angel" costar Kate Jackson says, quote, "I am in awe of her strength and courage," as are we all. Many happy returns, Farrah and we hope to have her as a guest on this show a little over a couple weeks.

Right now we turn things over back to Florida and Anderson Cooper for "A.C. 360" -- Anderson.


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