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AMERICAN MORNING

Likely Tornado Levels Central Florida Neighborhoods

Aired February 2, 2007 - 07:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take a look at some breaking news. We have some pictures coming in just now from -- we believe this is Volusia County, Florida.
With daybreak, courtesy of the affiliate helicopter WESH, first indications of the kind of damage we've been reporting to you. Upwards of 100 homes destroyed, and reports of damage and reports of injuries, as well as fatalities.

I've got Chad Myers watching this for -- can you see, looking at the pattern of that, Chad, can you get a sense of as to whether this was, in fact, a tornado.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No, not exactly at this point. It's a little zoomed in to know what's going on here.

But this is actually up by 27/441. This is actually, Lake County, Florida, a little bit farther to the west than Volusia County. But you can begin to see that maybe just -- you kind of look for a path.

You look to see whether the houses that are just to the left are to the downwind side of what would have been a wind storm or a tornado, or damage as well. This looks like this was just a first possible touchdown, went right across the street. When you could expect damage across the street, just did not occur.

You will also notice, though, that the fanning -- when they zoom back out -- the fanning of the pieces of the home that is destroyed there, people obviously looking through their possessions there. Just a sad scene. But how the damage has fanned out some of the debris left and right, that also tells you that it's not just a straight-line wind going in one direction, but winds going in all directions, throwing this -- what was someone's home in all directions.

And so we're going to continue to watch it. This is just the first picture from WESH.

I was watching him as he was flying up 27/441, and all of a sudden, he said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, we've got to go. We've got damage." So this is just the first of what I believe he's going to find of some extensive damage there in Lady Lake and in Lake County, Florida, and I'm sure they'll show us what else is going on.

Now, this is pretty far out. I'm telling you that this is probably pretty far to the left of that initial damage to be a single tornado. Maybe a multiple vortex or -- still, in these houses, that right there, that is a manufactured home. Not that it's any less important to live in, but it is just not -- it will not withstand the strength of the wind that a regular stick-built home will.

An 80 or 90 mile-per-hour wind, if you've breached the front door, could do that kind of damage, not just tornado damage, could do that kind of damage. You can see the wind actually blew the back side of the home away.

And these manufactured homes are all over central Florida. We are going to see damage like this all morning long, guys. And it was just a devastating system for them today.

It was about 3:45 to 4:00 in the morning the storms rolled across from Lake County, right through Sumter County and into Volusia County. The land, we know, New Smyrna Beach Airport, is really in bad shape. A lot of things down around that airport.

And then if you draw a line back, you draw a line back right from the land, back into Lake County, into Marion County, we will see that that is probably a single storm, maybe not one tornado all the time, but a single storm that did cause this kind of damage as it rolled across central Florida.

M. O'BRIEN: Hey, Chad -- I'm sorry.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Go ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: Chad, what do we know about any sort of warnings that came out from the weather service? And this will be one of those -- as we watch this story develop, a lot of people of course would be asleep at that hour. And we know the question comes up once again whether people were prepared, had weather radios, that sort of thing. But what do we know about advanced warning?

MYERS: I do know my parents heard the sirens. They were actually huddled in my father's bedroom. The closets in that house not strong enough or big enough, actually, to get in. But they did know that it was coming, and the warnings and the watches were well in advance of the storm.

And so if you were paying attention or if you had that weather radio on, it would have went off for this storm. You would have been warned with a weather radio with this storm, because the warnings were in time, the watches were certainly in time, and as the damage rolls on, we're going to see -- even if he just pulls out and pans off to the left, it's hard to know whether this is north, south, east or west, but you can see the debris in the trees and how the trees are down in all different directions.

Clearly, the damage assessment tornado guys out there from Orlando and maybe for Melbourne, too, will be out there finding tornado damage today, not just wind damage -- guys.

S. O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question, Chad. You're talking about the skipping, because at some point you can see the really big debris field that almost looks like a truck ran right through a couple of homes. And then further on one side, down a little bit, you see a little more damage.

You don't think that's possibly one tornado, you think it's a couple different tornadoes, or one tornado that's skipping? What does this look like to you? It's hard to tell now because he's in a tighter shot. But on the wide shot, you see a couple of paths going through.

MYERS: Well, even though we always focus on the cone of the tornado, there are still strong winds within 100 and 300 feet of that tornado itself. The cone and the swirl and the spin of a tornado itself is clearly where the most violent winds will be, possibly double the speed of those winds that are only 100 feet away. But what I saw were those two homes were literally destroyed and flattened.

I saw that to be probably what the tornado would have done, and what you see here around it, this irregular -- I'll call it almost wind-damaged debris, right on the bottom of the screen. That was a mobile home and it looks like it's upside down because the rails were the wheels would be, facing upward here.

A 70, 80 or 100 mile-per-hour wind can roll over a mobile home. Even though if you have hurricane straps and all the like, that's probably not enough to keep a mobile home on its foundation or on its wheels, whatever, however you have it situated. But a tornado, as it tears a stick-built home apart, or even a modular home apart, has to have a higher wind speed to do this kind of damage.

You're looking -- to lose a roof of a regular home, you're looking at about 120 miles per hour, which would be an F-2 tornado. And it's hard to tell when homes that aren't that structurally sound get damaged because you don't know how strong they are.

You know, I was in Charley, and we went over to an area in Punta Gorda and those little mobile homes were absolutely destroyed. And when we looked inside, you could literally see how those homes were built, some of them, the older ones, not the newer ones -- the older ones were built one-by-twos, instead of two-by-fours.

Obviously, there's the orange groves there around Orlando, north of Orlando, north of Ocala. This is horse country, this is orange country. And that truck was loaded with those trees. There you see, there's the orange grove right there.

S. O'BRIEN: Does the size of the debris field surprise you? You know, from that truck, when they pan way over again and then damage here, is that -- is that unusual or remarkable in any way?

MYERS: No, not remarkable yet, Soledad. I believe when he leaves this area to go find more damage, he's going to find much more devastation than what you're seeing right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Really? MYERS: From what we're getting from emergency management officials, they're calling these catastrophe scenes. Now, I wouldn't call obviously two or three houses damaged or destroyed a catastrophe scene. We are going to find and we are going to see much more significant damage than this across Lake County, Florida, rather soon, as soon as he pans or moves to a different location.

M. O'BRIEN: Chad, what is being done to make these manufactured homes, mobile homes, the new ones, safer? Do they have -- I mean, it's affordable housing, but there are some risks inherent in living in these places, isn't it -- aren't there?

MYERS: Absolutely. And ever since Hurricane Andrew, there are major, new standards for mobile home construction -- hurricane straps within the mobile home itself, much stronger windows, much stronger areas of support around the -- around the building itself.

And it's really trying to keep -- the new mobile homes and the new manufactured homes try to keep the structural integrity of the home intact. Even if you lose the roof or lose shingles or lose the decking of the roof, they're trying to keep the homes in tact to be able to become a survivable mobile home, if there is such a thing. But the ones built in the '60s and the '70s, they just weren't thinking about that at the time.

M. O'BRIEN: And unfortunately, of course, you've got a lot of those -- a lot of that housing stock still there. And that is where people who live in these places need to be so careful about listening for the possibility of this kind of weather.

MYERS: Well, you have to understand -- my parents, they just live in a house a lot like this. And it's what they worked for all of their lives. And these are retired people, and this is basically all they have.

Some have other, what they call summer homes up north, because it does get very hot down there. But a lot of the people that my parents live with, those are full-time residents. That's the only home they have. That's all they have from everything they worked for, for their entire life.

So, let's say you've got someone 75, 80 years old in here, maybe some insurance, we hope, at least for these people. What do you do to pick up the pieces? Do you go back and get a job?

It's just so devastating. And it's devastating in a hurricane, it's devastating in a tornado. And, you know, we're only looking at pictures, but what you're looking at are lives, and it's quite sad to think about.

MYERS: You know, Chad, you and I have been to a lot of these types of storms, we've been to a lot of hurricanes, too. What amazes me about these tornadoes is how devastating they can be, and yet so capricious. You have completely leveled homes right beside homes that look like nothing happened. MYERS: And that's a structural integrity problem or a possibility, if one of the mobile homes is a little bit stronger. But if you are right under the vortex of a -- of a tornado, you are certainly going to have your home knocked down, roof turn off, whatever. And if you are literally 500 feet, 200 feet away, even next door, you may be completely spared that kind of damage, and that's typical of what a tornado will do, where a widespread wind event will knock down a lot of things.

Now, this looks to me like a pretty widespread event. If you were to have a tornado, to have this width of damage right here, you'd probably see more damage than you're seeing now. But there certainly is a line to the -- to the debris field. You can really see how all the things, or all the pieces and the parts of those mobile homes and those manufactured homes and probably some stick-built homes are all going in one direction.

Now we move in to something that's a little bit more telltale. You move into the treed area, because you see the trees. If those trees, the tops, are twisted off, literally spun off, then you know it was a tornado and not just something that knocked the tree over in one direction or if all the trees are going in the same direction.

We do know that Lady Lake and the Villages (ph) Elementary is closed today just because there's so much damage around the area. But other than that, a lot of the schools are open. My parents were driving around, and they got to many points where the police just wouldn't let them go any farther because of the damage there.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm sure there's a lot of power lines down as well.

You know, you don't think of the Florida peninsula -- as you look at some of those victims there just trying to gather their wits this morning...

MYERS: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: ... and assess and comfort each other -- you don't think of the Florida peninsula as Tornado Alley, per se. We think of hurricanes, of course, and, of course, hurricanes spawn -- or hurricanes do spawn tornadoes, but it's not like Oklahoma here, typically, is it?

MYERS: Typically, no, but this is an El Nino situation. The same situation happened back in 1998, and that was basically an Apopka (ph) storm, if I remember. Because I remember driving from the villages where my parents live down to Orlando and seeing the F-2 path as it crossed right over the freeway. And you could see the damage in one direction, you could see the damage in the other direction.

It's what we call a southern branch of the jet stream. It's what we call a southern branch of the jet stream, an active branch when El Nino happens. And it's the reason why we had the ice storms in Oklahoma and up through Missouri, and it's the reason why we had the severe weather across Georgia. Remember we talked just a couple of weeks ago... M. O'BRIEN: Hey, Chad. I just want to interrupt you one minute.

MYERS: Go. Go, go, go. Sure.

M. O'BRIEN: I see the steeple there. That clearly was a church that was taken out.

MYERS: I believe that is the Lady Lake Assembly of God, I do believe that.

M. O'BRIEN: Right. OK. All right. I just wanted to make sure people knew what they're seeing.

Go ahead. Finish your thought.

MYERS: And that is a so-to-speak manufactured -- but, you know what? They say if you're in a school, please get out of the gymnasium, because you don't have as much structure over you as you would -- and your walls are farther apart.

Well, this can happen to an area where the walls are far apart, outside wall, outside wall, and then in between not a lot of stress and not a lot of structure to keep that roof up. And that's clearly what happened there.

And I do believe that that is the Lady Lake Assembly of God. That is Lady Lake. That is probably just six blocks south of the major light there, the red light in Lady Lake.

S. O'BRIEN: Hey, Chad, for anybody who is just joining us, we probably should tell them what you're looking at.

This is central Florida, and this coming to us from a our affiliate WESH, Lake County, Florida, where they have just a devastating tornado or tornadoes slam through there. This picture that you're looking at there, this church, we believe, Lady Lake church, just one of a number of buildings.

The number that we've been hearing, Chad, is 100, devastated, wiped out in the wake of this storm that hit early this morning. Now the warnings are off.

What's the forecast look like for them?

MYERS: Well, there is actually one warning that just popped up. I'm pulling it off the printer right now.

That would be for Polk County. Polk County, this is well south of Orlando, but Polk County, you do have a storm near Frostproof, is the town that that tornado warning is on right now. And that's a brand new one that has popped up. We haven't had one for about an hour or so.

What we're expecting here today, as the storm moves south of Orlando and south of Kissimmee, is that -- possibly, especially in the heat of the day, to make a run over on the East Coast of Florida as well. That's never out of the -- out of the realm of possibilities when you get sunshine, especially where it will be south of this frontal boundary.

Very cold in Orlando, just to the north of it. Very warm to the south of it. This is a frontal boundary. This is where the storms will fire again today.

It may take a little while for the storms to rebuild, but that heat of the day, that sunshine of the day, will allow these to rebuild. Now, they will not rebuild in this area, because this air mass now is cold and would not support a tornado-like storm -- Soledad, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: So the worst of it we think is over, aside from, of course, what's going on in Frostproof, and I'm sure people there are paying close attention. You know, it just occurs to me how these things come through, and in an instant everything is changed.

MYERS: Well, of course. Your life changes, everything changes around you, your neighborhood changes.

And right now they're still trying to do search and rescue. They know that people are still trapped. They know people are still missing.

And missing is such a hard term when it comes to these -- I don't want to call them transient, but that's what my parents are. They're up at my house a couple of weeks and then they go back down to their house and back and forth, and maybe they're visiting friends and you don't know where some of these people are. And a lot of neighbors don't even know that you went on vacation or went to the shore for a couple of days, whatever it might be.

I do know though that when my parents drove out to the south end of the villages, south of what is called Sumter Landing in Lake Sumter, they did find that many of the homes down there -- or some of the homes -- down there, real stick-built, $300,000 homes that they're now building in this area, did not have the roof anymore. Completely gone.

And that is a telltale sign that it was probably not wind. A wind event will not completely remove the trusses and the structure of a roof.

Only a tornado would be able to do that, and it's probably closer to about what we used to call an F-2 tornado, which now we're going to have to go through this some other day. This may not be the day, but the Fujita scale, the F scale, is completely turned on its head now, and the weather service has completely derived a new F scale for you to think about.

The numbers are different. An F-2 now is no longer 115 to 160, but only 110 to 140. Numbers like that are irrelevant when your life is damaged like this.

S. O'BRIEN: Hey, Chad, these are live pictures, we want to remind everybody. And you can see -- I think that's a mobile home right there coming to us from a chopper.

MYERS: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Our affiliate WESH helping us out in Lake County, Florida. They've been also talking to some o the people there who have been affected. We want to listen in to what some of the folks who are there on the ground are saying.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't hear the noise, but the roof landed on me. And that's what woke me up. But we're lucky to be alive, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard the noise. It sounded like a freight train coming. And 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 over. It took it all the way over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I mean, but there wasn't nobody...

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've seen and have been told, this is the worst, right here in the front of the park.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MYERS: And this would be where they're talking about. This is actually the Sunshine Mobile Home Park, just a little bit south of Lady Lake. The Assembly of God Church right there, Lady Lake Assembly of God, the storm did travel across 27/441. And as the storm continues to travel across -- this was about 3:00 in the morning when the most severe weather was there for Marion and Lake counties.

It traveled across toward DeLand, over to Volusia County. Haven't had a lot more information about Volusia County. We do know there is damage, and that's it, just that there is damage.

I-4 was closed down for a while at State Route 44 because four tractor-trailers were actually involved in a crash. They all were tipped over in the wind or in the tornado. The storm has now -- the line of storms has now traveled south of Orlando.

Orlando completely in the clear. So is Titusville. Still, Melbourne and points to the south of there, Palm Bay, still not out of it.

And there's that little red area right there. That's where Polk County, that's where your storm, near Frostproof, is rotating.

Other than that, pictures you see here obviously affecting everyone's life, affecting everybody here. And I guess -- and the good news is, Miles, what I'm seeing here is that people are not digging through wreckage looking for people.

It appears, at least in this neighborhood, that everyone seems to be accounted for, and they're all standing in little huddles, basically in a state of shock. But we don't have people and basically search dogs looking for people that are trapped under this. At least for now I don't see that.

S. O'BRIEN: The Lake County Emergency Management spokesman said that they had sent search and rescue crews out and that's their focus this morning. He wasn't able to confirm fatalities...

MYERS: Correct.

S. O'BRIEN: ... although the sheriff's department there said several, is what they've said. And, you know, looking at these pictures, I would almost think, considering the hour, Chad, that this happened, you know, worst possible time, right in the middle of the night, that that estimate of several fatalities could go much higher.

MYERS: Some of these places really do not look survivable, although I'll tell you what, it's amazing when you talk to people -- "Hey, where did you go?" "Oh, I was in the bathtub," or "I got under my table." And you look at the place and there is nothing left except the bathtub.

And they made their way through this storm. And the tales of survival of tornadoes are actually -- are quite amazing. And we'll take you to this.

Obviously, this is a touching moment for me because my parents live three miles from this damage. I called them first thing in the morning, "Are you OK?" "Yes, I am. Yes, we are. We heard the tornadoes, we heard the siren, we huddled in the closet, in the corner, and everything was OK."

But they had no idea. They literally had no idea that this much damage was this close to their home.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's try to get them on the phone, shall we, Chad?

MYERS: I certainly can do that. Sure.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Try and do that.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, the storms, in addition to all the damage you see right there, they also caused this huge pileup. Chad was just talking about that. It happened on Interstate 4 in Volusia County.

Raoul Martinez is with our affiliate WESH. We've been using lots of their pictures this morning and he was able to file this report from the scene.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAOUL MARTINEZ, REPORTER, WESH: This continues to be quite a mess out here on I-4. We are just about a few hundred feet west -- west of State Road 44 exit here on I-4. And we want to show you what happened here.

Three semis crashed. They're still in the median here. That also involved a U-Haul truck that was actually trailing another vehicle behind them and another passenger car.

They have cleaned up some of the debris here, but you can see what's left of that semi truck, not a whole lot. This highway was shut down for a good couple of hours earlier this morning. Just a while back they reopened one lane eastbound. That's the traffic that's moving right now.

But what we want to show you is, just a few hundred feet from that main crash on the median, take a look at what happened over here. This is what we're told was the first truck that lost control, swerved along I-4, and then ended up completely on its side thanks to the slippery roads and the high winds. That according to one of the witnesses here. They told us those winds completely toppled that truck over.

And we want to show you, just as the light of day comes out, you can actually see the path of what we're assuming -- a lot of the people out here saying this was a tornado that moved through here. You can see the trees behind me there, completely snapped.

This area here normally has some 40 to 50-foot tall trees, and they're snapped. And you can see that they're destroyed.

And if you follow the path of the storm -- in fact, we want to show you right now, over there, that's where a billboard used to be. That's completely down, no longer there. But if you follow the path from the snapped trees behind me here, right down across the median, across the western and the eastbound lanes of I-4, more snapped trees just about everywhere.

So you can see the clear path of this storm as it made its way from the westbound lanes, over into the eastbound lanes, and on into Volusia County and the New Smyrna Beach area.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: That was Raoul Martinez of our affiliate WESH. That wasn't live, as it said on the screen. That happened just a little while ago. But it gives you a sense of what is going on there right now. It just happened moments ago.

Let's get another person in the mix here. Stephanie Cornyu (ph) joining us on the line right now. Oh, no, she's there in front of a camera joining us from Lady Lake in Lake County, Florida.

Stephanie (ph), where were you when it happened? What did you see and hear?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I was actually making my way into the area when the storms hit. Traffic was basically at a standstill. But here, this is where the brunt of the storms did hit, where that tornado hit.

Now, you're getting a view of actually what used to be a church. This used to be Lady Lake Church of God. And as you can see, it is completely obliterated. The tornado touched down here and just absolutely tore through the area.

Now, authorities have confirmed two fatalities. No names are being released at this time, but both Lady Lake and Lake County are under state of emergencies. Authorities and emergency crews are making their way door to door. They say it's incredibly hard because they literally have to sift through all this debris.

As you can see, trees are strewn around, roofs are torn apart. There are a lot of mobile home parks that are actually completely destroyed.

So emergency crews are making their way through. They say there could be more fatalities, could be more injuries. They're not confirming that yet, but so far, there are two confirmed fatalities here in Lady Lake -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Stephanie (ph), give us a sense of how difficult it was just to get there. I see a lot of traffic there. I don't know whether that's gawkers or people there to help, or a combination of that. But what's it like just getting to where you are?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's incredibly difficult. There are a lot of emergency crews, a lot of power lines are down. So a lot of power companies are here hoping to get the power back up.

A lot of detours and delays. So authorities are advising residents, if they don't have to travel, please stay inside. Because also, the debris and downed power lines are making it very dangerous to travel around this area.

M. O'BRIEN: Obviously a lot of people without homes this morning. Any word on shelters being established by the counties and municipalities?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. There is actually a mobile emergency community center that was set up at a car wash here on 27 and 441. There is also a shelter being set up at a Presbyterian church here. So authorities are saying if there are any -- obviously, a lot of people are without homes this morning, a lot of people are without power, so to make their way to those shelters and those mobile command units.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Well, it's good to see those power poles there right behind you. Here we are only about four hours or so after this happened, and already the crews are on their way in there. So obviously there is a quick response here, as we look at some of the people just sort of assessing the damage with daybreak there in Lady Lake, Florida, Lake County.

That's right near where Chad Myers' parents live.

And boy, they've got a story to tell, Chad. Why don't you share it with us.

MYERS: Yes, my mom's actually on the line. Usually don't get to talk to her on the phone on TV.

Mom, you are at -- her name is Dottie Myers -- Sunset Point in Virginia Trace this morning. That is part of the villages well south of Sumter Landing and the Lake Sumter area. Tell me exactly what you saw there.

DOTTIE MYERS, CHAD'S MOTHER: Well, when we passed through -- of course we had a hard time getting in, but we did. We followed the village bus, and we got in, and there were -- there were -- the homes there, the roofs were off. Of course, their awnings were down. Their rain gutters were down.

Just parts of their roof was just torn right off. It was really, really devastating. These people have just moved into these brand new homes, and they are all, just all destroyed.

C. MYERS: Now tell me...

D. MYERS: We just -- we just passed Sunset -- is that Sunset Trailer Park? That area, I don't know how many people could have really survived that area. It is so bad. It is so badly destroyed.

Just great big oak trees on top of these trailers, these little mobile homes. And it was -- it's just terrible here, just absolutely terrible.

C. MYERS: Now you said destroyed and I want you to kind of clarify, because we're talking big-time homes, we're talking $300,000, $500,000 stick-built homes, not mobile homes. The roofs are gone, the shingles are gone, or the plywood's gone?

D. MYERS: The shingles are gone. Their furniture -- their windows are smashed, their Venetian blinds are all -- are all ripped apart. Those homes are destroyed.

C. MYERS: Now, the walls are still standing or not?

D. MYERS: The walls are still standing, but as you could look into like their patios and their sliding doors, just everything is destroyed in those homes.

C. MYERS: Now, this is like -- this is west of 441, 27/441, right?

D. MYERS: Yes. Yes it is.

C. MYERS: I know when you went down to Lady Lake, you tried to get there. What did the police say, or did they just turn you around?

D. MYERS: Well, when we first went there this morning, they turned us around, but then dad found a little side street and we came out -- we came out by the Sunset Mobile Home. And this is where we just came from now. And then of course we had to turn right on 441 and come back to the villages. So we -- it was -- it's just devastating.

C. MYERS: This was -- this was a question that I got from a lot of people -- was there a warning? Did you know it was happening?

D. MYERS: Do you know, the first thing I heard this morning was the rain. And then I turned the TV on, and then there -- we had no -- we have no sirens here in the villages, but we knew that there was something going on by what the -- on the Weather Channel.

Of course, I hate to say that, but it was the Weather Channel that I tuned in. And then of course I ran for my weather radio, and we listened to the weather radio.

And that's how we -- that's how we found out about the storm. And then of course I was getting phone calls from other people asking if we were OK. So other than that -- but you can see the picture on the screen now. It is just terrible.

C. MYERS: Well, we don't mind mentioning the Weather Channel, because they save lives every day.

D. MYERS: They do.

C. MYERS: But that was...

D. MYERS: And of course you weren't on then.

C. MYERS: That's right.

Sunshine Mobile Home Park, actually she was talking about there, at 27/441, right down there by the Assembly of God -- Mom, thank you very much. I'm really glad you're safe today and that most of the people there are doing very well.

Obviously, some of the pictures she was talking about, some of those devastated area down there by that Sunshine Mobile Home Park, you don't know how it's survivable, but people are there and they're walking around and they're talking to their neighbors -- Miles.

S. O'BRIEN: She sounds very shaken up, actually, Chad. Your mom sounds a little shaky. You know, she said something interesting -- they don't have sirens?

C. MYERS: Do not have sirens. I thought they did, actually, because I thought I heard the sirens coming up from the water tower before, but clearly not.

S. O'BRIEN: Is that typical?

C. MYERS: Probably. I mean, you're talking about a very large area. And something like this may wake up some of the emergency managers and say, you know what? We really need to do this, because we get hit a lot, we get hit a lot in the middle of the night and it's hard to warn people.

It's hard to warn people -- obviously, I wasn't a very good son because I didn't have that weather radio programmed for them for it to go off. They have a weather radio, they push the button, they listen to it. But if it doesn't go off by itself, if you don't have that alarm set off by itself, then it's no good to you.

So I guess I'll have some programming to do when I get down there next time.

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

Chad, stand by for us.

We're going to dip into WESH. They've been helping us all morning. Those aerial pictures you've been seeing coming from them. So let's listen into a little bit of their coverage right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Satellite Beach, Palm Bay, those areas are just about to get it, but our meteorologists have said it doesn't look like it's going to be severe coming through, but very heavy rain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a lot of people, I'm sure, at the Kennedy Space Center keeping a close eye on this baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And rush hour right here, again, as the traffic goes through to the Kennedy Space Center right behind me. And they watch, of course, very carefully with all of the infrastructure they've got at the Kennedy Space Center. They have a meteorological presence there, a meteorology office, and they do watch very closely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Stay safe out there, Dan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dan Biller (ph) reporting live for us from Brevard County.

As you can see, we've got crews spread out throughout the area of central Florida, letting you know what's happening, letting you see the pictures. And there you see the storms...

S. O'BRIEN: And of course we are watching it as well for you as we continue to get help from our affiliate, WESH. They've been helping us with some of these shots, as you can see here, these aerial shots, just showing absolute devastation in Lake County. That's where Chad's mom was just calling in from to report absolute devastation, says she doesn't think some of this damage is survivable. It's early yet. The sheriff's department confirming a couple of fatalities, but the emergency manager, when we talked to him just a little while ago, said he could not confirm that, that in fact they are in search-and- rescue mode now.

We've got to take a short break. On the other side of the break we'll update you on what's happening with these storms, some of the damage as daylight is now up, and they can get a little better look at what they're seeing and the damage and also take a look at where these storms are now.

A short break. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. It is Friday, February 2nd. I'm Miles O'Brien.

s. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien. Thanks for being with us. Let's get right to our top story, breaking news out of Central Florida this morning. Severe storms. Looks like, in fact, tornadoes, at least one, hitting Lake County, Volusia County early this morning, right in the middle of the night, possibly the worst time for people who are trying to survive this storm.

Several deaths have been reported. You're looking at some live pictures this morning coming to us from Volusia County now. You saw just a few moments ago the live pictures from the chopper over Lake County, Florida.

Chad Myers is watching all of this. Chad, good morning again.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Some breaking news out of Iraq to tell you about this morning. For the fourth time in two weeks, a chopper is down, a U.S. military helicopter. This time an AH-64 apache helicopter. That's an attack helicopter with a crew of two.

Barbara Starr's at the Pentagon with more -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Miles, U.S. military officials are now confirming that the AH-64 Apache gunship went down several hours ago, as you say, near Taji. That of course west- northwest of Baghdad. The fourth helicopter down in the last two weeks. This is going to be a matter of some concern to the U.S. military. If this Apache, with its two-man crew onboard, was indeed brought down by enemy gunfire -- and it is too soon to say, to conclude anything -- it will be significant nonetheless. Apaches are pretty tough. They can take a lot of small arms fire before they take a fatal hit. So if it was brought down by enemy fire, it was most likely something heavier, heavy machine gunfire, a rocket-propelled grenade, perhaps a shoulder-fired missile. Too soon to say, but investigators obviously looking very carefully at what might have brought down the fourth U.S. helicopter in Iraq in the last two weeks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Barbara, put aside this one, because we don't know for sure yet, but the other three were in fact shoot-downs of some kind, which represents a change in tactics. Here we are four years into this almost and a bit of an escalation. What are they saying Pentagon saying about what's going on there? Is there a new shipment of weapons that have gone into Iraq which are causing problems for these choppers?

STARR: Well, by all accounts, at least to this point, there is really no fundamental connection between all three incidents, and that may be equally worrying, miles, to U.S. military commanders, because what they are seeing across Iraq now is what you might call the enemy surge -- helicopters going down, that huge battle with hundreds of fighters in Najaf, very well organized, very well dug in, that sneak attack in Karbala, well coordinated, well timed. And indeed, the continuing allegations that Iran is shipping advanced IEDs, if you will, into Iraq. All of it suggesting that the insurgency, on multiple fronts at the same time, may be indeed gaining steam, gaining strength and gaining organization -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thanks very much.

(WEATHER REPORT)

S. O'BRIEN: Is your mom still on the phone there?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I don't know if she is or not.

S. O'BRIEN: Mrs. Myers, Dottie Myers, can I ask you a quick question? This is Soledad in New York.

You talked about how you heard the rain and then went to watch TV to get the news about what was going. What did you do after that? I mean, how panicked, how nervous were you?

DOTTIE MYERS, CHAD'S MOTHER: Well, the first thing I did was run into my husband and say, we have to get out of bed. We have to go hide somewhere in the corner. And I did. We did. We got our pillows, we got the weather radio, and we went straight to the corner that is right near the center of the home. So this is where we both stood. And then we -- to see what was going to happen and what more. So then the lights went out. We had no electricity. So then this is when I ran for the radio. And we just panicked, because we said, we have to stay here and we have to wait to see what happens. And if we hear this train sound, and we didn't. So then after we -- the TV came back on and then we watched the radar on the television and knew that it had already passed the villages, the storm; the cell that was above us, it passed, and then we knew that we were possibly in the clear.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness. That sounds absolutely terrifying. And of course you panicked. I can't even imagine.

D. MYERS: And I worry now, because it's just amazing that we went through it like we did. And at the time, we were very calm. But now I'm not. S. O'BRIEN: I'm not either, and I'm in New York, and I'm nowhere near there, and it makes me shaky just to hear that. So then, you were talking about how you were driving around the villages and seeing some of the damage to some of these mobile homes, I mean, which you said to Chad, you know, looked like it's not survivable to you. How far is that from where you are?

D. MYERS: I would say about five miles, maybe seven miles. Now, this is going down into Lady Lake Proper. This is where we were right at that Griffin Road, the Sunset Village -- the Sunset Trailer Park. And this is where we passed. And it was really unbelievable what we saw. Of course, we didn't get as far to see the church that was damaged.

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

D. MYERS: But we were on Griffin Park. And that's just about five to seven miles away from us.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, wow.

D. MYERS: But do you know what's amazing about it, the one side of the road, the houses were just all devastated, and the other side of the road, the houses were not touched.

S. O'BRIEN: That is the paradox of these storms, isn't it? Where you know -- and sometimes it's the home, one right next to the other. One is absolutely obliterated and the other one is virtually untouched.

Hey, Chad?

D. MYERS: Untouched.

S. O'BRIEN: I want to bring you back so you can talk to your mom for a second, and if you don't say it, I will, be careful, Dottie, OK?

D. MYERS: We are. We're in our home now. We're in our home.

S. O'BRIEN: Okay.

D. MYERS: Thank you so much.

C. MYERS: All right. Thanks, Soledad. And if you are out there -- and not my mom, I'm talking to all of you -- if you are in an area like all of this, whether it's today or tomorrow, what you need to realize is there is so much out there that can hurt you now. There are power lines that may still have power. And all the hurricanes that we ever did, there is always boards out there with nails sticking up. More people are probably injured after than during. So be very careful what you're doing, and how you're cleaning up, and what you're touching, and know what's there and know what power's off and know what power's on. And if you don't know it's off, just don't go near it.

S. O'BRIEN: You always say that, Chad, after the storm can often be more dangerous because you don't know what you're getting into. And you can see from that damage, I believe that. Because that is, that is significant, significant damage we're seeing in some of these aerial shots.

We want to take you to another affiliate, WTMG. They've been covering the story as well, and we want to listen in, dip into their live coverage -- KMG, excuse me -- want to dip into their live coverage and listen to how they are reporting the aftermath of this storm.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED KMG REPORTER: ... took a lot of people are here in New Smyrna Beach by surprise, but the police department is crediting the people with really taking precautions. When they heard about these winds coming, a lot of people took shelter, which is why we only have one reported injury here in new Smyrna Beach, but already we've heard a lot of residents here in this area worried about trying to get federal assistance from FEMA, if this is indeed a tornado. They are worried about the price tag on this, and hopefully, they're hoping to get some help.

That's it for now. We're live here in New Smyrna. I'm Tariq Minor (ph), Local 6.

UNIDENTIFIED KMG ANCHOR: All right, thank you, Tariq.

And again, these are live pictures of Sky 6 over Lake County. Tariq was just in Volusia County. Similar damage there, but it is in Lake County that we are seeing such widespread damage, entire neighborhoods flattened. People now climbing through the debris, just trying to salvage things. Two reported fatalities in Lake County. At this point we don't know the circumstances of those deaths. But as you can see by the destruction, it is not a surprise that people were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED KMG ANCHOR: And what is so surprising is that we're not just talking about mobile homes. You know, the Lady Lake Mobile Home Park, Sunshine Mobile Home Park in Fruitland Park, those were areas where we knew were hit, but when we're talking about those block homes, homes that were built to withstand major homes and hurricanes, but a tornado is something very different. And what they're doing there is incredible. This guy, you can see him kind of going through there, lifting up, seeing what he can find, because that is just a mess all over the place.

UNIDENTIFIED KMG ANCHOR: Larry is going to continue to help us determine the damage here and what kind of tornado might have gone through. We are going to take a break. When we come back, we'll be talking about the possibility that this was an ...

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Well, we're listening to our affiliate WKMG. As you can here they're reporting from some of the damage there in Lake County, Volusia County as well.

(WEATHER REPORT) M. O'BRIEN: We're going to head for a break. We're going to keep you posted on these storms, and in their aftermath, all throughout the remainder of the morning, stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Most news in the morning.

Take a look at some of these live pictures. This comes to us from our affiliate WESH. You're looking at the remnants of some powerful storms that swept across the Florida peninsula when you were sleeping, about 3:00 to 4:00 a.m. timeframe local time. And this is Deland (ph), Florida, one of the places hard hit.

Significant damage all throughout Florida. Reports of at least two killed. Those reports coming out of Lake County, two people killed there, reported by our affiliate, Central Florida News 13. Still trying to get some more concrete numbers for you on that. Obviously, this is just developing at daybreak, just a couple hours old now, and they're just assessing the damage.

This is WKMG's helicopter, another one of our affiliates. Volusia County is the location there. There you see some sort of strip mall and shopping facility, the roof just ripped off of it.

And we've been watching the damage panner and trying to -- you can read the damage if you know what you're looking for. As you look there, I think -- is that a water main or something that has broken free there, behind what Chad had described earlier as a furniture store, perhaps. And so that's one of the many tasks that lie ahead for rescue workers as they try to assess the damage. I think that's a broken pipe or something in there, as opposed to -- I don't see any signs of firefighters on the scene doing anything there, but just one of the many messes to clean up there, as authorities go through this part of the world right now and try to assess the damage. Look for those who are missing, look for injuries and possible additional fatalities.

(WEATHER REPORT)

Chad Myers has been tracking this storm all throughout the morning as it literally in realtime as it went across the state of Florida.

Chad, once again, just looking at this pattern of wreckage, it will be a little while before they actually come out with what exactly happened here, but when we say with some degree of certainty these were tornadoes at this point?

C. MYERS: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, some of this damage could be microburst damage, where a storm collapses and the air goes out, but typically, everything will get knocked down in one, big straight line. And you'll see the damage from the building and it will be to the east and the shingles will be to the east, and everything goes in the same direction. Well we haven't been seeing that with this. We've seen scattered debris actually, almost a debris explosion from some of these homes and mobile homes that we saw come apart, especially over Lake County.

Let me set the scene here for you. I'm just going to go back to the map and show you what went on. You talk about Lake County. This is Lake County, this entire county here. And then we have Marion County as well, and that's all part of where the village is. It's that little cell there, a little bit of a rain cell, almost covering the complete area of where the villages would be. This is one of the touchdowns. The storm continued.

Now I don't think it was probably a continuous touchdown line, but it continued toward Deland (ph)and then even on up toward New Smyrna Beach. We have damage from all of those locations.

The storm has now moved all the way down to the south, well south of Orlando, because this is literally about five hours ago when this happened. The storm started up here. There were tornado watches, there were tornado warnings on all of these cells, and then it sunk down south, and it is still moving down into the south, and we are still getting damage in from all of these areas, and it is going to take a long time before we figure out, because there will be multiple assessments for what I consider to probably be multiple touchdowns with the storms here in Central Florida. Very typical of El Nino. We had tornadoes like this about four weeks ago. We had tornadoes just like this in 1998, the last big El Nino season we had.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting. That's interesting historical footnote there, Chad.

As they move south down the Florida peninsula there, they're losing steam, correct?

C. MYERS: They are. They have lost a little steam in the overnight hours, really losing some of the energy of the cell. You need some heat to get these storms going, and they don't have heat right now because it's the coldest part of the day. The problem is the sun will come out, and if you are south of the storms right now, you are still not in the clear for more storms to pop up later in the day.

M. O'BRIEN: What do you have right now on the horizon for any watches or warnings in Florida? Where should people be most concerned right now?

C. MYERS: Just took a mesoscale discussion from the Severe Prediction Center, and they're not worried at this point about anything -- there may be one specific cell that may be spinning, but my concern really is as you get from Lake Okeechobee eastward all the way to West Palm and then southward, right on down to Miami, the sun will be out here today. The temperatures will be in the 80s here today. We are going to have outflow boundaries, which means the part of the storm that collapses and the air goes out, causing microbursts sometimes, those boundaries will be moving into Southern Florida, and you can always pop up a significant spinner, spinning storm, with something like that. S. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad. Thanks for watching it this morning. Thanks for helping us out on AMERICAN MORNING.

C. MYERS: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Of course, "CNN NEWSROOM" picks up our coverage now. The storms, top story. Other things happening in D.C. as well.

Let's turn it over to "CNN NEWSROOM," which begins right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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