FL tornadoes worst in 9 years

Responders in Florida are describing the Christmas Day tornado damage as some of the worst they've seen since 1998.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 27, 2006



"All of these are people who don't have the money to deal with a disaster like this."

—Marilyn Juengst


Responders in Florida are describing the Christmas Day tornado damage as some of the worst they've seen since 1998.

In Daytona Beach around DeLand, a cluster of five trailer parks took a severe hit, said Marilyn Juengst, a board member of Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster. "I was driving around surveying the damage, and some of this looks worse than the 1998 tornadoes, which killed more than 50 people in Florida," she said. "Homes just exploded."

In two of the five trailer parks alone, about 100 homes were completely destroyed, Juengst said, and in the adjacent remaining three parks, many properties have sustained such severe damage that it's doubtful those families can go back home.

Dozens of apartment dwellers in a Daytona Beach complex also lost everything, she said. "Tornadoes literally blew up almost four apartment buildings. At least 200 families there have lost their place to stay."

The American Red Cross was working with the apartment complexes to find tornado survivors a place to stay, Juengst said. Many neighbors were also stepping in to help as emergency managers continued trying to make tornado-torn areas safe enough for people to come back in.

Responders say they are concerned about unreported rural damage in Lake and Sumter counties as well. Damage tallies are predicted to rise.

Juengst predicted tornado survivors will have many unmet needs. "Always in mobile home parks, a lot of times the older mobile homes have fully depreciated - so even if people are insured, they barely get enough money to have the home removed."

The affected trailer parks, she said, are home to working class people, she added. "Many of them are elderly or disabled. There are many Hispanic people. All of these are people who don't have the money to deal with a disaster like this."

If the disaster does not receive a federal declaration, unmet needs will fall squarely on the shoulders of faith-based and voluntary organizations, Juengst said.

Responders are already concerned about public awareness. This particular disaster took place in a "media void." The Christmas holiday, combined with the media-grabbing death of former President Gerald Ford, means fewer news headlines for the Florida tornadoes and - in the long run - could mean fewer donations from the public for unmet needs.

Juengst is a member of the Mental Health Association Volusia/Flagler. She trains counselors for a state crisis counseling program, Project Hope.

She said people have mixed feelings about the tornadoes hitting on Christmas Day. "I think there are good thing and bad things about it," she said. "It was a miracle in many ways that we didn't have a lot of deaths. People were out and about. They were in church. They were traveling to relatives. Many people weren't home at the time that this hit. Plus, at this time of year, people are more willing to lend a helping hand."

But the down side is that when the relief stage passes, long-term recovery will begin in the midst of a post-Christmas weariness that often sets in even when disaster hasn't hit. "All of that energy and those good feelings will wear off when the reality of 'what do I do next' happens," she said.


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