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'A little surreal'

"This looks a lot like a very concentrated form of hurricane damage like I saw after Andrew." Those are the words from the Rev. Ivan Corbin in central Florida.

BY HEATHER MOYER | DELAND, Fla. | February 5, 2007

"This looks a lot like a very concentrated form of hurricane damage like I saw after Andrew." Those are the words from the Rev. Ivan Corbin, no stranger to disaster.

The pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in DeLand, Fla., Corbin has lived in the state since 1975 and helped people recover from hurricanes like Andrew and Charley.

As he toured through the path of destruction left behind after Friday's deadly tornadoes in central Florida, the damage looked very similar to him - except that it was sort of "hidden."

"In some sense it feels like an invisible disaster except for the media coverage," he explained. "I mean, it's not obvious. If you drove through some of these areas and just stayed on one road above or below the tornado line, you wouldn't have a clue that a tornado came through."

Friday's tornadoes killed 20 people and left a trail of destruction through Lake, Volusia, Seminole and Sumter Counties. The Florida Division of Emergency Management preliminary damage estimates now state that more than 430 homes were destroyed, another 450 saw major damage and more than 600 others were affected. The four counties received a federal disaster declaration Saturday and more state and federal damage assessors are continuing their tours Monday.

The National Weather Service said an F3 tornado touched down in Lake County, and then both an F2 and F1 in Volusia County.

Corbin's church is serving as a gathering site for some donated building and support supplies as the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church responds to the tornadoes. Conference officials toured the impacted areas over the weekend and are organizing their resources to help those affected.

Corbin said his parishioners have also been stepping forward to help. "Everybody about this area is going to know somebody that was affected," he explained. He adjusted his Sunday sermon to inspire the church members to think about what they can do to help, and added that many have already been out in the neighborhoods helping friends and neighbors clear downed trees and pick up debris.

The challenge is coordinating all the help, he said, despite having been through disasters together before. "This feels very similar to (the hurricane season in) 2004, and many of these folks also helped out after the fires in 1998," said Corbin. "This is a little surreal to think that it's all happening again. I would say that every disaster catches us off guard, but it's amazing to see how quickly people respond. People are doing what they have to do to get everyone back on their feet."

The Florida Chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (FLVOAD) is coordinating resources and response via daily conference calls and meetings. Officials are also securing help to start long-term recovery committees (LTRC) in some of the affected counties. Volusia County has an LTRC in place from the 2004 hurricane season, one that was reactivated to help residents in Volusia County who were hit hard by a Christmas Day 2006 tornado.

"And we're headed in the same direction for this one," said the Rev. David Troxler, president of Volusia Interfaith/ Interagency Network in Disaster (VIND). "We're here to deal with both tornadoes now. We're looking for some staff so we can have people in place ready to go once our time in the long-term recovery comes."


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Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church

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