Homeowners sift through tornado damage

Posted at 7:42 PM, Apr 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-07 20:50:15-04

What came through Okeechobee County Thursday morning was definitely a tornado. Large trees that snapped like twigs and houses reduced to basically nothing couldn't give it away any better.

"For this event right behind us, for this cell, I'd say it was one tornado that came through," said Fred Johnson with the National Hurricane Center. "Clearly when you come up the highway, you see the damage was very chaotic... and it was  a tornado."

When you've got pieces of houses scattered in all different directions, it's an easy call to make. The radar showing extremely strong rotation is also what really helped the National Weather Service to declare a tornado so quickly and easily. 

This was an unusual tornado for South Florida. The conditions usually aren't right for tornadoes. We don't normally see the dramatic temperature difference like they do in Tornado Alley.   This time, we did.

"It's not like the plains supercell storm, the storms you can chase," Johnson told us. "Most of the storms you can't this.  But this storm, continuing to pulse, almost to close to what you have in the Plains."

The tornado started in northwestern Okeechobee county, crossed U.S. 441, and hit several homes as it headed toward the coast. 

"We actually got a debris signature on the storm, so we were very confident we are very confident it was a tornado when it came through this area," said Johnson.

The National Weather Service says this was a weaker EF 2, with winds around 115 miles per hour.

WPTV NewsChannel 5 immediately went into wall to-wall-coverage for hours. Those quick decisions might be why amazingly, everyone in the tornado's path came out on the other side alive.

Johnson said, "If there's something that good that comes out of this this. It's that injuries are minimal and there and there was no loss of life because that's what we the National Weather Service, it's our mission to protect life and property."

Many people though, did lose nearly everything.

“I started looking around and all the windows were broken around my house but the roof was still on the house," said Fort Drum homeowner Joyce Bond.  "The animals are okay, I was okay, the roof was still on.  I was just thankful."

Bond went to a shelter after the storms hit. She's with family and friends now.

Now the clean-up begins. 

The worst damage is off 358th Boulevard in Fort Drum. People spent Friday searching a sea of debris. Rodney Kemple's home was destroyed. He said he was mostly looking for memories, like baby and senior pictures, and his mother's photos.

Despite the devastation, he remained in good spirits. Kemple did have something to be thankful for. He found his cat, which went missing overnight.

Just next door, Phyllis Facker's mobile home was heavily damaged. She's trying to figure out what to do.

"Find out if I have to hire help of have volunteer help. Whatever, I don't know," said Fackler.

Several miles south of the wreckage is the Fort Drum Community Church. People are constantly coming in to donate food, water, clothing, anything that can help.