Assistance arrives quickly for tornado victims

Published February 3, 2007

Assistance came quickly and fervently to the devastated neighborhoods in west Volusia County, just south of downtown DeLand.

On nearly every block, tree trimmers crossed paths with crews from Progress Energy and Bright House cable. Red Cross trucks and Salvation Army volunteers roamed the streets. Insurance adjusters with clipboards walked door to door, and workers with Citizens' "catastrophe response team" erected signs with a toll-free number residents could call for help.

The sound of chainsaws mixed with the roar of front-end loaders and hammers driving nails into new shingles. Members of the Southern Baptist Convention's disaster relief team, all dressed in yellow jackets, cleared debris from the homes of perfect strangers.

Gov. Charlie Crist spent a second day in the heart of the damage, walking the ruins and soaring above in a Blackhawk helicopter. Joining him were U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez along with other elected officials and FEMA director David Paulison, who promised swift aid.

Mobile disaster assistance vans were arriving Saturday morning, as were truckloads of generators, water, food and tarps, Paulison said.  

"It makes you sick to your stomach about what we saw," Paulison said. He announced that President Bush on Saturday had signed a declaration for public assistance, including money for debris removal and for rebuilding homes.  

Officials now estimate that at least 1,500 homes were damaged or destroyed by the tornados.  

Crist said officials had learned Saturday of an additional death, bringing the unofficial count to 20. He had no other details about where the death occurred.

The governor again expressed astonishment about the damage. "It is amazing to see how destructive and how surgical and the intensity of a tornado, let along several of them," he said.