Tornado victims eligible for disaster funds

Early edition: Gov. Charlie Crist said Central Florida victims of Friday's tornadoes won't fall through the cracks.

Published February 6, 2007

LADY LAKE -- Gov. Charlie Crist expanded the state’s hurricane fund Tuesday to include aid for victims of all disasters, including last Friday’s tornadoes. He said the new Florida Disaster Recover Fund, formerly known as the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, will help storm survivors in Lake, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties and keep their cases from falling through the cracks.

Standing with state and local officials beside the demolished Lady Lake Church of God, Crist praised the work of first responders, state and federal officials in the aftermath of the storm.

“This is not Louisiana and the response has been dramatic and it’s been fantastic,” he told reporters.

He said relief efforts were well under way to help victims of the tornadoes that killed 20 people, destroyed at least 1,000 homes and severely damaged 1,500.

“This is going to continue for a long time,” Crist said. “We’ve got to be vigilant. We’ve got to follow up and follow through.”

Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the state fund would help residents in ways federal agencies cannot.

“FEMA is not designed to make us whole … We’re going to have people who are going to need more assistance,” he said.

Crist said the state would do everything it could to help residents navigate through bureaucracy.

“Sometimes it can be frustrating to have to fill out forms…We’re trying to be as efficient as possible,” he said.

Crist said the state should provide the best warning systems for residents. “It’s very important for us to be prepared for anything that comes our way,” he said.

All options are on the table, he said, noting that combined smoke alarm and emergency alarm systems that could be installed inside homes were “a very attractive option,” since residents might not hear outside alarms.

“There’s a lot of things we can do to continue to make Floridians more safe,” he said.

After the press conference, Crist said he planned to head to the Lake County Emergency Operations Center in Tavares to talk with officials there.

Crist also announced several corporate pledges made to the fund to help survivors of the Feb. 2 tornadoes: AT&T, $50,000; Progress Energy Florida, $50,000; BP Foundation, $25,000; Bank of America, $10,000; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, $10,000; Darden Restaurants, $10,000; The Home Depot, $10,000.

Tax-deductible donations to the Florida Disaster Recover Fund can be made securely online by visiting www.VolunteerFloridaFoundation.org or by calling 1-800-825-3786. Checks are also accepted and can be made payable to the Florida Disaster Recovery Fund and mailed to Volunteer Florida Foundation, 401 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee, Florida 32301.