The Orlando Sentinel from Orlando, Florida on February 24, 1998 · Page 2
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The Orlando Sentinel from Orlando, Florida · Page 2

Orlando, Florida
Issue Date:
Tuesday, February 24, 1998
Page 2
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H ., S-2 The Orlando Sentinel, Tuesday, February 24, 1998 METRO Casualties Twenty-one confirmed dead, including 10 in Ponderosa RV Park near the Osceola County Stadium between Kissimmee and St. Cloud, nine in nearby Morningside Acres and two in north Kissimmee at Ro-sie's Pub in the Buenaventura Lakes community. All of the identities have not been released, but they include a Tupper-ware security guard, an elderly church volunteer from Kissimmee and a real estate salesman who died with his son and a roofer. There were 150 people injured, of which 20 were admitted to Osceola County hospitals. Hope, death among ruins Couple lived neighbors didn't By Henry Pierson Curtis OF THE SENTINEL STAFF NARCOOSSEE Morning Light Way is a street of tragedy and narrow escapes. Eleven mobile homes once stood on the south end of the cul-de -sac. Only six remained Monday morning after a tornado clipped off the end of the street. Only one looked unscathed. , Bob and Carol Benner survived. Neighbors on both sides of them died. So did the couple and their daughter across the street. Their lives were lost in less than 30 seconds. Bob Benner, 63, apologized for seeming dazed. They had identified the bodies of two neighbors, Dorothy Thomas, 66, and her son, Michael Thomas, 38. Nodding toward his wife, Benner said, "She doesn't want to live in a mobile home anymore. But where do you go? What do you do? Do we rent? Do we buy a home? It's like people say, you're numb after something like this." The Benners drove away shortly before Thomas' daughter, Julia Dees of Apopka, ran up to the ruins of her mother's home. Dees, 42, had seen the wreckage on the noon TV news and recognized it by the two new cars her mother and brother had bought and parked in the yard. "They're gone. They're just gone," Dees said, staring at the missing homes. Beyond the Benners' back fence, the tornado scattered the bodies of . several neighbors across more than a half-mile of swamp and palmettos. The sharp-tipped weeds caught bits of clothing, pink insulation and shingles scattered by the winds. Osceola County deputy sheriffs and firefighters brought them out one by one. Every survivor had a story. Across the street from the Benners, Jill Barnett had put her sons to bed Sunday night on a mattress in the family's bathtub. Barnett, 33, and her husband, David Barnett, pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Kissimmee, thought it was the wisest thing to do after repeated tornado warnings on Sunday. "David had the TV on and said the worst is over Kissimmee, so we knelt down to pray at the end of our bed. Before our prayer was finished, we heard it coming and we jumped off our knees and ran to the tub with the boys," Barnett said. Afterward, "we were so excited we were alive we sang. We sang, 'Cast all your cares upon him.' " At the dead end of Morning Light Way, Abby Blum and her children picked through what was left of her home. Almost half of her double-wide, including her bathtub, had blown east. "If we had gone in there, we'd be dead," she said, pointing to the remains of a porcelain toilet, all that was left of the bathroom where she had considered hiding when the winds screamed a sound she had never heard before. "I said, 'Guys, let's get in the closet' The door blew off the hinges and we had to hold it shut, but we made it," she said. When Blum, her daughter Dai- nya Vasquez, 23, and her roommate Hope Flanagan, 40, came out of the closet, they found nothing but rain splashing in their faces. The roof, the front wall and the bathroom were gone. Devastation About 430 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Officials say that number should increase as they get more damage reports. The hardest hit areas included: Ponderosa RV Park at 1983 Boggy Creek Road in Kissimmee. Nearly all of the community's 200 mobile homes and recreational vehicles were destroyed. Morningside Acres mobile home park at Boggy Creek Road and Morningside Drive in north Osceola at the Orange County line. At least 20 mobile homes were damaged. ' Lakeside Estates off Boggy Creek Road near Simpson Road in Kissimmee. The storm battered this 1,300-home subdivision. About 50 7f was only 10 seconds, but it was 10 seconds that went on and on and on" - Maria Quadros Damage assessment 1. Storm destroys 3 businesses at the Shoppes of Kissimmee. The Publix is spared. 2. Tornado damages or destroys at least a dozen homes in Idora Park. An 1 8-monih-old survives after getting blown into a tree, ,(, 3. 10 killed at Ponderosa RV Park when tornado flattens nearly all of that community's 200 mobile : homes and recreational vehicles. Vine St. t. C 1 ' V ... m) ' V " ' 92 Eerie calm blankets ruined subdivision Lives spared but will never be the same By (Catherine Bouma OF THE SENTINEL STAFF KISSIMMEE - In the sprawling Lakeside Estates subdivision in eastern Kissimmee, hundreds of homes were crushed, smashed or torn apart. Roofs, walls and entire second stories were ripped off. Vehicles were lifted and smashed through homes. Houses were reduced to half or a fourth their original sizes. Miraculously, no one was reported killed in the subdivision. Steve Mitchell pointed to a hole in the roof over his son's bed, where the boy slept until his dazed and bruised father climbed out from under a collapsed wall to carry him safely out of the house. Raul Plattner pointed to the bathroom where he huddled with his family. It was the only room in the 2,000-s'quare-foot pool home still intact. "My four-by-four truck in the driveway was lifted off the ground and smashed through my neighbor's roof, right there," Plattner said. No one was hurt there, either. Vicki Rivera, lugging plastic bags of whatever she could salvage out of her house, stopped to point to an upholstered chair on top of the house. "My mom was sitting on the roof last night," Rivera said. The seat is now alone, stripped of the walls and ceiling that once formed the second story. "That's where her room was. She was sitting in the chair. Petrified." In more than one spot, walls were torn off, leaving the interior of the house in place. One fully furnished second-story bedroom sat exposed to the open air, the A night homes on Flamingo Lakes Drive were destroyed. Boggy Creek MarketplaceBuenaventura Lakes Shopping Center at Boggy Creek and Buenaventura Lakes Boulevard in Kissimmee. Every business in the two shopping centers, which are across the street from each other, was damaged. Winn-Dixie hopes to open later today. Shoppes of Kissimmee at U.S. Highway 17-92 and Pleasant Hill Road. The storm blew out windows and damaged roofs, destroying three businesses while generally sparing others including Publix. Idora Park off Neptune Road, just east of the Kissimmee city limits. At least a dozen homes were damaged or destroyed. - . TSft mm : f: J :i: I an ! I f ! V ORANGE COUNTY ' ; Y Vs I i OSCEOLA XV ' - , 1 COUNTY r . J I Boagy Creek Rd. 55 lEl . Fortune Rd. ( ! ' - HnWV 111 f "' sff !"?" ' r . si. i it.. H-w '. .1.1 t .tat u-vX $A?iO) fx'-4M- Waiting game. Abdelelmajid Aassal takes a cigarette sheet turned down, pillows at the head of the bed, dresser drawers neatly closed. "Want to take a nap?" a neighbor joked. But in most of the homes, all was chaos. More than 300 homes in the seven-year-old Lakeside . Estates were declared uninhabitable. A total of 459 werrj damaged. A few residents were scraped or bruised by flying debris. Many appeared to be in shock. of fury Advisories A curfew from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. is in effect in damaged areas until further notice. All schools except Cypress Elementary are open today. Cypress Elementary, which had some damage, should open by Wednesday. Most residents should have power restored by this morning. However, it could be another day or two before electricity will return to about 2,000 homes in the hardest-hit areas, including Morningside Acres, Lakeside Estates and Ponderosa RV Park. Kissimmee Utility Authority, (407) 933-7777. Only area residents may travel today on Boggy Creek and Simpson roads and to developments 4. Storm batters lakeside Estates, a 1 ,300-home subdivision. About 50 homes on flamingo Lakes Drive are destroyed. Despite the damage, no deaths ore reported. 5. Every business in the Boggy Creek , MarketplaceBuenaventura bakes shopping ,, center sustains damage"5! are killed at Rosie's " Pub in (fie Buenaventura lakes Shopping Center. J""" carriages aj moDiie nomes at Mominaside Acres, killina 9: One of the dead is 8-monlh-old. THE ORLANDO SENTINEL -' -1 'Viiwiwh "I was sleeping, and I got up when I heard the storm," Donna Brown said hoarsely as she was surrounded by twisted aluminum and household debris. "The lights went out, and then the door started to open. The door flew open, and everything started to fly at us. I screamed for everyone to stay down. That's why I still have no voice." Residents straggled out of the subdivision on bicycles or on foot. Almost no one appeared to have a along those streets. Three meals a day are offered at Osceola Center in Kmart Plaza at U.S. Highway 192, east of Simpson Road, Kissimmee; Lakeview Elementary, 2900 Fifth St., St. Cloud; and Boggy Creek Elementary, 810 Florida Parkway, Buenaventura , Lakes. Shelters will remain open as needed at Lakeview Elementary School, 2900 Fifth St., St. Cloud; Denn John Middle School, 2001 Denn John Lane, Kissimmee; and Horizon Middle School, 2020 Ham Brown Road, Kissimmee. The Osceola County Emergency Operations office has information lines: (407) 932-3093, (407) 932-3981 and (407) 943-3320. Winds carry baby off to safety in tree Thanks to his mattress, he has just a bump on his head By Susan Jacobson OF THE SENTINEL STAFF KISSIMMEE The tornado splintered the wood-frame home and grabbed 18-month-old Jonathan Waldick. But the deadly twister seemed to have a change of heart when confronted with a child. The same winds that had snatched Jonathan snapped the top off a nearby oak and deposited him in its protective branches. There the baby lay nestled safely in his mattress while around him the world seemed to be coming to an end. Hail and. rain pelted the ground. The concrete house next door crumbled. Giant trees snapped: And Jonathan got a bump on his head. But Shirley Driver didn't know that. She was sleeping in her bed with Jonathan's 4-year-old sister, Destiny, when the storm hit. She is the children's great-grandmother and was taking care of them. Driver woke up to find Destiny safe, but where was Jonathan? It appeared the awful answer was under the huge pile of debris. break in front of his tornado-hit working vehicle. The subdivision was so quiet and still it could be under siege. It looked as if war had broken out, and there were no everyday noises such as traffic of children at play. Instead, the air was filled with pounding propellers of helicopters and occasional emergency sirens. Police were posted at street entrances, checking identifications, deterring looters and warning of a dusk-to-dawn curfew until further How to help The Salvation Army in Osceola County would appreciate donations of towels, blankets, toilet items, non-perishable food and cash. Officials say they have plenty of clothes. Items may be dropped off at the Salvation Army office, 3 S. Bermuda Ave. Phone: (407) 931-4343. The Red Cross is accepting cash donations at its Kissimmee office, 849 E. Oak St. Phone: (407) 847-2780. Osceola County Blood Bank is accepting donations at 1029 Bermuda Ave., Kissimmee. Phone: (407) 847-5747. Christ Deliverance Center meals: (407) 518-0474. Word of the tragedy spread. At Lakeview Elementary School in St. Cloud, which was an emergency shelter, tornado survivors talked about a baby whisked out of its mother's arms and into the sky. Ron Vernelson, who was helping his son next door, came over to Driver's house to help search for Jonathan. Other rescuers also arrived. "We started looking, but there was no bedroom," he said. After combing through rubble for 40 minutes, one of the men spotted something at eye level in the oak branches. "I think I see a foot," he said. They investigated, and they soon saw the rest of Jonathan. His eyes were wide open, but he wasn't making a sound. He's dead, said a deputy. Then the foot moved. "I kept calling his name, and he started to whimper," Vernelson said.,"I said, 'The baby isalive.' " Another volunteer a slimmer man slid through the tangled ' mass of boards and limbs to pull Jonathan out., "The mattress saved him," Vernelson said. "He was just lying on the mattress sideways." ED SACKETTTHE ORUNDO SENTINEL home in Lakeside Estates. notice. But among the rubbish remained a few clues from the hundreds of lives torn out of the subdivision. Here, a couch sat upended on a lawn. There, Raul Platt-ner's 61-inch TV was submerged in the swimming pool. "Everyone's alive. That's the important thing," said Plattner, who has lived in his Lakeside Estates home with his wife and children for seven years. "Everything else is whatever."

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