We started walking, I didn’t know what we would see when we got to the condos but I wasn’t expecting what I saw. Words can not even come close to appropriately describing the destruction I saw, it was literally like walking into a war zone after a bomb had been dropped.
My friend Andrea and I had left my car about a half mile back at a store because the roads on US HWY 17-92 were blocked off. We were on a mission to find my friend Andrea’s boyfriend who was staying with some friends in a condo on New Hampshire Ave. which is just off HWY 17-92 in Deland, Florida.
I lived through 4 hurricanes back to back in 2004 and I honestly thought I had seen it all with those storms, but last night a storm came through here that reminded me of how powerful mother nature can really be and I would honestly compare it to the devastation Hurricane Charley left behind in 2004.
The first thing I can remember about this morning was being awoken at 3:15AM by pounding rain on my roof and a lightning show going on right outside my window. So I tried falling back asleep again only to be woken up again at 4AM by a sound I can only compare to a semi truck driving full speed down my road with the horn blaring for at least a minute and a half. Then this rumbling noise like a bowling ball going down an alley made the ground shake. Then it stopped and the rain seemed to go away.
When I woke up this morning though and turned on the news I saw what the aftermath of the night before was. Devastation in Lady Lake Florida on an unimaginable level, which is sad because Lady Lake is the largest retirement city in the Central Florida area and it is full of trailers. Those trailers are reduced to nothing now in some areas. Then the images out of Paisley, which is northern Lake county, showed even more devastation. I had heard reports of significant damage in parts of Deland but when my friend called me, worried that she hadn’t heard from her boyfriend yet and wondering if I could give her a ride to New Hampshire Ave., I accepted immediately. What I saw there was a rude awakening.
We walked from the store to the condos, but before that you couldn’t miss the devastation that had happened across the street at the Woodland Plaza (a large strip mall that has a clothing store and a Dollar General separate from the strip mall itself on one end and an ABC liquor store on the other end). For the most part the strip mall is abandoned except for a few small businesses and telemarketing rooms, but it really looked like a giant had come along and kicked in the front of the stores there along with Dollar General. Seeing the whole side wall at Dollar General missing was surreal, and eerily the boxes were still stacked up in places with just long bits of plastic blowing in the breeze. Across the street where an auto body shop was years ago all the buildings for half a mile either had the fronts of the businesses ripped off or had tall billboards come crashing through the roofs.
When we finally made it to the condo’s you could see the power lines down everywhere. The police and Florida Power had been out since daybreak cutting the downed lines and trying to cut the tree’s down from around lines that were still up. The front condo’s literally looked like someone had broken all the windows, sucked all the possessions out and dumped them all over the streets around HWY 17-92 and New Hampshire Ave. Seeing the simple things people take for granted like a Birthday card, an easter basket and a picture of people partying made me really sad. Seeing a car, that I learned later had been dragged by the wind from a parking space, sitting on the side of the road completely totaled by a tree was one of the more amazing things I saw today. Another amazing thing I saw was a tree completely twisted around until it snapped in half.
It’s amazing how a tornado can literally pick and choose which building or which life it wants to devastate and which it wants to spare. The area of Deland that I walked through was only about 1-2 square miles but the tornado spared Sonny’s Bar-B-Q restaurant and started shredding businesses after that all the way to where a Brighthouse Cable pay station and ITT Technical Institute is. Amazingly it spared the latter two buildings but destroyed the concrete encased sign in front of it. Wendy’s also lost there sign and the pieces could be found in the parking lot of the store we parked at half a mile away.
We finally found Andrea’s boyfriend and amazingly he was staying in a condo at the rear of the Applewood Condo complex that was left untouched. He was very lucky because the condo’s across from him had a tree on the roof and a branch that had gone completely through the roof.
This storm has also shown me how amazingly giving people and companies can be after such devastation. FEMA and The Red Cross were on the scene immediately and helping everyone they possibly could. There was also a restaurant cooking burgers and fried chicken for people who were displaced and for the people there to help fix the devastation. The response not only here but to the other places devastated by these storms has been immediate and amazing.
So far 19 people are confirmed dead here in Central Florida and dozens more are missing. The sad thing for the survivors though is a lot of people who live in mobile homes here don’t have homeowners insurance because it’s too expensive for them. Now they have nothing left and literally no way of picking up the pieces again.
This is literally something I will never forget as long as I live. Seeing the dazed looks on neighbor’s face’s is something that will stick with me forever. One phrase I had to have heard about 1000 times today was ‘Oh My God’.
That phrase really sums it up.