Friday, February 2, 2007


Half a mile from home.

If you follow the U.S. news, and you’ve noticed in my Profile that I live in DeLand, Florida (which is near I-4 between Daytona Beach and Orlando), you’ll know that I’m in one of the central Florida areas that was hit hardest by a tremendous tornado last night.

My wife and I were awakened by continuous lightning and thunder a little before 4 o’clock this morning. Rain thundered on the roof. We live in a brick, well insulated house with windows that shut out much exterior noise, and the fact that we heard such sounds so clearly shows how loud they were. I went to the kitchen to watch the lightning through a skylight, and it was like hundreds of giant flashbulbs flaring in the sky without a second’s pause.

Julia said, “That’s what happens when there’s a tornado.”

It was only a few minutes later that we heard a sound like the swish swish swish of cosmic helicopter blades, and then a sound like gravel being hurled against the side of the house.

At that point the power went out. All we knew was that the peak of a powerful storm was passing over us. The nonstop lightning continued but moved on to the east toward New Smyrna Beach and the Atlantic Ocean, leaving just rain and wind to enliven our night.

In first light of daybreak I saw that a tree was down in front of the neighbor’s across the street. The power returned and -- horror of horrors – I found that I couldn’t connect to the Internet! Here I am with my dawn coffee (thank heavens) but none of the email and Internet sites that have come to fill the first couple of hours of my mornings.

My sister-in-law called from Ohio to ask if we were all right. I didn't know what she was talking about. She said she was watching television coverage of tornado damage in our area. Our television gradually revealed to us, as first videos arrived from news helicopters, that there had been devastation at New Smyrna Beach, and then that our own town and areas west had been hard hit.

It emerged that the worst of the destruction in DeLand was near our house. In the mile or two north of us hundreds of homes (especially mobile homes) and commercial buildings had been destroyed. There were blocks of structures without roofs. It was almost impossible to recognize anything familiar in the videos because the buildings affected were torn up so badly.

It turned out that Taylor Road, the street at the bottom of our back yard that parallels the street we live on, is the south boundary of the territory which has been closed off as the main disaster area. The north boundary of the stricken area is at least a mile to the north of that. Those south-north boundaries mark the sides of an east-west corridor of damage that extends from mid-Florida through DeLand to the Atlantic Ocean. At least nineteen lives were lost in the rural areas toward the middle of the state, while none are believed lost here.

It’s so strange to watch video of buildings flattened or torn apart in places within two minutes’ drive from our house, places where we’ve gone shopping, and then to walk out in our front yard and see no signs of violence except for the scattered oak leaves that carpeted our driveway overnight. We saw so much worse in our neighborhood during the multiple hurricanes of 2004 that the one downed tree across the street supplied little drama.

We tried to drive down Taylor Road to the damaged areas but the police checkpoint stopped us a couple of blocks from home. A couple on bicycles told us that on the main street Dunkin’ Donuts and a popular old ice cream store “were gone”. We could have walked to the nearest demolished mobile park if it hadn’t been for another police checkpoint.

The couple on the bicycles live in a subdivision few blocks northeast of us, and they expect to be without power for at least 48 hours. A tree limb speared their roof.

I was being prepared for admission to a rehab clinic as a result of Internet withdrawal symptoms when, marvelously, the Internet connection reopened this afternoon. I ravenously devoured emails and information like a starving person given his first meal in days. My next move was to write this post. I thought it might be of interest, especially for people who know I live in DeLand.

Interstate 4, which cuts southwest across Florida, is known as Lightning Alley, but after last night, and a destructive tornado in north DeLand around Christmas of last year, and the hurricanes of 2004, not to mention a multi-tornado attack in this area in the 1990’s, I think that we may have earned a more comprehensive title.

A few blocks away.


  1. Good to hear of your escape Fleming! It reminds me of Hurricane Ivan in '04. I was living in Kingston Jamaica at the time and we escaped because the hurricane changed course at the last minute. But we lost electricity for about eight days, and the water from the taps came out muddy for the same length of time. We had a pocket battery radio with earphones and heard messages from across the island that way, whilst drinking from water saved in plastic bottles and living without fans, and candlelight after sunset.

    What will happen to those people whose houses were destroyed?

  2. Fleming, those pictures look like they were taken during the 2004 Hurricane season. Before that, in the 90's we were living on the Indian River and were hit by Erin, took the back family room off and hurled it into the river including all our file cabinets and paintings, pictures and family possessions. It was suppose to come in the north of Miami. It came in at Satelite Beach, remember that one? Glad you and Julia are OK. We moved to the mainland but thought we were threatened yesterday. As it turned out the threats we got were about Tornadoes that hit down at Barefoot Bay, 30 mins from where we live in Cocoa, Florida. All we got was a hard rain and wind but nothing to write home about. We were very lucky.

  3. Thanks for the interesting comments, Yves and Zoey. We all remember the 2004 hurricane armada. We went for about 8 days without electricity and sometimes without water, along with shorter such episodes with two other hurricanes that summer. Yves, your experiences sound very similar to ours. Even without electricity we depend on battery electricity! At least we didn't lose part of our house, as "Zoey" did.

    Around here the damage in 2004 was tremendously more widespread than the current tornado damage, but the destruction now is more intense within a more compact area.

    Many people whose houses were destroyed night before last are said to be staying with neighbors or relatives, while others are in shelters. The authorities keep ordering us to stay away from the affected areas, frustrating our desire to help. During the hurricane times we were able to wander about as we pleased.

  4. I am sorry to hear this and glad to know that you and your family were safe.

  5. I saw this damage on the news. Yikes! I'm happy to hear that you and your family are safe.

  6. I'm glad you were safe. I need to get up to DeLand soon to visit my cousin who lives in the downtown retirement villas. She turned 102 in January, so she's a treasure to me.

  7. Aikane (sorry about the missing umlaut), I want to welcome you and your first comment on one of my blogs.