RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Two powerful tornadoes ripped through Central Florida last week. Now hundreds of people are dealing with the aftermath, and commentator Shelley Mickle visited some of them.
SHELLEY MICKLE: As a little girl in Arkansas, I lived through several tornadoes. People were killed near my little cotton town. Many of us built tornado cellars near our homes, and we called them fraidy holes. But since I moved to Florida 30 years ago, tornadoes haven't been something I fear.
I once saw a waterspout take shape out over the Gulf at Cedar Key. And it looked like a tail of a cloud dancing on the water. It sure wasn't a big deadly storm like in Arkansas. So having tornadoes in Central Florida was a huge shock. They struck in the night like masked robbers.
They stole 20 lives and destroyed hundreds of homes. Governor Charlie Crist said some places looked like the surface of the moon. And the town of Lady Lake, it looks like a monster took a quick left turn off the Orange Blossom Trail; that's the old route through Florida before the superhighways.
And then it made a surgical strike through the neighborhood. Huge oak trees are missing their top limbs and those left are leafless, when in Florida, oak trees are ordinarily never bare of leaves.
(SOUNDBITE OF SAWING)
MICKLE: Men are sawing fallen tree limbs amid the rubble from ruined houses and trailers. There's a huge tent set up to distribute water and food. At another tent, volunteers are handing out tennis shoes and clothes. Terry Hamilton is waiting outside his house for the insurance adjuster.
TERRY HAMILTON: Well, we went to an interior bathroom in the house, because they said the winds were 100-plus mile-an-hour, and we just held each other and prayed. And the wind was incredible. The wind built up in the roof and the attic and blew out the attic wall over on this side. And then two large oak trees came down. One went into my neighbor's house, where you see the blue tarp.
MICKLE: Terry says one street over, two of his elderly neighbors died in the storm. He's lived through five hurricanes in the years he's been in Central Florida. And this is supposed to be the time of year we don't have to worry about the weather here.
Now, because of weather conditions caused by El NiÃ±o, we're hearing that these big winter storms could recur any time before April.
So how are you feeling about the upcoming hurricane season?
HAMILTON: I'm dreading it. I mean, we're just - we're worn out.
MICKLE: We don't give tornadoes names like we do hurricanes. These tornadoes might be worthy of names, though not names we could mention in public. But all of a sudden, paying attention to weather is more than a passing interest. Even in the winter, it's become a matter of staying alive.
MONTAGNE: Commentator Shelly Mickle's upcoming novel is "The Assigned Visit," about the recovery after Hurricane Camille in Pass Christian, Mississippi.
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