A man who lives in one of the seven of homes destroyed Saturday night when a tornado ripped through a Palm Coast neighborhood says he survived by the grace of God.
"When it went boom and blew up. I was dead," John Coverly said Monday.
Coverly says he was lifted off his feet by the winds, thrown on the ground, and just narrowly missed getting hit by his own roof.
"The thing hit me in the back, but the Lord covered me with 12-inch insulation first," Coverly said. "The two-by-fours and the rafters hit me in the back."
With more than 160 homes damaged when the EF01 tornado, city officials are declaring a state of emergency. The Palm Coast fire chief says the mayor is expected to sign the declaration by the end of the day.
"The fence has been knocked down, the back doors destroyed, parts of the roof ripped off, and the windows smashed out. And this is damage that you'll see all over the place here in the Indian trails community," firefighter Jason Wagner said. "We quickly realized that it was a widespread type of deal."
The National Weather Service said the tornado had winds as high as 105 mph and up to 150-yards wide where it did the most damage in the B section of Palm Coast.
NHS meteorologists say the twister touched down five times, first east of U.S. 1 and just north of Palm Coast Parkway about 6:55 p.m. The tornado then skipped over Interstate 95 and damaged dozens of homes in the Indian Trails subdivision as it continued to move to the northeast for nine miles until the cell weakened and moved out to sea.
Parade turns to panic
The tornado came through as up to 10,000 people were out watching the community's annual Starlight Christmas Parade.
Marie Rojo had 70 dangers under the age of 8 on a float when word came across the public address system that the parade was cancelled due to an approaching storm.
"They heard the word(s) 'bad weather, tornado.' They were crying and screaming. They wanted mommy, they wanted daddy, and we were there to offer support," Rojo said.
Rojo and other parents brought dozens of children to her studio for shelter. Firefighters say countless residents were doing the same.
"We had emergency crews on standby and ready to come in from Flagler County, Bunnell, and the city of Flagler Beach as well," said Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle. After the storm passed, "We just took our time going house to house and answering calls as they were coming in."
Bill Sposa said the twister went right over his home while he and his wife were inside.
"My screen, my doors are gone," he said. "The powerline is going to things now, some of the gutters are all pushed in."
Sposa is now in cleanup mode, and he's got a lot to do before his home is back up to par.
Assessing the damage
Palm Coast city officials said 22 homes had moderate damage and 142 others were partially damaged. The tornado knocked down power lines, power poles and trees; and many roads were impassable. At one point, nearly 3,000 homes were without power.
The damage was estimated at more than $5 million.
No injuries were reported.