FEMA Tours Lake City Tornado Damage

LAKE CITY, Fla. – State officials and a team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured Lake City Monday to assess damages caused by Friday's F2 tornado that destroyed 19 homes, damaged dozens of others and took one woman's life.

The tornado cut a 2.5-mile path across Lake City, with the National Weather Service estimating the winds at between 113 and 157 mph.

Beyond the homes destroyed, another 21 had major damage, according to Florida's Division of Emergency Management.

Lake City officials estimate the residential damage at $2 million. Two businesses were also destroyed and six others sustained major damage -- causing another $1 million in losses.

A FEMA assessment team toured the damage to determine whether federal assistance is needed.

"We certainly will meet the threshold, which was that 20 homes had to have been effected with severe damage," Columbia County spokesman Harvey Campbell said. "The question is then, what percentage of them are uninsured?"

Campbell said if the majority of the damaged property was covered by insurance, FEMA will not provide assistance. If a significant number were not insured, FEMA will offer some aid.

Officials said the will decide as soon as Tuesday whether or not the area qualifies for federal aid.

"It's good to have life, and good to have insurance," Jackie Williams-Brown told Channel 4's John Dunlap as she sifted through what was left of her home. "I could be going, running from the hospital to the funeral home."

Campbell estimated that the damage from Friday's storm was eight or 10 times greater than that from a tornado that struck Lake City on Christmas Day 2006.

Friday's tornado first touched down about 9:45 a.m. in a Publix shopping center along U.S. 90 West, damaging the roof of the grocery store.

The twister then moved to the northeast, hitting homes along Washington Street and Martin Luther King Street before continuing on to state Road 100. One mobile home was blown on its side.

It was along S.R. 100 that a tree crashed into a mobile home, killing 62-year-old May Bright McCray, pastor of Bethel Freewill Baptist Church.

Officials initially reported a second storm-related death -- someone electrocuted trying to hook up a generator after losing power. Campbell said that person -- Irma Longenecker, 66 -- is now believed to have suffered a heart attack.

Five other people hurt in the storm required hospitalization, and another 11 patients were treated for minor injuries.

More than 5,000 homes and businesses in Columbia County were without power after Friday's storm.

Sunday night, Florida Power and Light reported that electricity had been restored to all customers except those that suffered structural damage. Natural gas service remained out in the affected areas.

While Lake City continued to be under a state of emergency, evacuation shelters were closed, but the Red Cross has opened a family service center in the Richardson Community Center at 221 Northeast Coach Anders Lane.

The affected area remains off limits to all except residents with proper identification. Roadblocks and a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew remains in place for an area from N.W. Hillsboro Street north to N.W. Bascom Norris Drive, west to Lake Jeffery Road, and east to N.E. Voss Road.

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