Violent weather tore a path of destruction through the Tampa Bay area. Now families are cleaning up, thankful to be alive.
The heavy toll from the weekend storms is still very visible in Duette and Siesta Key. For many in Sarasota and Manatee counties, now comes the hard part: Fixing their homes.
The Fowler family is one of those left picking up the pieces. Al Fowler didn't even have time to get his wife to a safe room in their Siesta Key home.
"Thank god I am alive," Fowler said. "That's one thing, right?"
Damaged glass shot through his home, and now his roof and yard are littered with debris.
"Talk about a freight train coming," Vanness said. "I think it was a little worse than that. A lot of wind, a lot of stuff flying through the air."
He had no idea just how much damage he was dealing with until he went outside after the tornado passed. That's when he saw a palm tree had snapped in half and sliced through the boat he uses to run his fishing charter business.
"Made a mess out of everything," Vanness said.
Monday, Sarasota County leaders got several agencies, including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Florida Highway Patrol and the county building and planning department, together to help provide resources to storm victims.
The American Red Cross said it is able to help victims in those first critical days after a storm.
"You might need a hotel room for a night or two, you might need some food," said Tom Howland, a local American Red Cross Volunteer.
The American Red Cross can provide a Red Cross debit card to get victims through the first few days. They can also help replace things like lost prescriptions, clothing and even housing.
But then come storm repairs. Sarasota County leaders said before starting any home repairs after a storm, call your insurance company and take pictures and video of any damage.
They also said to call their Permitting Customer Service line at 941-861-5000 to determine what permits may be needed to fix your home.
But even if you are not dealing with damage now, with more severe weather expected through April, all homeowners should gather home insurance documents, past permitting work and pictures of what your home looks like now to help if a storm hits.
"Have it on a little thumb drive with you," said Matt Osterhoudt of the Sarasota County Planning Department. "That way when you come in and you need to navigate that permitting system, it will be much more streamlined."
Tips from the American Red Cross:
Download the free Red Cross Emergency App onto your mobile devices. The app includes a warning siren and alert when a severe weather warning has been issued and an all-clear alert when the warning expires or is canceled. Users can find Red Cross shelters and utilize the app’s “I’m Safe” button to let loved ones know they are okay.
For more information, visit www.redcross.org/apps.
Here in Florida, we are at the peak of tornado season and severe weather can occur at any time. People should know how their community will warn them about the storm. Other steps include the following:
Pick a place where family members can gather - a center hallway, bathroom, or closet on the lowest floor. Keep this place uncluttered.
Move or secure lawn furniture, trash cans, hanging plants or anything else that can be picked up by the wind and become a projectile.
Watch for tornado danger signs – dark, greenish clouds, a cloud of debris, large hail, a funnel cloud or roaring noise.
Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes or severe winds. If there is access to a sturdy shelter or vehicle, abandon the mobile home immediately and go to that facility. Do not wait until the tornado is in view.
If someone is caught outdoors, they should seek shelter in a sturdy building. If they can’t do that, they should get into a vehicle, buckle their seat belt and drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If flying debris occurs, they should pull over and park, stay in the vehicle with their head down below the windows, covering their head.
Returning Home - tips from the American Red Cross
Follow the advice of local authorities and find out if it is safe to go back to your community.
Bring photo ID and proof of address and your first aid kit.
In case utilities are out - bring flashlights, batteries, bottled water and nonperishable foods.
Before entering your home, look outside for damaged power lines, gas lines, foundation cracks and other exterior damage. It may be too dangerous to enter the home.
How To Cope
The ongoing tornado threat is stressful for people in the storm’s path and even more frightening for residents who have faced tornadoes in the past. The Red Cross offers these steps people can take to support each other during this difficult time:
Take time to take care of yourself and your family. Reach out to others to offer and receive support.
Events like this can cause feelings of uncertainty and anxiety since no one knows for sure what will happen next. Remember that it's okay to feel nervous.
Eat healthy, drink plenty of water and get enough rest.
Be patient with yourself and others. It’s common to have any number of temporary stress reactions such as anger, frustration, anxiety or difficulty sleeping.
Parents should let children talk about their fears and then reassure them about their safety.
People should also be careful not to overexpose themselves to media reports about the storm.
To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.