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Red Cross continues to provide care and comfort to tornado survivors in Central Florida
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Amanda Mark
February 4, 2007

Looking to dodge a frigid Pennsylvania winter, retired couple Mary and Lou Sabers moved two weeks ago to Lady Lake – a popular town for retirees in Central Florida. This Saturday, the Sabers were not fixing up their new home as planned, but were camped out in an American Red Cross shelter talking about the longest 10 seconds of their lives.

'I've still got my life’

Paul Massenkeil stood in his Florida home that he'd purchased just 13 months before. Massenkeil said that he and his wife were lucky to be alive after the Feb. 2 tornado tore through his living room, The Village, Fla. (Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)
Paul Massenkeil in his home after a tornado on Feb. tore through his living room. He'd purchased just the home in The Village, Fla., just 13 months earlier.
(Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)

Paul Massenkeil awoke to the sound of a train barreling down on his home. He peered through the window, realized he saw a tornado, and jumped onto the center of his bed. Seconds later, he was violently thrown 15 feet to the bathroom tile floor.

Dazed and sore, he threw furniture aside as he sought his wife, who had fallen asleep on the living room couch. As Massenkeil struggled to the hallway, he found her body under the bedroom door.

“I think that’s what kept her alive,” he said.

Her lower legs were cut from the imploding glass doors and the only thing that protected her was the heavy wooden door that fell on top of her.

A day later and his wife is resting at a friend’s home, Massenkeil sorted through the debris that was once their life.

“That was our piano,” he said, noting a wood object, torn in half and turned on its side. “That’s not ours,” he said picking up a large piece of red molded plastic that was positioned innocently between a destroyed sofa and chair.  

Turning grave, Massenkeil noted a red stain on a piece of cardboard on the floor, “That’s blood,” he said, shaking his head. 

“I remind myself that there are people out there who are far worse,” he noted. “I’ve still got my life.”

Ten seconds is the estimated length that each tornado survivor noted when replaying the deadly tornado that cut a quarter-mile wide swath through Central Florida during the early morning of Feb. 2 – forever changing the lives of many residents and visitors to “the Sunshine State.” 

Nancy Uhlers, a winter resident of Lady Lake, Fla., said that during those 10 seconds, the tornado sounded louder than a train going over her house. 

Allen VanAtta, Uhlers’ neighbor, told of his bed lifting off the ground and landing sideways – in those elongated 10 seconds.

Paul Massenkeil, who lives in The Villages, Fl., remembered being thrown 15 feet from his bed onto the bathroom tile floor during the twister’s 10-second run.
While the tornado whipped through each location for only 10 seconds or so, these survivors’ lives were irrevocably changed by its fierce, unexpected nature and harsh destruction.

Now, days after the storm undid years of work in its seconds of chaos, the American Red Cross continues to work in Central Florida providing care and comfort – including shelter, mental and emotional support and meals and snacks.

Uhlers and VanAtta stayed at a Red Cross shelter and plan to stay until their mobile home park reopens.

“I can’t complain,” said Uhlers with a wry smile. “Warm food, card games and my friends – it beats no electricity.”

Uhlers and VanAtta lost three community members in the tornado that devastated much of their park. VanAtta’s home is in shambles, while Uhlers’ just requires roof repair.

The Sabers’ home also just requires work, but Mary tensed as she remembered her Thursday haircut from a neighbor.

“It was truly the best haircut of my life and I hugged her and I said ‘I’ll be back to see you!’ But she died in the storm. She’s gone,” said Mary. “Thursday was a normal day and Friday…was not.” 

As survivors have begun to return home and assess the damage, the Red Cross has a fleet of emergency response vehicles (ERVs) patrolling the areas with meals and snacks. As the mending continues, the Red Cross will continue to assess the needs of the survivors and provide additional services as needed.

Mary Sabers spoke to a Red Cross disaster worker after the Feb. 2 tornado ripped through Lady Lake, Fla. (Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)
Mary Sabers spoke to a Red Cross disaster worker after the Feb. 2 tornado ripped through Lady Lake, Fla.
(Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)

"Our volunteers are trying the meet the needs as they come,” said Red Cross Spokesperson Ike Pigott. “For some, it's still the need for a safe place to stay. For others, the Red Cross is the only connection to a hot meal. As the recovery progresses, we'll move into other appropriate forms of emergency assistance to speed up the process of healing."

For survivors such as the Sabers, Uhlers, VanAtta and Massenkeil, the recovery may be slow as those 10 seconds play on a continual loop through their minds.

All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.

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