The small town of Paisley boasts a population just over 700 — mainly families who live sprinkled through the Central Florida countryside in mobile or single family homes. Many residents choose this peaceful location due to its sheltered location that provided a respite from storms in hurricane-prone Florida.
‘I see hope in it'
Kristina Paguaga and her two sons Eliasaph and Isiah stand in front of the wood clearing where the swing still stands.
(Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)
Kristina Paguaga tried to describe the dock that reached out into Lake Mack and the flowers that surrounded the side of her mother's house as she painted a verbal view of her mother's paradise. Now the house is non-existent while a few wooden planks show the framework of a dock.
As she stood next to the cross she and her siblings erected in the spot where they found her mother, Kristina pointed to the backyard where a small gathering of trees had been felled by the fierce winds of the tornado.
In the middle was one tree — narrower than the others, but still standing amid the broken limbs and trunks.
"All of those huge trees and it's still standing," said Kristina.
Tied to one branch of the slight tree was a rope swing.
"My mom would never go on it," remembered Kristina. "She said it didn't look safe."
Now after an entire grove of trees has been downed and this one tree remains, Kristina remembered a sunset picture of her young son standing on the swing.
Kristina and her family plan on keeping this plot of land in the family and creating a sanctuary of sorts with a garden dedicated to their mother. They hope to make a place where the family can gather to celebrate her memory — perhaps fish in the lake and swing on this old, durable wooden swing.
"I see hope in it," Kristina said wistfully, pushing the swing as it hung from the unbreakable tree.
On Feb. 4, two days after a devastating tornado served as nature's wrecking crane — knocking down a wide swath of homes in seconds, families and neighbors were rummaging through the rubble that was their former paradise.
The American Red Cross and its emergency response vehicles (ERVs) were positioned throughout the gravel streets, ready to provide food, water, cleaning supplies and support to the town's residents and volunteers who were still too shocked to describe the destruction.
Kristina Paguaga kicked through aluminum siding and splintered wood as she found a Tiffany lamp of her mother's.
"Is it ok?" asked her sister Laurie Case.
"No," said Kristina, setting the fragile glass lamp down. "It's broken."
Kristina and her four siblings dug through the remnants of the doublewide mobile home where her mother, her mother's fiancée and her uncle lived. Kristina's mother Jamie Wright and fiancée Donald Lamond were asleep when the storm hit; their bodies were recovered in the morning. Kristina's uncle survived the storm, and he was among the crew — lifting up piles of sheeting in an attempt to salvage mementos from their lives.
Kristina worried about her 4-year-old and 2-year-old sons who wanted to know where their Nana was. She and her husband explained the deaths, but she didn't know how it would affect them now that their beloved grandma was permanently gone.
"They [her sons] were just here last week — playing in the sand." Kristina said, pointing to where she had hidden seashells for her children to dig out.
The Red Cross ERV was parked a few feet away — handing out hot meals, water and juice.
"We really appreciate your help," said John Lamond as he took a break from the exhausting work — his eyes showing fatigue and a hint of mourning. He carried his hot meal from the Red Cross back towards the rubble.
Next door, the Castro family looked over their lot as they pondered next steps. They requested shovels and rakes from the Red Cross as they tried to salvage what they could.
A few houses down, Robert Bissell watched his elderly mother dig through her ruined home. As her only living relative, he is attempting to fulfill the roles of son and caretaker as he tries to maintain his calm nature. He is looking to the Red Cross for support in the ongoing days as the recovery continues.
"I remember when a hurricane just slightly curved the trim on my mother's roof. She was so upset," he said. "Now, the house is gone."
John Lamond takes a hot dinner from the Red Cross back to the disaster site. (Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)
Kristina Paguaga hugs Red Cross Worker Jeannette Cordor near the cross that she and her family created to honor her mother. (Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)
Robert Bissell and family friend Mishelle Eichel look at the site where his mother's house stood. (Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)
Red Cross support by the numbers
More than 400 Red Cross volunteers are at work in Central Florida — ensuring that the short-term needs of survivors and relief workers are met. That assistance breaks down as:
- About 15 Red Cross ERVs spread through Central Florida on Feb. 4, that have distributed about 5,000 meals over the lunch hour and 5,000 meals during dinner.
- On Feb. 4, nine Red Cross ERVs that delivered clean-up supplies provided by Red Cross partner The Home Depot.
- Seven Red Cross shelters that have provided safe overnight stays to tornado survivors since the Feb. 2 storms.
If you are in need of emergency assistance, please contact your local American Red Cross chapter.
Red Cross services are possible thanks to the generous support of the public, who contribute their time, money and blood, corporate partners like The Walt Disney Company and The Home Depot, which provide support including cash and in-kind donations, and local and national partnerships. Volunteers are critical to the operation of the organization, delivering of services to the communities in which they live as well as traveling across the country at a moment’s notice to help far away neighbors cope with a disaster.
Disaster can strike anytime and anywhere. To learn more about making a difference in your community by becoming a Red Cross volunteer or to make a secure, online financial contribution to support the mission of the Red Cross to prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters, visit RedCross.org.
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.