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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Digging Through Rubble After Florida Tornadoes

Aired February 2, 2007 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The terror came in the night, for many almost without warning. Now comes the aftermath: digging through rubble, burying loved ones, rebuilding lives.
We're in Lady Lake, Florida, one of the first towns hit by a line of storms and as many as five tornadoes that cut all the way from here to the Atlantic coast.

One person described it as a huge explosion. That's how it sounded to some people. Others said it was like a freight train in their living room. This is one of the homes that we just stumbled upon, a mobile home that was literally ripped off its foundations about 50 feet, shoved into this line of trees over here. That's the living area. There are still some possessions laying around. This is the front door. There's a doll someone found placed on the front door. Looks like a family album that's still intact. But the home, as you can see, is destroyed. There's their refrigerator over there.

And we are seeing block after block of places like this, community after community. It's hard to get a sense of the total devastation unless you see it from the air. And we're going to do that in just a little bit.

Here is the latest, the bottom line at least 19 are dead, dozens are injured. Many homes have been destroyed. A state of emergency is in effect in four counties, including this one.

Florida's governor is requesting speeded-up federal disaster relief. Now here's the bigger picture.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): When you see these images, it's hard to believe that just yesterday, this was a community. People lived here. Children played here.

Today, nothing is left, nothing except the devastation and its complete catastrophic. Block by block, homes were obliterated, entire neighborhoods reduced to debris fields.

This is how it looks from above. And this is how it felt on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then you heard a train and then the windows imploded, then the wall came down and then it was over.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never seen anything like it in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ran into my closet and huddled on the floor and prayed.

COOPER: Officials say killer tornadoes swept across central Florida, cutting a path of destruction across Sumter, Lake, Seminole and Volusia Counties.

GOVERNMENT. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: Early this morning we had a significant weather event. State emergency operation center obviously is in full mode.

COOPER (on camera): The storms arrived in the dead of night, around 3:00 a.m. Most of the people around here were asleep. The National Weather Center says that warnings were issued about an approaching storm, but that came as news to many of the residents here who said they had no idea what was about to hit.

IRENE MARTIN, DELAND, FLORIDA RESIDENT: It seemed like all of a sudden it got very, very windy and then for a minute there, it just got -- seemed like not even a minute, maybe a second, and it got very, very quiet. And then all of a sudden, bam, just a big, big explosion.

COOPER (voice-over): Among the victims, a high school student killed inside her family's mobile home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so sorry, I really am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was she the 17-year-old?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, she was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you know her?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I walked to the bus stop with her in the morning. We waited on the bus every day together. Makes me sad.

COOPER: Many residents were rescued, but for some it was too late.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over at this house right here, some lady -- I was trying to help her out, but she didn't make it. It was -- I tried my hardest. I feel real bad.

COOPER: Debris lies scattered everywhere.

Tonight, thousands of people are still without power. And as the search for a victim goes on, survivors embrace one another, knowing they were the lucky ones.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (on camera): Yes, lucky indeed. Nineteen people in all have been killed. Remarkably, thousands of others survived the storm. I spoke with two of those survivors, Terry and Donna Hamilton, earlier tonight. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Guys, it is so good to see you safe and alive. Incredible night you had.

You got warning the storm was coming. You were watching it on TV?

TERRY HAMILTON, STORM SURVIVOR: Yes, yes. We had been to a concert and returned home late. And instead of going right to bed, for some reason I turned on the television and I saw the forecast.

COOPER: Around what time was that?

T. HAMILTON: This was probably around 1:30.

COOPER: OK.

T. HAMILTON: And they were talking about storms heading our way. She went on to bed and I stayed up and watched.

COOPER: And at what time did you realize it's heading your way?

T. HAMILTON: At about 3:00 o'clock they announced that it was headed towards Lady Lake with winds of 100 mile-per-hour or more and it would be there in about 10 minutes.

COOPER: So what did you do?

T. HAMILTON: I went and woke my wife up and we went to an interior room in the house, to the small bathroom. I got in the bathtub and I just held her and put my hands over her ears and just prayed. I mean, it was incredible.

DONNA HAMILTON, STORM SURVIVOR: Out loud.

COOPER: What was it like for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was scary. It was the scariest thing I think I've ever been through in my life.

COOPER: And you guys have been through hurricanes?

T. HAMILTON: Yes.

D. HAMILTON: Yes.

COOPER: This is worse than any hurricane you've seen?

T. HAMILTON: Yes.

D. HAMILTON: No comparison whatsoever.

COOPER: Really? What was the noise like?

D. HAMILTON: It sounded like a locomotive was parked in our living room just revving up the engine.

COOPER: That loud, really? How long did it go on for?

T. HAMILTON: Probably only lasted about 10 seconds. It seemed like an eternity, but I could hear the vinyl siding on the house rattling and so much pressure built up in the attic of our home that it blew out the attic wall on one end of the house.

COOPER: You're kidding. Wow.

And your neighborhood, I mean, it's decimated. The church is completely destroyed near where you live.

T. HAMILTON: It's terrible.

COOPER: Do you know -- I mean, have you lost friends? Do you know people who...

T. HAMILTON: I don't know of anyone that has passed away, but we have our friends have lost their homes. Our neighbor across the street, her house was just totally obliterated.

Our neighbor had just left and asked us to watch his house for him.

COOPER: Oh, you're kidding.

T. HAMILTON: He was going away for the weekend. So I had to call him today and tell him that my oak tree was now in his living room.

COOPER: Wow. Well, it's amazing that you guys made it through. How long did you stay afterward in the bathtub? Did you get out right away?

D. HAMILTON: We got out right away and kind of made our way, tried to find some flashlights and then we looked outside and it was total darkness, but just devastating.

COOPER: Unbelievable.

T. HAMILTON: That was the eerie part, just waiting for daylight, you know, and to see what...

COOPER: And was there -- I mean, were there other people walking around? Or was it just kind of silent?

T. HAMILTON: One of the neighbors came over with a flashlight about 4:00 o'clock. A policeman came to our door and asked if we were OK, and if we needed any help. But it was really just waiting until daylight to see the devastation. And when we saw it, it was like...

COOPER: That's amazing that the police were on the scene that quickly, though.

T. HAMILTON: Yes. COOPER: That's certainly a good sign.

T. HAMILTON: Yes, it was.

COOPER: And frankly a miracle that you were watching TV. I mean, so many people out there weren't watching TV, didn't have any warning at all.

Obviously, that's one of the things I guess that's going to be looked at a lot, is there anything else that can be done, would sirens make a difference?

But, well it's great that you guys got out. Thank you so much for talking with us. I know it's been a long day for you.

D. HAMILTON: Yes, thank you.

COOPER: I wish you a good rest tonight.

T. HAMILTON: Thank you.

COOPER: Can you go back to your house? Is it...

T. HAMILTON: We're staying in a hotel tonight. We don't have electricity or anything like that.

COOPER: But the house itself is...

T. HAMILTON: The house is fine. I got some blue tarps today and, to cover the end of the house up that was blown away. We're here.

COOPER: I'm so glad you're all right.

D. HAMILTON: Thank you.

T. HAMILTON: Thank you.

COOPER: Really nice to meet you. Stay strong.

The American Red Cross is, of course, providing assistance to the thousands of tornado survivors in central Florida.

Joining us now is Maria Yabrudy, communications manager for the American Red Cross of central Florida.

Maria, thanks for being with us.

How many people are in shelters right now?

MARIA YABRUDY, AMERICAN RED CROSS COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER: We have about 65 people in Red Cross shelters right now.

COOPER: Sixty-five -- so, a pretty low number?

YABRUDI: That is a low number. It's surprising to us. We think that most have been picked up by their relatives or friends and taken into their homes for the short term, even though we have six Red Cross shelters open and welcome, ready to accept people who may come in the middle of the night.

COOPER: And if people don't know where the Red Cross shelter is, you have a number they call. What is it?

YABRUDY: Absolutely. They can call 1-800-RED-CROSS and get all the information over the phone.

COOPER: How does this compare to other disasters you've worked on?

YABRUDY: It's of great magnitude, especially for this community. The last time we had such a huge event was in '04 for the hurricanes. Even though we had a lot of evacuees from Katrina, we weren't directly impacted.

And the last time we had tornadoes this big was in 1998 when we also had fatalities.

So, lots of memories. In the Christmas tornadoes, just about a month ago, we actually had about 200 families affected, which is also big. But this is much bigger. We have 500 homes affected at this point.

COOPER: And what have you been doing?

YABRUDY: We've been opening the shelters, of course, welcoming people. Some people came and joined the day, were picked up by relatives. And now at night we have a lower count.

We've doing disaster assessment. For us, that's the first step, is trying to determine how many homes are affected and how many of those are destroyed. Because that will really tell us how long the operation might take, what resources might be needed, what volunteers and material resources we have to bring in from outside of the area.

COOPER: How quickly are you able to get Red Cross workers here?

YABRUDY: Thankfully, very quickly because the state of Florida, you know, has had a lot of practice in disasters. And we have a lot of local volunteers, people who are used to this. Lots of retirees who are able to just get up and help and don't have to wait until Friday afternoon to stand up and go.

COOPER: Obviously, this is only possible because of people donating to the Red Cross. It's been a tough year for the Red Cross.

YABRUDY: It has been a tough year. You know, thankfully, we haven't had as large disasters as we did in 2004, 2005. But we do respond to daily fires, tornadoes like these, where they might be a segment of the community affected, and the rest of the community might forget or tune out after about three days. And it is important to remember that the Red Cross relies on donations from the public. And of course, volunteers. COOPER: Got your pitch. Where do people donate if they want?

YABRUDY: They can go to redcross.org or they can call 1-800-RED- CROSS.

COOPER: All right. Well, thank you very much. Appreciate all the work you're doing.

YABRUDY: Thank you for having us.

COOPER: Maria, thanks a lot.

If you'd like to lend a hand, we've put together a list of numbers in fact you can call. You can find it on our blog. The address cnn.com/360blog. Again, that's cnn.com/360blog.

And all through the program tonight we're putting the same information at the bottom of your screen as a reminder.

The power of even the smallest tornado is staggering. A look at that now, as well as the forces that drive them.

Let's turn to CNN's Reynolds Wolf in the weather center -- Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Anderson, what's interesting is storms like this, although they don't happen every day, they are unusual in central Florida -- it has happened before. The tornadoes that took place today, of course, took place during an El Nino year.

The biggest outbreak we've ever had in terms of tornadoes for central Florida took place also during an El Nino year. In fact, that was back in 1998, where in Opaca (ph), Florida, and other spots in central Florida, there were 42 people that were killed. There was actually a tornado that took place on Christmas day just this past year in central (UNINTELLIGIBLE), so these do happen.

We had all the elements. We had the jet stream, we had that frontal boundary coming through, we had the cool air to the north, we had that warm air to the south.

It all came together and that first warning took place right at 3:02 in the morning.

And I want to show you a quick snapshot of that cell. This is the cell, fast forward in time, up to 3:30 in the morning. Here's I- 75, and this is the tornadic super cell that caused all that devastation.

Now, think about this for a second. That's at 3:30 in the morning -- 3:30 in the morning. At that point those 19 people are still with their families. They're still alive. Those homes are still standing. Those communities are still together. This is just the beginning of all of that. And as you take a look at this Google earth animation, it's going to show you the path of the devastation. Let's roll that. And that's going to show you that 70 mile path that it took right across central Florida, going across several counties, including Sumter County, Lake County, Seminole County and Volusia County, not rolling across like say maybe like a giant wrecking ball, but rather a hopscotch kind of pattern that really caused a lot of devastation in Lady Lake as well as Paisley, where you had some 19 people that were killed.

And we're not done yet with that search. Tomorrow, we're expecting better conditions. Cool, yes, but skies will become mostly sunny. And with that, those parties have to go back out. From high above and on the ground below, they're going to search and see if they can find other people that are still missing at this point. And we may see that number of 19 rise a bit more.

You've seen all day long, all evening long, the assorted footage. From high above and on the ground below of just how widespread this devastation was.

Here it is, compliments of WESH in Deland. What is amazing is there weren't more fatalities. I mean, think about it. With very little warning, they did not have the sirens. This took place, again, in the middle of the night, dark skies, no visibility, no warning, really, to speak of. And to have only 19 pass away, we're very, very fortunate. It could definitely have been much worse -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Reynolds, it's incredible when you think at 3:15 a.m. in the morning, your home is destroyed, and yet so many people did survive, thankfully.

Reynolds, appreciate that. We'll check in with you throughout the evening.

If your area does not have a tornado warning or watch system in place, there are signs to look for. Here's the raw data.

The government says a threat of a tornado may exist if you see a dark, greenish sky. What it describes as a wall cloud appears, there's large hail and a loud roar, we hear time and time again being compared to the sound of a freight train. You just heard that from the Hamiltons earlier tonight.

In a moment, the scope of the damage as seen from the air. And you really have to see it from the air, as our Gary Tuchman did.

And also this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): Missing, presumed dead.

MARYANNE HORNER, NEIGHBOR: We didn't know what happened to Gene. When we came around the corner, it was devastating. And we kept saying, has anybody see Gene?

COOPER: He lost everything but his life. The one thing he simply could not live without. Tornado terror, next.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I grabbed my girlfriend. We layed down on the floor. I put the mattress over us. And at that time is when I heard my roof get ripped off the house. I heard screaming from neighbors. It just happened so fast. It was nobody here could have ever known what was about to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that man survived today's deadly storms here in central Florida, and we imagine he will never forget this day.

Terror, chaos, no time to think. We heard those descriptions over and over today.

Tonight, thousands of people who survived this disaster are asking themselves, why am I still here when my neighbor, my neighbor's house is gone. For many, it comes down to simply luck.

Here's CNN's Rusty Dornin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GENE BARTHAUER, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I see one of my jackets.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was no place to hide, no safe place to go in Gene Barthauer's mobile home. So when the tornado struck, he stayed right where he was.

(On camera): So where were you when this happened?

BARTHAUER: That's my bed, right there.

DORNIN: Oh, my God.

(Voice-over): And there, 86-year-old Barthauer stayed huddled for 20 minutes until neighbors came with flashlights.

His friends, Rich and Maryanne Horner, lived around the corner. When they discovered their house was OK, they came running.

MARYANNE HORNER, NEIGHBOR: We didn't know what happened to Gene. When we came around the corner, it was devastating. And we kept saying, has anybody seen Gene?

DORNIN: When they got to the remains of his mobile home, Gene wasn't there. He'd walked down to the club house of the Lady Lake mobile home park.

From the air, it appears flattened. From the ground, it's not much better. Sheet metal wrapped around trees like paper decorations.

Barthauer's clock marks the hour when his life here blew apart.

Across the street, the only thing left from his neighbor's place is sand and a concrete pad along with their couch and some other belongings.

BARTHAUER: The whole place just blew right over the top of mine along with her and took it right across over...

DORNIN (on camera): And they found her somewhere out...

BARTHAUER: Found her out in the field over here.

DORNIN (voice-over): One of two residents here believed to have died in the storm. Barthauer has no insurance. It was cancelled by the company last year. He says he never filed a claim for anything, and they didn't give him a reason. Now, out of this mess, he only wants to find one thing.

BARTHAUER: I'm looking for a Michigan jacket that my daughter bought me last Christmas.

DORNIN: So with hammer and crowbar, they set to work. Soon search and rescue crews come through looking for survivors.

BARTHAUER: These were all accounted for all the way down on the end. Does that look blue over there?

DORNIN: Then they struck pay dirt. The closet.

BARTHAUER: There it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can see it?

BARTHAUER: Right underneath this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can see it.

DORNIN: Just another closet rack and...

And then there was the Handy Andy doll his granddaughter gave him, but not much else.

BARTHAUER: My life here -- I think my life here is gone. I don't, I wouldn't, I don't think I'd rebuild here. I got a place in Michigan on a lake.

DORNIN: A man with a place to go, but not much to take with him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Rusty Dornin joins us now.

You know, it's amazing looking at that man's house, that he was able to survive at all. DORNIN: When we first drove in, I was amazed that anyone could have survived in that whole park. And they don't -- they believe only two people did die there. But it was just -- things were just blown to smithereens.

COOPER: And what was it about that jacket that he wanted?

DORNIN: It was just...

COOPER: He said his daughter had given it?

DORNIN: His daughter had given it to him, and Michigan. Really, that was the only thing he wanted. And as you heard in the piece, his insurance had been cancelled and his place was completely destroyed, so the only thing that he really wanted was that jacket.

COOPER: And at this point, you know, so recently from when it happened, is he thinking about his insurance? Is he thinking about what happens next or is it just still kind of getting over the shock?

DORNIN: I think both. But his daughter was driving down and he was planning on leaving and going to Michigan. I mean, he was planning on just leaving it all behind.

COOPER: Really? Just moving on?

DORNIN: And that was it. And he was going to move in with his granddaughter and he really was going to get on with his life.

COOPER: Wow. What is it like -- this is, I think, your first tornado. What's it like, I mean you've covered hurricanes and covered everything else. What surprises you most?

DORNIN: I think the force of it. When you go into like the mobile home park and you see that these things have been picked up entirely off the pads and thrown maybe 400, 600 yards. The entire complex, and then, you know, shattered. That sort of thing. The force of it. And the randomness of it. I think -- you and I talked about that.

But the other thing, I think, even with him and we see here again is the strength of the human spirit. I mean, this Gene Barthauer is an incredible man. And he's going to go on with his life.

COOPER: Well, it's like the folks at the local church. I mean, the church is completely destroyed. They still plan on having Sunday services and they say, you know, the church is not the building. The church is the people and what's in their hearts. And that's still very strong.

Rusty, thanks. Good to -- nice reporting, as always.

My next guest has the tough job of getting this community through this. And particularly, this community's children.

Anna Cowin is the superintendent of schools here in Lake County. It's a school system tonight that is dealing with a loss. One of your students has passed away. A young girl, 17 years old.

How -- first of all, really, you've set up this, an early warning system that enabled you to get information to the kids, to their parents that the schools were closed down, not to even try to go to school today.

ANNA COWIN, SUPERINTENDENT, LAKE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Well, very early this morning, at 6:00 o'clock, we started the alert system and were able to put it in effect in minutes and make calls out to literally thousands of people.

COOPER: It's a great system that you really started because of another incident in the past.

When you've experienced a loss of at least one student that we know of, a young girl -- I talked to her mother earlier. Her name is Brittney May (ph). She wanted to be a Marine. She wanted to go into ROTC. How do you help the other kids deal with that?

COWIN: Well, we have grief counselors at the schools. And in fact, we had some other students that, according to some reports that I'm getting, that have passed away. And during the school day, we sent counselors to the schools because students were coming in on bus ride saying, hey, this student on my bus is not there and there were rumors of injury and serious mishaps.

So we had grief counselors at the schools and we'll have them again on Monday.

COOPER: And I guess it's not just kids who have passed away, but other people have parents who have passed away or parents who have injured or family members who have been injured.

COWIN: Beyond that. When children lose their sense of security -- and some children could be as young as kindergarten, first grade -- or even more adult students in high school. Their friends mean a lot to them. And loss of their stability, their home, their tradition of the way they run their day. You put your child to bed at night. You certainly don't expect that the next morning there will be problems within your household.

COOPER: So it's not just immediate problems. Its fears or thoughts that may crop up weeks from now with these kids.

COWIN: Right. And these times are tough for the children because they have big exams coming up.

COOPER: Sure.

COWIN: And we don't want them to feel that the pressures that they have in the house and the fact that some may not even have a home impinge on what they're trying to do in school. We're trying to make the school as safe an environment as we can during these tough times.

COOPER: Well, it's been, I know, a long day for you. And I appreciate you talking about it. And the school district is lucky to have you, Anna. Thanks. Thanks for being with us.

COWIN: Well, thank you very much and thank you for being here and sharing the story. Hope everyone's safe.

COOPER: Yes. It's important to get the word out. Anna, thank you very much.

COWIN: Thank you very much.

COOPER: Very nice to meet you.

COWIN: Good to see you.

COOPER: Well, just ahead, the latest on the search and rescue efforts under way here in Florida. And they are still under way at this hour. The task, immense and heartbreaking, frankly.

Plus CNN's Gary Tuchman spent time tonight in a chopper surveying the damage. He'll tell us how bad it is. The pictures from the air tell a completely different story than what we are seeing here on the ground. You really get a sense of the scope.

All of that is ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

World's Tornado Leader

The United States averages over 1,000 tornadoes a year.

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER: It's difficult to appreciate just how brutal today's storms were until you see the damage from the air, as CNN's Gary Tuchman did.

Gary, you spent most of the day in a helicopter. Very different than seeing it on the ground?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very different. And this helicopter ride was so strange, the juxtaposition. Because we took off from Orlando International Airport. And on he way, 40 miles up here, we passed by Walt Disney World, the Universal Studios, the ultimate fantasy place for tourists.

And then within about 20 minutes, we're seeing this gritty harsh tragic reality.

We came here to Lady Lake. This is a town of about 13,000 people. Very small town. It's hard to find anyone who hasn't been affected by this.

But the first thing we saw were the mobile homes, row after row, destroyed, damaged. Some just made into nothing. You saw empty lots. And at first, I thought, oh, there never was a mobile home there. And it turns out, yes, there was a mobile home there. It was just completely destroyed by this tornado. And we saw people -- we were about 500 feet in the air. We saw people just standing there looking up at us and just looking so forlorn, so unhappy and so like they just couldn't believe what was going on.

COOPER: What time of the day were you in the helicopter?

TUCHMAN: We were up there just before dusk. So it was the end of the day. What we saw as we went along for five, for 10, for 15 minutes was just row after row of damaged house. Then we passed through this town, went into the next town north of us called The Villages. The Villages is actually in two different counties, Sumter and Lake County, population about 50,000. It's an unincorporated area.

And there, unlike what we saw here in this town, we saw a retirement community with homes that cost $300,000, $400,000, $500,000. And there too, row after row of destroyed damaged houses. Golf courses where we saw refuse from the homes in the sand traps, in the water.

COOPER: Yes, they're still trying to calculate the speed of these winds. But, I mean, obviously, the church here in Lady Lake was built 31 years ago, supposed to withstand 150 mile-an-hour winds. It got destroyed. So it's -- theoretically, it would seem the winds were higher than that.

TUCHMAN: You know, that's the thing. When we talk about hurricanes, Katrina, you're talking about 130, 140 mile-per-hour winds. For a strong tornado, that's nothing. I mean, you're talking about winds 200, 300 miles per hour. It's certainly shorter than a hurricane, but that burst comes through and if you're in the path, if your house is there, your house really doesn't have a chance.

COOPER: The other big difference that we're seeing here is a lot of response by local officials, by state officials, by federal officials even.

Obviously, in a situation unlike in Katrina, where all these different counties were affected with their own problems, they couldn't send people to the heart of the disaster zone. Here, where it's just these four counties, you have law enforcement and rescue workers from all over the state who have come down to this area. And I imagine you saw that from the air?

TUCHMAN: From the air, they looked like worker bees. They looked like a hive of bees going to work right away. Lots of workers out there, lots of trucks. And what was amazing, we already see scores, if not hundreds of blue tarps over damaged roofs. You still see them in Louisiana, Mississippi, from Hurricane Katrina, but it took a while to get them up. We saw them today, lots of them.

COOPER: All right. Gary, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Gary Tuchman, reporting tonight.

About two dozen FEMA assessment teams are already here in central Florida surveying the damage. FEMA Director David Paulison will be here tomorrow. He and Florida Governor Charlie Crist are expected to hold a news conference around 11 a.m., Eastern. Of course, you can watch that live on CNN.

And as we've been reporting tonight, Governor Crist has declared a state of emergency in the four counties here in central Florida. Three of those counties were also hit by tornadoes on Christmas day.

Now, back then, FEMA denied a request for federal help, a decision that Governor Crist is now appealing. It was just a month ago today that Crist was sworn into office. Today's disaster is his first major test.

I spoke to him earlier tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: You have toured the devastation area by air. You have been on the ground a lot.

What have you seen?

GOVERNOR CHARLIE CRIST, FLORIDA: Well, it's unbelievable. I mean, the devastation is like I have never seen before, Anderson. And I have seen a lot of hurricanes here in the state of Florida, serving as attorney general before serving as governor.

But the -- the concentration and the surgical strike of a tornado is something like you -- you don't experience in a hurricane, unless it's a Category 5 hurricane. You know, obviously, we had fatalities here today. Florida is suffering. But Florida is responding in -- in the way that she usually does. And an awful lot of people are working very hard to help out central Florida. And we're grateful for that support.

COOPER: The FEMA director is coming down tomorrow. Are you confident you are going to get the help you need from FEMA?

CRIST: We're very optimistic. I mean, I had a conversation with Director Paulison today. Also...

COOPER: And you talked to the president?

CRIST: And I talked to the president. Yes, sir, I did. And -- and both of them were very encouraging about getting Florida the support that we need in order to make sure our people get the kind of care that they deserve. And so, I'm hopeful, after the tour tomorrow with the director from FEMA, we will get the kind of response and the kind of funding that we need to make sure our -- our citizens are taken care of.

COOPER: What's the number-one priority right now? Is search and rescue still going on?

CRIST: Well, to a degree, it is, yes.

But what we're trying to do now is make sure that the areas are secure. There are some curfews, obviously, throughout central Florida, to make sure that there is security, that there isn't looting going on, that people aren't price-gouging and trying to get repairs done. I mean, people are trying to get back online, get power restored, try to get back to some sense of normalcy.

Obviously, they're suffering because of the fatalities. And our hearts goes out to those families that are suffering as a result of that. But we're -- we're trying to get Florida back to normal as -- as quickly as we possibly can in a compassionate way, so that we take care of our people.

COOPER: Do you think there could still be people trapped underneath wreckage? Are there still bodies out there?

CRIST: Well, it's possible, but we don't think it's that likely. As more time goes by, the less likely it becomes.

Each of our law enforcement have responded in a tremendous way. They have, you know, dogs out trying to make sure that there aren't additional individuals out there.

So we're pretty sure that things are settled in that regard. We certainly pray that they are.

COOPER: What about the warnings? A lot of people -- you know, there were warnings. The National Weather Center put out a warning. There was a warning on TV and radio. A lot of people didn't hear them. They were asleep. Is there anything -- there were no sirens in a lot of these places. Is there anything that can be improved upon?

CRIST: You can always do better. There's no question about it. I mean, the thing about hurricanes, you get incredible advance warning. The thing about tornados, you really don't, especially when they hit at like 3:30 in the morning. Then it's incredibly difficult to get the kind of advanced warning that would give people an opportunity to respond, or at least get to a safe place within the home.

COOPER: And are sirens just not practical? I mean, I read that someone said you can't have sirens in some of these counties because you're talking about such a wide swath of territory?

CRIST: Well, it's very difficult. You know, but we want to look at all these options. I mean, you know, I think the best way to approach any problem is look back at it, learn from it and do the best you can going forward. What we're focused on right now is not so much that, but making sure that people are safe, that they're secure, they're getting the health care that they need, the food and water and ice and other provisions that are essential.

COOPER: Was there one thing that really stuck out today in your mind, that you'll remember? CRIST: The thing that really struck out in my mind was the level of devastation. I've never seen it this severe. It's like a bomb went off in central Florida. It was just unbelievable. And we're doing everything we can to get back to normalcy as quickly as we can. We look forward to the help from our federal friends. And I can't compliment the local authorities enough for the response that they've given Florida today.

COOPER: Well, a tremendous response from local folks all around. A lot of people want to -- you know, just pitching in, trying to help.

CRIST: It's remarkable. I mean, that's the most heartwarming thing of a disaster like this, is how people just turn out, and they want to help. And they're heroes all over central Florida today. We're grateful.

COOPER: Thanks.

CRIST: Thank you, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Like a bomb went off in central Florida. That's what the governor said.

When most of us, you know, are fleeing danger, others are heading straight into it. Up next, some of the heroes of this storm and more of the people trying to keep hope alive tonight and succeeding.

Parents without children, children without parents, people without homes. Stories of survival and neighbors helping neighbors.

Later, all tornadoes are dangerous, but some go beyond, way beyond. A look at the worst of the worst. Tornado terror, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, you got to get stuff done. Later, I'll probably lose it. If my dad hugs me, I lose it. But other than that, we're just doing what Brittney would want us to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was the mother of Brittney May, one of at least 19 people who died in the storms. Brittney May was 17 years old. A young girl who wanted to join the Marines one day, wanted to go into ROTC and then join the Marines.

Efforts continue right now to find survivors who might still be trapped under rubble or debris. For more on that, we're joined by CNN Meteorologist Rob Marciano, who is also in Lady Lake tonight.

Rob, just a scene of devastation throughout this community. ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No doubt about it. And, you know, it's a pretty wide swathe. We hear that the National Weather Service has sent survey teams out today to assess the damage, the pattern of the damage, to determine how big, how strong this tornado was.

And maybe there was one more than one tornado. When you talk about the villages, which is a good five miles north of here. Certainly, it's not a tornado that's five miles wide. So it's entirely possible that this was more than one tornado.

A discussion out of the Melbourne office on the east side of the state, saying that this storm had a path of about 70 miles. The storm itself. The thunderstorm that produced that -- or at least one tornado, had such energy in it that it created this long swathe from coast to coast, really, from Lake County all the way over toward Volusia County and New Smyrna Beach, where you know, this storm continued over to the east there.

Powerful winds with this thing. I mean, you see this is one of many examples that we've been showing you.

This home behind me is a brick home. This is not a -- this is not a mobile home. It's not a track home. This is a well structured brick home with two-by-fours that are bolted down to a cinderblock foundation. And this was completely plowed in. Matter of fact, there was a woman sleeping right there. And she was covered with debris. Her husband, in the other room, covered with debris. And they literally had to pull themselves out from underneath that debris to get out of the house. They did it miraculously without really any major injuries to speak of.

This is a time of the year when, believe it or not, Florida does get tornadoes. The more south you are in the U.S. in the wintertime, the better chance you are of getting tornadoes. They got a similar outbreak like this back in 1998, which was also an El Nino year, Anderson.

You know, we speak of El Nino. This is one of the byproducts, a very strong southern jet stream. That's one of the reasons that they had this intense thunderstorm that produced at least one tornado in this area last night.

COOPER: Yes, Rob, this is probably a stupid question. But what is it about this thunderstorm that produced this one or and/or more. We've heard up to as many as perhaps even five tornadoes. Why does some thunderstorms not produce any tornadoes, and some -- I mean, what needs to coalesce?

MARCIANO: Well, you know, when you look at the atmosphere, you think about intense storms. It really comes down to hot and cold. And when you have a tremendous amount of heat and humidity on one side of a storm and a tremendous amount of cold dry air on the other, two of the ingredients we had with this system, the more extreme those temperature ranges are, the more energy you have in the atmosphere, the more that atmosphere really wants to release. And the way it does so is in the way of thunderstorms.

And often when the winds are right and you've got some jet stream energy like we had with this El Nino set up, you can get all the ingredients you need to have a thunderstorm develop. And there was a tornado watch out for this area last night.

The storm prediction center thought this area was prime for thunderstorms that could produce tornadoes. And unfortunately, they were right -- Anderson.

COOPER: Rob, appreciate that. Thanks, Rob.

We're, of course, hearing some incredible stories of survival. People who say they are grateful to have made it out alive.

CNN's National Correspondent Susan Candiotti met some of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Life in a shelter is just fine with Sonny Rogers and Irene Miller, grateful they can still hold hands, sweethearts who survived the scare of their lives.

SONNY ROGERS, STORM SURVIVOR: She rolled on the floor.

IRENE MILLER, STORM SURVIVOR: Yes, I rolled onto the floor.

ROGERS: And I went into the closet. And then she came in the closet with me. And I think that's what saved us from being blown away.

MILLER: Yes, sir. Blown away.

CANDIOTTI: They grabbed her cell phone and his diabetic medication. That's it. And you're still able to smile?

ROGERS: You have to. We're here.

MILLER: All that other stuff is not significant, doesn't -- if you don't have each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can have pants to go with it, but it's nice and warm.

CANDIOTTI: Like others from the flattened sunshine motor home park.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, this, I can keep it?

CANDIOTTIE: Survivors are living on donations. The community's pitching in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sweaters and sweat shorts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So these are ready to go? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are ready to go.

CANDIOTTI: Shelters offer medical care, food, comfort, and a place to reflect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm feeling good.

MILLER: I didn't cry when we lost the trailer, when we helped our neighbors, when I found out we lost people in the park, that's when it really hit.

CANDIOTTI: At least two of their neighbors died -- their hairdresser and a woman whose husband died just three months ago.

ROGERS: It's hard.

MILLER: It's very hard. It's OK. We'll be OK. Yes. Just pick up and keep going.

ROGERS: Try to move on.

MILLER: Yes.

ROGERS: Every day, I try to give somebody my smile.

MILLER: Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Susan, how long is a shelter like that going to stay open for?

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Well, they're not really sure. Only about a dozen people are spending the night there. About 30 people in all pass through the shelter this day.

The authorities told me tonight maybe just a few more days, perhaps until Sunday, Monday, until they can get people either to stay with family or friends or find some temporary housing for them from FEMA.

Do they have any trailers in town yet from them? They said not yet. So it's not clear how long that will stay open.

COOPER: All right, Susan Candiotti. Thanks, Susan.

Just ahead, a church destroyed, but its congregation already preparing to rebuild.

Plus, imagine a tornado more than two miles wide or picture more than 100 tornadoes striking 13 states within 16 hours. We're not talking a hypothetical here. These are some of the worst tornadoes on record. An inside look at them next, on 360.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC) Tornado Disaster

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Spanning the Glove

Tornadoes have occurred in every U.S. state and every continent except Antarctica.

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER: As we said earlier, in an average year about 1,000 tornadoes are reported in the United States. Not all are killers, of course, like today's here in Florida.

Earlier in the program Governor Crist said it looks a bomb went off in central Florida, and he's right. But as bad as today's storm was, it will probably not make the record books.

Here is CNN's Rick Sanchez.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As bad as any one tornado can be, an outbreak is even worse. And in early April 1974, something called a super outbreak hit 13 states across the southeast and then stretched all the way to the Midwest. Imagine 147 tornadoes hitting within a time span of only 16 hours -- 147!

When it was finally over, 330 people were killed and more than 5,000 injured. Because national weather forecasters didn't have today's technology, there was no way to spot or warn residents about the storms until they were already on the ground. But tornadoes don't have to come in bunches to have a huge impact.

Case in point, the monster tornado that hit Haylem, Nebraska in May of 2004. Experts call it the largest twister ever recorded. The National Weather Service says it measured nearly 2-1/2 miles across. It also spawned 19 smaller twisters, destroyed 158 homes, injured 57 people and miraculously killed just one.

But this in a remote town with a population of only 276 people.

How fast can tornado winds actually get? Well, more than 300 miles an hour, according to experts. In fact, one tornado in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, in 1999 was measured at 318 miles an hour. It destroyed 850 homes and killed 44 people in the surrounding area.

Then there's this question. What city in the United States seems to be the most prone to tornadoes? That distinction belongs to Oklahoma City. Since weather records have been recorded, it's been hit more than 100 times. The city itself, not the suburbs. The biggest, the worst, the fastest, those are the numbers for one of nature's most unpredictable killers.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Rick didn't mention the deadliest tornado because there's actually no video of it. It happened back in 1925 and hit Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. It killed 695 people.

Right now they believe the tornado or tornadoes that hit last night are probably the second deadliest storm to hit Florida. The most deadly was back in -- or the deadliest, I should say, was back in 1998.

Now, back to the storms today, though. A house of worship was completely leveled. The congregation wounded, but as you'll see, still strong, still united. Inspiring stories from the rubble, next.

You're watching 360, from Lady Lake, Florida.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, their homes are destroyed, but their faith is intact. That is the message from parishioners of a church in Lady Lake. It -- well, it was a church before the tornado hit.

Still, services are planned for this Sunday, even though the building was reduced to rubble. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): It's hard at first to tell what you're looking that. This pile of wood and steel was, until early this morning, the Lady Lake Church of God.

(On camera): That was the steeple right over there. It's completely collapsed. You really can't even see where the roof was. You can see the outer walls still remain. But there's very little that indicates this was a church.

(Voice-over): All day, parishioners stumbled amid the wreckage, stunned at the damage that lay about their feet. Pastor Larry Lynn still finds it hard to believe.

LARRY LYNN, PASTOR, LADY LAKE CHURCH OF GOD: People got married here and people had funerals here. There's all kind of things. I'm sure there's a lot of memories and a lot of things there that will sink in, in a day or two.

JOE KOWALSKY, PARISHIONER, LADY LAKE CHURCH OF GOD: This is my church, my family. These are all my people. And it's just devastating to see where we spent all our time worshipping and praising Him. And it's just gone.

COOPER: In past hurricanes, the church was a sanctuary, a solid structure meant to withstand major storms.

(On camera): This church was built about 31 years ago, and they say it was built to withstand winds in excess of 150 miles an hour. Obviously, it didn't survive this storm.

ANNE MATTHEWS, YOUTH PASTOR, LADY LAKE CHURCH OF GOD: We found our pastor's bible, the one he preaches out of every Sunday. And we found that. And I have to say that was probably the most important thing.

COOPER (voice-over): They found the bible, some hymnals, a flag of their faith. They did what survivors do, banding together, staying strong.

(On camera): Think you'll be able to rebuild the church?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God's going to turn..

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to have church here Sunday.

COOPER: You're going to have church on this Sunday.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to have church on this ground on Sunday. You know, the building's gone but the church is still here. This is the church.

COOPER (voice-over): A sentiment echoed by the pastor, who is already planning his Sunday sermon.

LYNN: We'll rebuild. We'll get it together and we'll be out here on this lawn at 10:45 Sunday morning celebrating Jesus Christ. We invite you to come and all your friends out there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (on camera): And what a service that will be.

Up next, the other big stories making headlines tonight. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Rick Sanchez joins us now with the 360 bulletin -- Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Happy to bring it to you, Anderson. Here it is.

Grim report out of the situation in Iraq tonight. The latest national intelligence estimate is saying that the violence in Iraq is only going to get worse and hopes of political reconciliation are fading fast. It also says the phrase, civil war, quote, "does describe key elements of the conflict, but does not express its full complexity." The report also acknowledges that Iranians' support of the Shia militants is deepening the conflict.

Another U.S. helicopter went down in Iraq today. Two soldiers were killed. Sadly enough, an official with Iraq's interior ministry is telling CNN the chopper came under insurgent fire. However, the Pentagon can't yet say for sure if the chopper was shot down or whether it simply crashed.

And the Massachusetts attorney general's office has begun discussion with lawyers for two men charged with placing light board devices in Boston that police thought might be bombs instead. The devices turned out to be part of an ongoing advertising campaign for an adult program on the "Cartoon Network." The D.A. is also in negotiations with Turner Broadcasting, which owns the "Cartoon Network," and by the way, CNN.

So there you have it, Anderson. Tomorrow, obviously, we're going to be bringing you all the newscast from here. And we're going to be all over the situation down there in central Florida.

And we also have an incredible story that is really topping the charts at CNN.com about a baby that's been found. Nobody seems to know who the baby is or why it's even there. It's a dead baby that's been found somewhere in Florida as well -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Rick, we'll be watching you over the weekend. Rick, thanks.

For the latest on what's going on right here, you can tune in tomorrow for a special edition of "AMERICAN MORNING." Soledad O'Brien will be reporting from here in Lake County. That's tomorrow, starting at 7:00 a.m., Eastern.

That's our report tonight. Thank you very much watching. I'll see you back Monday night.

"LARRY KING" is next.

Have a great weekend.

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