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Church destroyed, but worship goes on after tornado

Story Highlights

Services held Sunday at church flattened by a tornado on Friday
• Weather service says system that killed 20 contained at least 3 tornadoes
• Democratic senator praises FEMA response
• Lake, Seminole, Sumter, Volusia counties named federal disaster areas
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LADY LAKE, Florida (CNN) -- Under sunny skies, members of the Church of God in Lady Lake, Florida, held their morning worship service Sunday amid the remnants of their destroyed sanctuary, leveled by a pre-dawn tornado on Friday.

"I'd like everybody to take a deep breath, and let everybody who has breath today praise God," said Pastor Larry Lynn.

Lynn spoke atop the remains of his sanctuary's pulpit, standing before a large wooden cross that poked from the rubble flanked by U.S. and Christian flags. (Watch homeowners denied insurance try to get help Video)

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who stood next to Lynn, congratulated the congregation for carrying on despite the destruction of their church.

"Pastor Larry, you told me yesterday that the building may be down, but the church lives on, and I can see that now," the governor said to shouts and applause from the congregation. (Watch worshippers find that a church is more than a building Video)

"It's sad, because you know, you think, 'Next Sunday, I'm going to go to church,' but it's not there any more. But the building can be replaced. We still have the family of people," Joy Newton, whose nearby home was undamaged, told The Associated Press. (Watch one family coping with loss of a loved one and a business Video)

The National Weather Service said a survey of Florida's Lake and Volusia counties found that the deadly weather that killed at least 20 people and caused heavy damage contained at least three tornadoes.

The 20 deaths were all in northeast Lake County -- 13 of them near Lake Mack and the town of Paisley and seven in or near Lady Lake, officials said. (Where the storm hit)

At least 14 of the fatalities occurred during a two-minute period, the National Weather Service said Saturday after an initial damage survey. (Watch how an 80-year-old woman emerged unhurt Video)

President Bush on Saturday declared federal disasters in the four counties hit by the storms -- Lake, Volusia, Sumter and Seminole -- making federal aid available. That help will "supplement state and local recovery efforts," according to the declaration.

At least 1,500 homes were heavily damaged or destroyed in the four counties affected, said. Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Nelson described the area of Lake County where the 14 died as "absolutely pulverized."

Saturday, residents worked in the rain, poking through debris for pieces of their lives deposited the day before by central Florida storms and tornadoes whose winds reached 160-165 mph.

"We survived Hurricane Andrew in Homestead and it looked just like this," Bryan McKiness told AP amid the rubble of the home in Paisley where his mother, Jamie Wright, died with her boyfriend, Donald Lamond. (Watch what was found in the rubble of a century-old house Video)

Nelson told CNN he was pleased with FEMA's response, compared with the agency's performance after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. FEMA Director David Paulison, a Floridian, replaced Michael Brown as FEMA director after Brown was heavily criticized.

"As you know, FEMA didn't respond well. They brought in a real professional, David Paulison, former fire chief of Dade County," Nelson said.

"They are now on the spot, they know what they're doing. I give them high marks. We saw them first tested after Katrina in Florida," he said. "I feel more confident about FEMA."

People who were affected by Friday's pre-dawn storms could receive up to $28,200 each in federal assistance, FEMA said.

Several schools were to remain shut Monday in Volusia, Sumter and Lake Counties. More than 1,600 customers were without power, primarily in areas too heavily damaged to safely reconnect.

A curfew was set for 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. in Volusia County.

Some residents in Volusia and Lake County were urged to boil their water before drinking it. Damage was spread throughout both counties but no firm count has been made.

On Volusia County's east side, 69 homes were damaged and a dinner cruise ship was destroyed. 400 to 500 homes were hit hard in Sumter County.

New Smyrna Beach Airport continued to function, despite having suffered damage in the storms.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

Pastor Larry Lynn leads services in front of what remains of the Church of God in Lady Lake, Florida, on Sunday.




          Lake County Emergency Operations Centerexternal link

          Lake County Citizens Information Line: (352) 343-9732

          State of Florida 24-hour emergency hotline: (800) 342-3557


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