Tornado in Lake County, Florida

Florida Tornado: Marshia & Trapper respond

On February 3, 2007 a deadly tornado blast into Lake County, Florida, killing 20 people, damaging hundreds of houses and leaving more than 10,000 people without power. SDF-trained search team Captain Marshia Hall and her Yellow Lab, Trapper, were deployed as part of Florida Task Force 4 to make sure no one had been buried in the wreckage. Here is Marshia’s report:

Trapper and I were deployed recently to the F3 tornadoes that ripped through central Florida. We were asked to assist in search and rescue efforts because there were still several persons missing who were known to be at home the previous day. The neighbors, police and rescue workers had already spent hours combing through, by hand and foot, the debris that was left in the walkable areas.  While they did find some deceased persons in the leftover debris of a couple homes, they could not easily penetrate the debris and woods that surround each home and precious time was being used up fast.

Trapper on the ladder
Trapper on the ladder

Unlike hurricanes, where people are told weeks in advance to make plans, pack, and move or take shelter, this caught them not only unaware but in a deep sleep! It woke them at 3am, shaking and ripping most of them from theirs beds. When I arrived it was to see about 100 homes demolished. I found people traumatized, exhausted, frightened, and confused. You want to stop and help all of them, even if they are doing nothing but sitting and looking stunned. You can’t. You tell yourself: "You were given an assignment and you are needed there. This person is okay. The ones we are going to may be struggling to breathe or are bleeding and need to be found." You have to keep moving. It’s very hard to rap your mind around it.

We arrive at our site and see that the homes are gone, as we were told, and that the trees in the forest are sideways. Nothing is upright. We climb over broken trees that are twisted and bent sideways and have sheared metal, lumber, glass, carpet and clothes strewn through, not unlike the aftermath of the hurricanes. Unfortunately, this is what we have become used to. This is what we have been training for. This is what we do. All the training on the SDF agility course and the brush search sites is being tested right now.

With the help of the officers and firefighters on scene, I send the dogs on a swath in the downwind area trying to have them catch a scent of anyone. The other rescuers and I can only try to catch glimpses of the dogs as they tunnel through and shoot over areas that stop us in our tracks. Thirty minutes later we still have nothing. The team is then notified that all persons from these homes had been accounted for. All the homeowners thank us greatly for coming and helping, as do the police and local rescue workers. We leave, knowing that if someone had been there, the dogs would have found them. The people who watched saw the difference. They know that what could be done has been done. Now they can start to pick up the pieces.

Captain Hall
Temple Terrace Fire Dept
FL-TF4