KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Dogs continued to hunt for the missing. Sheriff's deputies guarded windowless houses. Repair crews labored to right upended cars, string new electrical lines, clear debris from roadways.
And Bertram Hogue, like countless other central Florida residents, pushed open his front door yesterday, surveyed the havoc that used to be his home and began to cry.
Where do you start?" he asked as he made his way over mounds of insulation that had been blown out of the ceiling, piles of displaced wall board, shards of broken glass.
He put one hand to the back of his neck and stared at the rain-soaked mess. What do you do? What do you do?"
A full day after the worst tornadoes in Florida's history tore their way across the state, the survivors seemed dazed.
Thirty-eight people were dead in Osceola, Orange and Seminole counties. Seven people were missing, the Associated Press reported.
On a bright, warm day, the kind of February day that northerners travel to Florida to savor, police helicopters buzzed overhead as searchers tried to spot victims amid the wreckage. Through the night, rescue teams had combed the rubble of the Ponderosa RV Park, where dozens of trailers were damaged, 10 people and four were still missing.
Through the region, the flashing lights of police cars warned sightseers away from damaged blocks. The Salvation Army arrived with food and counselors and dusk-to-dawn curfews continued. President Clinton, who designated the counties a federal disaster area, will tour the destruction today.
Longtime residents say tornadoes occasionally spin through the region, but they tend to be weak twisters. The six to 10 tornadoes that ripped through Florida's midsection between 11 p.m. Sunday and 1 a.m. Monday carried winds of up to 200 miles an hour, putting them at the upper end of the scale meteorologists use to measure intensity.
One of those tornadoes roared across a field and took hold of the Hogue house. It threw open the front door, paying no attention to the heavy deadbolt. It tossed around some of the living room furniture and took took the rest away. We don't know where it went," said Michelle Fields-Hogue, 35, Bertram Hogue's wife. It got sucked out there."
She pointed to the missing section of the roof over the dining room, a hole that had been opened when the storm pulled a Florida pine from a neighbor's yard and hurled it like a spear into the Hogues' home.
Generally, I don't have a knocked-over fence," Hogue, 45, said. Generally, I don't have power lines down in my front yard. And generally, I don't have a tree in the middle of my house."
Strewn across the back yard were bits of their possessions: one black-and-teal in-line skate, a can of kitchen cleanser, the battered fixture that was once a ceiling fan, a blue blanket caught in the branches of an uprooted tree.
Somebody asked me, 'Don't you want to cry?'" Fields-Hogue said. Well, I'm beyond that. It's just unbelievable. But a lot of people came out a lot worse than we did. So we'll be okay."
A few miles away, in the middle-class community of Lakeview Estates, Allstate insurance adjuster Tim Lung was making his way through a neighborhood.
On Parsons Pond Circle, he found Maggie Roman, 31, clutching insurance documents as she stood outside her gray stucco home. With her was her 9-year-old son, Bryan, who had needed three stitches to close the gash that flying glass had opened in his cheek.
My first tornado," Bryan said quietly. It was surprising."
When the storm finally passed early Monday, the Roman family - Maggie, Franklin, Bryan and four-month-old Jonathan - were huddled in the bathroom, cut and shaken.
We began screaming, 'We're alive,'" Mrs. Roman said yesterday. We're alive. Somebody help us."
Franklin Roman had rushed to the baby's crib as the first winds hit, taking shards of glass in his back as he shielded the infant. Still, the baby's scalp was cut. A large triangle of glass remains stuck at right angles in the wall just over Jonathan's crib as if it had been a dart thrown at a board.
In their driveway, a neighbor's black Toyota had been flung atop their white Thunderbird.
'People can't live here'
The adjuster left Roman a check to allow the family to rent an apartment. People with homes in this condition - people can't live here," said Lung, a member of the company's catastrophe team.
Up and down the block, neighbors were picking up debris, clearing out ruined furniture and pausing to marvel at the damage.
The development was only a few years old, a community of low houses with graceful arched windows. Now, most of the homes had large red X's spray-painted on the front, a sign that rescue teams had checked for trapped victims.
Unlike hurricanes, which move slowly across broad areas of the state, tornadoes are swift and unpredictable, picking and choosing which streets to devastate and which parts of town to leave unscathed.