OKEECHOBEE — “All of a sudden I heard the wind — just a loud swoosh of wind. Then everything started flying around in the house,” said Joyce Bond. A reported tornado blew out the windows of her Fort Drum Ranchettes home Thursday morning.
After the storm had passed, Mrs. Bond walked through her site-built home to survey the damage.
“My house is a mess. Most of the windows were blown out. There was glass everywhere,” she said. “I had a really nice big shed but it’s now wrapped around a tree.”
Fortunately for her, she escaped the morning storm with only a small cut on her left cheek. She also said her two dogs, two horses and two of her three cats escaped without injury. A third cat has not been found, but Mrs. Bond thinks it’s just hiding.
She went on to say the structure she’s called home for the last 20 years is still intact, except for the windows and some pictures she had on the walls. All of her pictures are gone.
Sheriff Noel Stephen said the tornado touched down in the northern part of the county Thursday around 9:45 a.m. and damaged an estimated 14 to 16 homes in the Fort Drum Ranchettes area. Three of those homes were totally destroyed.
Sheriff Stephen said no one was injured in the subdivision.
But, in the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park area it was a different story.
“I was about a mile away, mowing, when the tornado came through. It tore down a big oak tree and stuff was strewn everywhere. I saw stuff in the air flying,” said Bruce Lipscomb, who works at the state park. “From the debris, it looks like it went toward Fort Drum.”
He went on to say he saw campers, trucks and a fifth-wheel camper on their sides and mobile homes turned upside down.
Michele Bell, public information officer for the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), said a truck was flipped over around 9:48 a.m. and two more vehicles were overturned about 3 minutes later. Also, a camper on Peavine Road was blown over.
Sheriff Stephen said in a 3 p.m. press briefing that four RVs were destroyed and one woman was taken to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce. He said her injuries were serious in nature.
Mrs. Bell went on to say a tractor-trailer was blown over by the twister near mile marker 288 on the Florida Turnpike.
Trees were also blown over and blocked U.S. 441 North near Osawa Junction.
When asked, Sheriff Stephen couldn’t say how long the tornado stayed on the ground. And, he continued, it was too early to try and come up with a dollar amount in respect to damages other than to say those damages will be “pretty significant.”
“A lot of the tree tops are severed off and may be in someone’s roof,” he noted.
Sheriff Stephen estimated the width of the twister to be around 200 yards.
The sheriff also pointed out that school-aged children who call the Ranchettes subdivision home were going to ride their school bus to the Fort Drum Community Church on Thursday. Parents could then pick up their children at that church.
Sheriff Stephen said the Ranchettes area was without electricity, but Florida Power and Light was already on the scene.
“I’m not sure how long they will be without power,” he added.
The Red Cross has also set up a shelter at the church.
“This is the community I grew up in,” said Sheriff Stephen. “This is the first tornado to touch down that I know of.
“Some people will struggle to recover,” he added.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News