Florida counts cost of tornado disaster

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The Independent Online
President Bill Clinton will today tour a tornado-ravaged belt of Florida, close to Walt Disney World, where a dozen twisters killed at least 38 people within a few minutes in the small hours of Monday.

The death toll made the disaster worse, in terms of human life, than Hurricane Andrew which devastated Miami and southern Florida in 1992, killing 32 people, including some in Louisiana and the Bahamas. More than 250 people were injured in Monday's catastrophe in the Orlando area and dozens, mostly mobile home owners, were still unaccounted for.

Florida tourism officials were counting their blessings that the chain of tornados narrowly missed the region's popular tourist draws - Disney World, Sea World and the Universal Studios theme park. No tourists would have been at those sites when the twisters tore through the area around 1am on Monday but photographs of the probable damage to their world-renowned installations would have been devastating to tourism, officials admitted.

As it turned out, all were open for business as usual yesterday, with laughing children enjoying the rides and attractions on a hot, sunny day.

Many left homeless complained of the lack of warning. Officials said warnings went out on local radio and television stations but that most people were already asleep. In addition, the tornados, unlike the slower- moving phenomena seen in the Hollywood movie Twister, came virtually out of nowhere, hit the ground quickly and moved on, they added.

Dusk-to-dawn curfews were put into effect in damaged areas to prevent looters yesterday and local county officials invoked emergency laws to stop profiteering in generators, batteries, water and food. Hospitals appealed for blood to help treat the injured.

While most casualties were in mobile home parks hundreds of fixed homes, mainly wooden, were torn apart, with cars and pick-up trucks sucked up and dumped into living rooms.