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Floridians staggered by 160-mph wind

Story Highlights

• National Weather Service says tornado rated EF-3 on new scale
• 14 of 20 deaths occurred within 2 minutes, service says
• Democratic senator praises FEMA response
• Lake, Seminole, Sumter, Volusia counties named federal disaster areas
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LADY LAKE, Florida (CNN) -- Stunned residents, working in the rain Saturday, poked through debris for pieces of their lives deposited the day before by central Florida storms and a tornado whose winds reached 160-165 mph.

"We survived Hurricane Andrew in Homestead and it looked just like this," Bryan McKiness told The Associated Press amid the rubble of the home in Paisley where his mother, Jamie Wright, died with her boyfriend, Donald Lamond.

There were 20 deaths, all in northeast Lake County -- 13 of them near Lake Mack and the town of Paisley and six 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.

"The EF-3 tornado approached the Paisley area from the west-southwest, striking Lake Mack at 3:48 a.m. and then striking the area near State Road at 3:50 a.m.," forecasters said. The storms moved offshore after about 4:30 a.m. (Watch how an 80-year-old woman emerged unhurt Video)

It was the first time the weather service has used the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale for rating tornado damage, which went into effect Thursday. It classified the tornado as a "high-end EF-3."

Vernon Goney of Lady Lake lost his home and his nursery business, AP reported. The home was insured; the greenhouses, three trucks and garage were not.

"It's dim. Very dim," Goney, 61, told AP. "I'd like to rebuild, but it takes money to do that."

President Bush on Saturday declared federal disasters in the four counties hit by the storms -- Lake, Volusia, Sumter and Seminole -- making federal aid available.

At least 1,500 homes were heavily damaged or destroyed in the four counties affected, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, told reporters. (Watch what was found in the rubble of a century-old house Video)

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

"It's about a 500-feet- to 600-feet-wide area, and it is just literally a moonscape. ... There were a few little sticks of trees sticking up left," Nelson said. He said the destruction was about 100 miles long. (Listen to a victim tell 911 dispatchers she can't find her mother)

FEMA director says he's sickened by devastation

Nelson appeared at a news conference with Gov. Charlie Crist, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison and other officials.

With the sound of buzz saws in the background, Paulison said the agency already had two trailers filled with generators in the area. More trailers carrying tarpaulins, ready-to-eat meals, water and ice were to arrive later Saturday.

"We are here to assist the state. ... This is not something that one entity can do alone," Paulison said.

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

Nelson told CNN he was pleased with FEMA's response, compared to the agency's performance after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 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."

Crist toured the devastation by helicopter with Paulison, who told reporters: "It's just a devastating area. It makes you sick to your stomach about what we saw ... the people who lost their lives and those who lost their homes, and in some cases everything they owned."

Minimum-security inmates from a nearby prison, dressed in green-and-white-striped uniforms, helped clear properties of brush and rubble.

In Williamsburg, Virginia, where Bush spoke to a conference of House Democrats, he said he had spoken to Crist and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the storms.

"I talked to the governor yesterday," Bush said. "The speaker was concerned, as am I, that the folks get the help they need down there. And, Madam Speaker, you and I and every member here shares concerns for those whose lives were turned upside down."

Rain, strong winds and some pea-sized hail -- but no tornadoes -- were moving through the counties affected Friday -- Lake, Volusia, Seminole and Sumter, said CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider. (Watch how El Nino plays a role in tornado formation Video)

"It's not severe, but problematic," Schneider said.

She said there were some brief but heavy downpours, and possible danger from windblown debris.

The National Weather Service issued no watches or warnings for the area, Schneider said.

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

Rescue teams search through wreckage Saturday in Lady Lake, where at least seven people were killed.




          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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