The EF2 tornado will bring winds of 118 mph over 8 miles from Fort Myers

A team of investigators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration were due to arrive in Lee County Tuesday for a detailed formal inspection of the damage caused by Sunday’s tornado.

The evaluation, which will also involve the Lee County government, is expected to begin Wednesday morning, officials said.

“There is enormous damage. It is isolated in an area near McGregor. Three RV parks received the brunt of the damage,” said Sandra Tapfumaneyi, public safety director for emergency management.

Lee County estimates the tornado caused $7.1 million in damage to homes and $1.2 million to commercial space.

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The EF2 twister that hit the Fort Myers area on Sunday was the first since Jan. 9, 2016, bringing winds of 110 mph to several communities.

Dozens of mobile homes were destroyed in Iona, and trees were snapped and twisted along McGregor Boulevard.

Meteorologists are still counting the damage, but more than four tornadoes hit the region on Sunday.

One tornado made landfall in southern Charlotte County and two in Collier County

A tornado also made landfall in southern Charlotte County and two in Collier County, one in the Habitat for Humanity-built community of Victoria Falls and another near Everglades City, NWS meteorologists confirmed Tuesday.

Damage was mostly limited to uprooted trees and damaged roofs in Victoria Falls in East Naples, Habitat for Humanity reported Tuesday.

“For the one at Naples we have a good damage trail and determined that it is an EF0 that is close to an EF1, with a top speed of 85mph,” said NWS Meteorologist Nick Carr. “The second tornado was further south near Everglades City in a much less developed area.”

Collier County crews are still on site assessing damage, but nothing major has been reported, said Bill Fassold, Collier’s senior public information officer.

Fassold said crews were able to clean up a fallen tree on Habitat Road, which leads to Victoria Falls, and another tree from a pumping station in the area. County workers also assisted the Florida Department of Transportation by clearing fallen debris in a median on US 41 East.

Affected Lee County communities include the Point Breeze, Tropicana and Century 21 trailer parks.

That tornado tracked a distance of eight miles, Noah said.

“The worst was at the three mobile home parks, and after that it crossed McGregor and took out palm trees and some trees up to the Cape Coral Bridge,” said Dan Noah, a tornado specialist for National Weather Service in Ruskin, which covers the Fort Myers-Cape area covering coral. “Most are as wide as a house and a mile trail, except during the cool season when the upper tier jet stream can help track the tornado for many miles.”

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What about federal support

A presidential statement would have to be formally requested by Governor DeSantis to receive federal funding.

By determining the impact and extent of the damage and what FEMA describes as the needs of “individuals, businesses, the public sector and the community,” federal agencies create a plan of what type of federal assistance might be available.

Street-by-street pickup of debris left by the storm will begin Thursday morning, according to a briefing deputy county commissioner Glen Salyer provided to county commissioners at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“Contractors mobilize both staff and (their) staff,” Salyer said. “In order for the FEMA, DEM and SBA assessment teams to complete their work – they will do this Wednesday – we will be picking up starting Thursday morning.”

Property owners who have their own debris hauled can take it to a site on A&W Bulb Road that dealt with piles of debris following Hurricane Irma.

According to Lee County estimates of Tuesday morning’s damage, 44 homes were destroyed and classified as a total loss; 90 houses were badly damaged and 93 slightly damaged. One hundred buildings are said to have been otherwise affected by the storm.

These categories are used by the federal government to categorize the amount of damage.

Major damage is defined by the federal agency as structural damage that requires extensive repair, minor damage means the damage is repairable, nonstructural, and affected means the damage is primarily cosmetic.

Marilyn Illetschkom, a resident of Tropicana Mobile Home Park in Fort Myers, searches for belongings after a tornado destroyed her home on Sunday, January 16, 2022.

Local communities play a large role in initiating the process of meeting federal regulations for FEMA assistance.

In Lee County, this started when the tornadoes landed.

Information about the severity of the damage to homes, most of them trailer parks, was reported back to county emergency management officials when first responders arrived at the scene.

Tapfumaneyi said first responders used an electronic first impression damage assessment tool.

“The first priority is life safety and they help us get the first wave of information and then our teams can get more details,” Tapfumaneyi said. “That helps us move to the second team of community development and code enforcement officers. They started based on the first rating; it was a comprehensive look at all the structures that took damage.”

In the meantime, while waiting for the federal government, there is help in the community.

Religious groups and other civil society organizations are providing assistance, Tapfumaneyi said. People who need assistance should call 211 for information.

“Tornado wind damage is very different from hurricane wind damage”

The National Weather Service’s Noah said he’s surveyed a handful of tornadoes in the 15-county area covered by the Ruskin bureau, and few of them are EF2 or stronger.

“Many of the tornadoes are the weaker ones; they are not weak when they hit your house,” said Noah. “But to get the larger tornadoes, the upper level jet stream has to flow across the state, and that only occurs during the cool season.”

Noah said stronger tornadoes are like food processors racing through a community, while a hurricane will bring 12 hours or more of high winds.

“Wind damage from tornadoes is very different from wind damage from hurricanes,” he said. “Tornado wind damage has a relatively small area that rotates rapidly, in this case up to 180 km/h. But that was only about the size of a football field, not as wide. A hurricane can be the size of Texas.”

Tornado strength scale exceeds 300 miles per hour.

Jennifer Hubbard, also a Ruskin meteorologist, said tornadoes don’t usually stay on the ground here for long.

“It’s pretty typical for a tornado to skip and not stay on the ground unless they’re really big ones,” she said. “The damage (at Fort Myers) was sporadic rather than a long, straight line of damage.”

Hubbard said summer tornadoes are usually even weaker, but tornadoes can also be released during a hurricane.

“Our stronger tornadic events typically occur during the more dynamic cold fronts,” Hubbard said. “In summer we have short turns along the sea breeze line or tropical events in the outer bands.”

Hubbard said Florida’s location usually keeps tornadic activity under wraps.

“We don’t have the upper-level dynamics to get structure for supercell-type storms that reach EF3 or stronger,” Hubbard said.

Two tornadoes confirmed in Collier County

In Collier County, a confirmed EF0 tornado traveled about 15 miles from the Gulf to Interstate 75 on Sunday.

Carr, a weather forecaster with the Miami National Weather Service, said the tornado may have bounced back briefly, but he was able to confirm it hit the Gulf Coast and eventually overturned a semi-trailer truck on I-75.

The tornado moved through mostly uninhabited areas of the county but caused some damage to homes and trees in Victoria Falls at the southern end of the Lely Resort.

Lisa Lefkow, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Collier County, said a number of homes were affected and cleanup efforts were underway.

“This neighborhood is very cohesive and the neighbors all came together. Chainsaws came out and they help each other clean up lots and cut down trees,” Lefkow said.

Some of the trees fell at a nearby conservation area and state law requires these to be left untouched.

Lefkow said there was some roof and clapboard damage, as well as damage to lanais.

“These are wonderful people who live and own habitat houses that work for roofing companies,” Lefkow said. “They were putting tarpaulins on roofs before the storm warnings were lifted. One roof had significant damage and fortunately this family was not at home.”

Habitat for Humanity has a list of local vendors and contractors that those affected can contact for repairs, Lefkow said. Unfortunately, there are some who come into town and knock on doors to sell services before anyone can turn a blind eye, she said.

“They may keep prices down, but if it doesn’t meet the code or doesn’t pass inspection, suddenly they’re gone,” Lefkow said. “We warn homeowners about things like this and help homeowners be smart when doing significant work on their homes.”

Lefkow recalled Habitat founder Millard Fuller visiting Miami after Hurricane Andrew, where 28 Habitat homes stood but none were damaged. He traced it back to people going above and beyond with Habitat homes, or that Habitat is based on faith and protections could come from God.

“The same is true of Sunday’s events from this perspective,” Lefkow said. “In moments like this, we can say our homes are well built and assembled by hardworking volunteers and homeowners who put in their sweat, and we are thankful that God continues to watch over us.”

The NWS’ Carr said the second tornado in Collier made landfall in a much less developed area near Everglades City and the agency could only confirm a leaning telephone pole.

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.

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