Deadly 1998 Spring Tornado Rampage Remembered

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Release date: 
March 1, 1999
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ATLANTA, Ga. -- Killer tornadoes roared through Kissimmee, Fla., beginning this time last year, leading a parade of storms through 53 southeastern counties in six states and leaving a grim wake of twisted destruction with federal and state recovery costs in excess of $180 million.

Within a tumultuous 60-day period, President Clinton responded to requests from governors in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee for help in combating losses and cleaning up from one of nature's most violent spring rampages. Not since 1936 when tornadoes killed more than 400 in Georgia and Mississippi in a terrifying 24-hour span has so much tornado destruction been recorded.

In Florida, 42 persons died and nearly 300 more were injured when seven tornadoes ripped the Kissimmee area when the first of the spring storms cut through the land on Feb. 22 and 23. More than $22 million in federal funds were spent there in response and recovery efforts, not to mention the grants awarded to fund ways of reducing future tornado losses throughout Florida.

Thousands of Florida storm victims sought federal and state assistance to help with such matters as temporary housing, emergency grants and home and business repair loans. The winds, some clocked at more than 200 miles an hour, dazed residents who said they were the worst tornadoes to hit Florida 50 years.

"In response to such unacceptable loss of life and property," said John B. Copenhaver, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region IV, "FEMA stepped up funding and launched several initiatives to ensure more people have safe places to go with time to get there." This includes the development of tornado and storm warning systems as well as wind research.

FEMA became a major partner with the state of Florida this last year providing $3.5 million of a total $4.7 million project to launch the Florida Warning and Information Network. This comprehensive project established an early warning and information network projected to reach 97 percent of the state's population within 15 minutes of a weather incident, promotes construction of safe-rooms, tornado shelters in mobile home parks and supports community-based plans for dealing with severe weather.

Since 1992, Florida has received a total of $49 million from FEMA for a variety of hazard mitigation projects.

Copenhaver believes a new public awareness about changing weather patterns and safe shelter techniques also emerged from the rubble of destruction throughout the region. In addition, emergency managers in the region renewed efforts to discuss new ways of dealing with tornadoes. A tornado summit was held at FEMA's Region IV headquarters in Atlanta. This served to bring a sharper focus on the development of better warning systems and the important "safe room" concept.

"While engineers can do little to successfully cope with a direct hit by a twister exceeding speeds of 300 miles an hour, we are learning new ways to help reduce severe storm losses," Copenhaver said. FEMA's Project Impact, a new concept in the attack on repetitive disaster loss cycles, provides additional funding strength and cooperative benefits toward this goal. Project Impact is based upon a public-private partnership working to make communities more disaster resistant.

EDITORS NOTE: The chart shows details of most of the disaster response funding for the Kissimmee tornadoes. Not included in the chart are grants for projects to lessen the impact of future disasters; funds for statewide agencies; disaster unemployment assistance; or crisis counseling for children and adults affected by the storms.

1998 Florida Tornado, Federal Funding
Counties With Heaviest Tornado Loss and Damage Disaster Housing (Rental Assistance, Minimal Repairs, etc.) Appl...
Last Updated: 
July 19, 2012 - 23:02
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