Two dead, 4 children hurt in overnight tornado
DUETTE (FOX 13) - Neighbors say a deadly tornado that ripped through Sarasota and Manatee Counties was violent, loud, and moved quickly.
"It was just horrific, winds blowing like crazy. It was dark, so you couldn't really see anything. You just knew the winds were blowing and just howling," said Randy Sharp, a neighbor.
Just before 4 a.m., the tornado passed over Albritton Road, ripping apart Steven and Kelli Wilson's mobile home. Their son and four grandchildren were inside with them.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office says the home overturned and was reduced to debris. Steven, 58, died in the storm, and Kelli, who neighbors say went by "Kade," suffered a fatal heart attack on the way to the hospital.
Their son, Steven M. Wilson, was able to crawl from the debris, gather his four children, ages 6 through 10, and get to a safe location. They are recovering in the hospital.
"I'm amazed to see that anyone got out of this alive. I mean you look at the debris... this is complete devastation for the home," said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.
According to the National Weather Service, the tornado was an EF-2 on the enhanced Fujita scale, with estimated winds of 127 mph. It was on the ground for 13 minutes, covering 9 miles, and was 300 yards wide at its peak.
"It was horrific winds, blowing like crazy," neighbor Randy Sharp recalled. "It was dark so you couldn't really see anything, just knew it was blowing and the wind was howling."
The fatalities mark the first tornado-related deaths in the Bay Area since Tropical Storm Debby in 2012.
"It's not all that common to seen an EF-2 tornado in this area, but if it's going to happen, it's going to happen in the winter months and it's going to happen during El Nino," explained FOX 13 meteorologist Mike Bennett.
"We're in an El Nino winter and spring. We're going to have more storms like this through April. Now is a good time for people to figure out where is their tornado shelter. We would have rather they left beforehand, well beforehand -- a half hour before the storms arrived," added Daniel Noah, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Neighbors spent the day sorting through debris from the Wilson's shredded home, saving pictures and photo albums, their thoughts with the survivors.
"You don't find neighbors like this. They were the best. I mean, we've only known each other 5 years, but it feels like a lifetime," offered Sharp. "They're going to be truly missed. They loved their grandchildren. They had their grandchildren here over the weekend like they do very often. Just full of life. Loved people, and would just do anything for anybody."
The line of storms was ahead of a cold front that will eventually bring the coldest weather of the season to Florida. Lows will fall into the 30s by midweek.