CAPE CORAL, Fla. – Fran Cavanaugh didn’t want to believe it at first.
And then it happened.
“I said nope. This isn’t right,” he said. “And I started hearing it really pick up and just…everything started crackling and I dug my head into a corner. Closed my eyes. Done.”
Cavanaugh shed tears as he left her condemned home on Sunday, one of many damaged or destroyed by an EF2 tornado that struck southwest Cape Coral on Saturday.
The destruction became more clear on Sunday as residents surveyed the damage in the sunlight for the first time.
Luis Gonzalez’ home was directly in the tornado’s path.
“This home is probably a total loss,” he said. “Completely lost. It’s all that I have, my house. Practically, I’ve become homeless.”
The tornado had an estimated peak wind of 132 mph and a path length of 3.4 miles, the National Weather Service said. About 178 structures were damaged: One home was destroyed, 14 had major damage and 163 suffered minor damage, the National Weather Service said. There were reports of over 100 power poles down, the agency said.
Early estimates indicate repairs could cost up to $6 million, Cape Coral police said.
“It’s devastating. My heart is broken,” Cape Coral resident Greer Cubic said. “It’s just devastating to see what has happened to our community.”
pic.twitter.com/dwbSpXhV0I tornado damage that hit just a bit south of our home #thankingGodwearesafe
— lori (@breesmom222) January 10, 2016
The tornado touched down at about 6:45 p.m. in an area bordered by Gleason Parkway to the north, Cape Coral Parkway to the south, Pelican Boulevard to the east, and Sands Boulevard to the west, Cape Coral police said.
EF2 storms, which are categorized at “strong,” can produce winds between 111 and 135 mph.
No serious injuries or deaths were reported.
Florida senator and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio tweeted his support for the tornado victims.
My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Cape Coral FL who were affected by last night’s tornado.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 10, 2016
Gov. Rick Scott visited the area Sunday afternoon to survey the damage and determine how state officials can help.
“I feel for our residents, I mean this is a frustrating time…this is their belongings..this is what they’ve worked their lives for,” he said.
His visit came as residents like Rich Coch were still in shock.
“The dogs were crazy and we just grabbed them,” he said of last night. “We ran into the laundry room, sat on the laundry room floor and just prayed that we’d be here.”
Red Cross help
The Florida’s Southern Gulf chapter of the American Red Cross has opened a shelter for displaced families at Faith Presbyterian Church, 4544 Coronado Pkwy., Cape Coral.
Cots, blankets, snacks and water will be available. A nurse and a mental health counselor will also be at the shelter.
Those with questions can contact the Red Cross at 239-278-3401.
Cape Coral police Det. Sgt. Dana Coston compared the damage to Hurricane Charley, which devastated Southwest Florida in 2004.
“I worked Hurricane Charley and I saw a lot of the devastation it brought,” said Coston, who is also the department’s spokesman. “It’s a much smaller area that’s affected, that’s the blessing here. However, the area that is affected is affected pretty dramatically.”
Coston added that those seeking contractors for repairs should check their credentials first.
Nearly 10,000 people were without power at one point, officials said. Parts of Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, as well as parts of Charlotte, Hendry and Collier counties, were without power Saturday night, according to the Lee County Electric Cooperative.
Less than 800 people were without power Sunday night.
Homes without power include those near the Beach Parkway and Pelican Boulevard areas, according to the Lee County Electric Cooperative.
Storm damage was widespread across Cape Coral, including downed power lines on Chiquita Boulevard, debris and property damage on Skyline Boulevard – including a tree that fell through an apartment – and residences sustaining heavy damage on SW 15th Place.
Cape Coral officials advised those who did not need to be in the area to stay away, especially Beach Parkway between Chiquita and Sands boulevards.
We can’t say this enough, PLEASE stay off the roads unless you absolutely must travel. Onlookers are causing delays. pic.twitter.com/LUeQXxAqva
— Cape Coral Police (@CapePD) January 10, 2016
“I just really want to reiterate for those of you who do not live in that area to please stay out of it,” Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawiski said. “Walking in, I know it’s…everybody wants to get in and look at the damage but these people are trying to get their lives back together and get damage assessed.”
While storm cleanup was underway on Sunday, Tonya Justice, who lives on SW 43rd Lane, thought it wasn’t going fast enough.
“We’ve seen a lot of people just stop and take pictures in front of the house,” she said.
It’s been a constant parade all day.”
Justice added that she was the one of the lucky ones. Most of the damage to her home was in the front and backyard.
Other residents like Sue Potash said they’ve seen people collect debris, including scrap metal, fridges and dishwashers.
“It was a little intrusive,” she said. “I’m worried about the people that are not here and protecting their homes, of what might happen later in the evening.”
Cape Coral police will be checking the identification of those in the area, Coston, the police spokesman, said.