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Tornado leaves beach neighbors with little to save

Residents of this beachfront community Monday loaded water-logged furniture onto trucks, scraped up rooftops from their neighbors' yards and waited for insurance adjusters to calculate their losses from a devastating tornado that ripped through the area.

"This was one of the worst we've seen," state Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson said before touring this town of 18,000 people. "This is another part of the price we pay when we live in paradise."

Nelson estimated the damage at $14-million but said it could go higher as insurance adjusters interview more homeowners. Almost 300 homes were damaged and 175 people were dislocated.

Monday, Gov. Lawton Chiles requested federal aid for Volusia County and Manatee County, which also suffered damage from recent storm activity.

No one was killed when the tornado tore through four neighborhoods in New Smyrna Beach early Sunday. Thirty-two people were injured, including six requiring hospitalization. By Monday, two remained in the hospital _ one with a fractured back, the other with a fractured pelvis.

The damage was widespread.

At the nine-story Diamond Head Point condominiums, two towers were mangled by the storm, which twisted metal from balconies around the white concrete building and left furniture hanging out of windows.

"There's nothing left," said Jerry Kersenbrock as he left his fifth-floor, two-bedroom condo with a suitcase filled with shoes and a ceramic pig in his hands.

His wife, Virginia, remained at Bert Fish Medical Center with the fractured pelvis, caused by a living-room china cabinet smashing into her bedroom and pinning her to the floor. Her husband said she was peppered with glass.

"She's in good spirits," he said. "She's grateful to be alive."

In this neighborhood by the beach, where some houses escaped without damage, neighbors with unscathed homes offered help.

Charon Luebbers had planned a 40th birthday barbecue for Sunday but canceled it. She spent Monday pulling a cooler filled with hot dogs, potato chips and soda around the neighborhood, offering lunch to neighbors whose kitchens were detached from their homes by the 155 mph winds.

"My house was spared, that was a good birthday gift," Luebbers said. "It wasn't the party I expected."