Florida businesses, residents still cleaning up month after tornado spun through Ocala

It has been nearly a month since an EF-1 tornado touched down in Ocala, Florida, and went undetected for 35 minutes and 26 miles, causing damage to buildings, homes, and trees.

Weeks later, some damage has been cleaned up, but remnants still remain. There are still piles of branches left in shopping centers near Interstate 75, and bits and pieces of Styrofoam are still on the street.

The good news, no one in the tornado's wake was hurt.

The FOX 35 Storm Team Thunder Truck captured the tornado as it cut across I-75 around 8:15 on March 12th.

For those who live in and around Ocala, it's a storm they will likely not forget anytime soon.

"They have a little bit of PTSD from being here during that storm," said Vicki Bennett, the practice manager at Paddock Park Animal Hospital, which significantly damaged the hospital's roof.

On Thursday, a blue tarp covers the roof, which will likely need to be replaced. The hospital actually closed for 10 days being able to reopen.

"Everyone was so wonderful and our team stuck together," Bennett said of her staff. "These guys here are the most wonderful staff in the world."

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After the storm, employees walked out of the hospital to find their cars damaged from the storm. The community and Governor Ron DeSantis, stepped in to help pay for some of those expenses.

"We were able to pay all of their deductibles, and we’re working on getting one of the employees a new car right now," said Bennett.

Marion County also approved up to $600,000 to help aid in the cleanup efforts.

"To make sure we get those roads cleared. The side of the roads cleaned up. Make sure we get these trees limbs and these dangerous objects out of the roads and get our community back to some form of organization if you will," said District IV County Commissioner Carl Zalak III.

Nearly 30 people who were displaced at Saddleworth Green apartments have found new places to live, the county said.

"The apartment complex was able to get most people into a different building, or they had another property here, and they gave them first right to get over to another apartment complex just down the road," said Commissioner Zalak.

Eliminating the so-called "tornado dead zone," or a lack of radar coverage in the area, has now become a local legislative priority. Because there is no low-level radar in the area that could detect smaller tornadoes – and the NWS radar in Jacksonville was down for maintenance at the time – the EF-1 tornado went undetected – and with no warnings – for a half-hour.

"The National Weather Service, I think, will get better in Florida," said Zalak. "They realize the gap, as your meteorologist does as well. Fixing that that will become a legislative priority for our Board of County Commissioners."

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