The first thing Alina Mitchell handed firefighters was a box of photos.
Mitchell, 62, continued to hand them personal items as she stood trapped in her kitchen, surrounded by suspended tree branches and pieces of her collapsed roof.
As her home became more unstable, firefighters finally told her, “Ma’am, we need to get you out, not the boxes.”
On Friday morning during a severe thunderstorm, a large oak tree crashed through Mitchell’s Alachua home, damaging it so severely that her landlord plans to demolish her house.
Thousands of Alachua County residents were affected by the 4-hour thunderstorm. About 34,000 Gainesville Regional Utilities customers lost power and multiple businesses were closed, along with some traffic lights not working.
Just before 11 a.m., Mitchell heard a large crack from outside her window. It was a familiar sound to her. The trees in the wooded area near her home are old and often fall, she said.
What happened next, she wasn’t expecting.
The large oak tree crashed through the middle of her house, caving in the roof and missing her by just a few feet.
“I thought I was having a nightmare,” Mitchell said. “I thought, ‘What the hell? How am I alive here?’ I really didn't think I could be alive with the roof falling in on me.”
She started calling out to her son, Mitch, who was on the other side of the house. The tree hadn’t landed on him. He left the house and called firefighters.
The next day, she stood in what was once her kitchen, with the sun beating down on her through the gaping hole in her roof, wondering what to do next.
“I’m homeless now,” Mitchell said. “I don’t have a home anymore.”
Until Mitch and Mitchell find a new place, they are staying with Mitchell’s daughter, Sita, who is a 25-year-old UF advertising senior.
Sita said she’s been through a rough few months, helping care for her mother who was diagnosed with clear cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer, in August, and her older brother Mitch’s OCD and schizophrenia.
When she got the call that her childhood home had been destroyed, she said she first panicked.
“This is where I grew up. This is where I left my stuff. That’s my room,” Sita said. “This is my house. I always thought it was going to be here forever.”
After reeling from the loss of her old home, she went into survival mode trying to find ways to help.
Before the storm hit, the family was already going through financial struggles. About a month ago, Sita decided to create a GoFundMe page to raise funds for her mother’s cancer treatment and care. She said she never published it because she didn’t want to ask for money.
With the storm potentially costing her family thousands of dollars to get back to their normal life, Sita decided to publish the page asking contributors to help raise funds for a new home for her mother and brother.
The family’s goal is to raise $10,000 and the page has already received $2,035 in contributions in the first day of it’s publishing.
Sita said she only has a month to find her family a new home since she is planning to move to Chicago after graduation for an internship.
“Neighbors I’ve never met are coming and giving me money,” Alina Mitchell said. “I’m beside myself.”
Alina Mitchell, 62, sorts through the debris in her kitchen after a tree crashed through the roof on Friday morning.