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Priest, Toddler Survive Fla. Storm

February 24, 1998

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) _ Eighteen-month-old Jonathan Waldick was asleep when a twister plucked him from his bed and hurled him outside _ mattress and all _ into the branches of a fallen oak tree.

The boy suffered only a few scratches on his chin and forehead.

Slabs of wallboard and plywood fell on top of him _ but the mattress had formed sort of a cocoon around him and saved his life. His great-grandmother’s house was destroyed.

Not far away, the Rev. Joseph Ridgely had been sleeping in his recliner when the twisters picked him up _ chair and all _ and flung him 60 yards across the street.

The 70-year-old Episcopal priest survived with a broken hip, arm, and leg.

Others in this central Florida town were not so lucky. Seven people on Ridgely’s street alone were killed Monday when the twisters touched down.

The dead lived next door, in the house behind Ridgely’s and in three houses across the street on the residential lane called Morning Light Way.

Ridgely’s modular home landed on two cars in a 30-foot-wide pile of shredded wood, insulation and dirt. His family picked through the pile Tuesday for anything they could find.

``He doesn’t know his house is gone. He just thought the roof caved in,″ said his daughter-in-law, Kathy Ridgely.

His family did find his ordination certificate, a crystal carafe, some antique glass vases, framed photos of his grandchildren and some of his book collection on antiques. Still scattered somewhere in the debris was the coin collection he brought with him when he moved from Baltimore five years ago.

``We’re trying to find 70 years’ worth of memories in this pile,″ said his son, Richard Ridgely, a retired police officer from Carroll County, Md.

It was the second time Ridgely narrowly missed death, his son said. As a medic in the Korean War, Ridgely was trying to rescue the crew of a crashed bomber when a bomb exploded, killing men on either side of him.

``If he gets through the next couple of days, he’ll be OK,″ his son said.

When Jonathan’s great-grandmother, Shirley Driver, heard the tornado, she ran outside with the boy’s 4-year-old sister, Destiny, then panicked when she realized she couldn’t find her great-grandson.

Relatives and neighbors searched for a half hour before the boy’s foot was spotted hanging out of the mattress underneath tree limbs and boards. They weren’t sure if Jonathan was still alive until he wiggled his foot.

``That’s our miracle baby there,″ said the boy’s great-great-aunt, Janice Gassert.

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