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Sanford family of 10 feeling grateful, faces struggle after tree crashes through roof

Posted April 13, 2020 10:58 a.m. EDT
Updated April 13, 2020 7:58 p.m. EDT

— A loud crack around 7:30 a.m. send a Sanford family scrambling outside. A tree from their backyard fell onto the home, through the roof and trapped a 12-year-old boy in his bed.

"When I heard a crackle and I heard the thunder, the boom, I just ran through the house, just thinking the thunder scared the kids. But then, when I got upstairs, you could see the dust and hear my baby hollering," Tammy Marsh said.

"When I opened the door, you could see his neck sticking out up under the debris," she said. "There was a beam over his head that I had to lift up and pull him away from under."

Brandon Ocotree said he was sound asleep and thought the loud noise was part of a dream.

"I was in the middle of my dream, and all the sudden, my dream just stopped," Brandon said. "There was a flash of a light, and I heard the tree snap. Next thing I know, the branch hit my roof, and then my roof fell in on me.

"At first, I was just trying to pull everything off me, and I couldn’t, so I called for help," he said.

"All my other kids panicked and ran up the steps to get him," Marsh said.

Marsh took her son to the emergency room, where he was treated for some scrapes and scratches on his arms.

"My anxiety hit 100," she said.

When she got her son taken care of and had a chance to see outside her home, Marsh said, her anxiety spiked again.

"This big, old, giant tree landed on my baby," she said. "This tree actually came through my house and landed on my child, and it could have been worse – a worst-case scenario.

"I was a hot mess this morning," she said later in the day. "I really panicked, and just looking at the aftermath of it, I’m still panicking because it could’ve been a lot worse."

Still, Marsh, who is among the thousands out of work because of coronavirus-related shutdowns across the state, was counting her blessings.

The principal of B.T. Bullock Elementary School, where some of her children attend, stopped by the house with a school counselor to drop off food and gift cards for the family.

Lee County Schools officials have offered to pay for the family to stay in a local hotel for a week, using donations received this year to help children in need. Spokeswoman Sharon Spence said the school district may redirect that money to the family's other needs if the Red Cross or others pick up the hotel costs.

"We are certainly ready to help in any way we can," Spence said in an email.

Neighbors and strangers also offered to help, Marsh said.

"Someone offered to take my kids out for the day," she said. "It just makes me feel loved, and it really helps me a lot."

Marsh rents the home on Chisholm Street with her boyfriend and eight children. Marsh's niece and niece’s daughter were also in the home when the storm struck.

"It’s a relief on me because trying to put nine kids in one person’s house is like a strain," Marsh said, noting the pandemic has already stressed her.

"I got anxiety, and this is not helping me at all because I barely sleep as it is," she said. "I have faith. I try to let the faith outweigh my anxiety. That’s all I can do right now."

Rev. Ricky Frazier, pastor of Centennial AME Zion Church in Bear Creek, where Marsh attends, also stopped by the house to pray with the family.

"I'm here to try to support in whatever way we can financially or if we can come and do anything in this time of need," Frazier said. "There’s nothing that we will not do to try to help out in this crisis situation."

"I really appreciate all the help. If I can’t say thank you guys enough, just do know it is really in my heart to say thank you," Marsh said.

While the homeowner will be responsible for repairing the damage from the tree, Marsh and her boyfriend don't have renter's insurance to cover damage to any of their belongings.

"Please look into renter's insurance," she advised others, "because this right here is serious."

She created a GoFundMe page asking for financial help while the family tries to rebuild their lives amid the damage caused by the storm and the pandemic.

"On top of my children, my house is a safe place for friends and neighborhood kids. Last night, we had 10 children under my roof," Marsh wrote on the GoFundMe page.

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