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History lesson

August 15, 2009
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Charley passed this week with little fanfare save media milestone stories.

Bigger, badder storms have since blown their way onto history's pages and Southwest Florida is now weathering a storm of longer - and deeper - duration.

With our housing market collapsed into an economic sinkhole, the what-if prospect of another hurricane hovers outside our very real cone of uncertainty - record unemployment, record foreclosure numbers, free-falling property values - draws little attention.

Still, it's worth remembering the lessons learned from Charley, the little storm that could - with a vengeance.

On Aug. 12, 2004, Hurricane Charley was a category 2 storm predicted to make landfall around Tampa.

Preparation around the Cape was routine at best, lackadaisical at worse, and most of us went to bed that night with little thought of battening down the hatches and getting out of town.

Aug. 13 dawned with a wake up call.

Charley had strengthened overnight, becoming a category 3, then a 4 pushing toward a category 5 as the storm's predicted landfall shifted south with Cape Coral now dead on in the eye's path.

The time for a mass evacuation had passed and the county scrambled to protect the most vulnerable, ordering evacuations for Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva and Pine Island Sound.

Here in the Cape, the city called for evacuations downtown around the Yacht Club and Bimini Basin.

Charley then jogged north again and made landfall at about 3:45 p.m. that Friday the 13th, ripping through North Captiva at 145 mph. The hurricane cut the barrier island in half, hit the northern tip of Pine Island and roared its way through Punta Gorda en route to Arcadia. Official landfall was Cayo Costa, 20 miles north of Cape Coral, and the city was spared the heavy devastation experienced by the communities that faced the storm head-on.

But we did not escape Hurricane Charley's wrath.

Damage estimates in Cape Coral topped $600 million and 41 percent of the homes here suffered some damage, mostly to roofs, lanais, carports and pool cages.

The city predicted it would spend $17 million in cleanup alone as tons of debris lined streets, yards and city property.

Parts of the city were without electrical power for more than a week.

And while, at least for Southwest Florida, the worst had passed, there was much more to come for the state: Hurricane Frances on Sept. 5; Hurricane Ivan on Sept. 16 and Hurricane Jeanne on Sept 25.

Officials urge us not to be complacent this hurricane season.

We agree, we should not be.

While the hurricane season predictions for 2009 have been downgraded in terms of the number of storms and their intensity, and while we have yet to see a named hurricane, the most active weeks - from the end of August to mid October - still lie ahead.

Forecasters point out that Andrew, the first named storm of 1992, didn't form until mid August - and like Charley, Andrew was a hurricane that intensified greatly in a matter of hours and did not make landfall where predicted.

As we continue to weather the economic storm around us, let us also remain vigilant this hurricane season.

It's Charley's lone legacy to Southwest Florida.

- Breeze editorial



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