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Eye of the Hurricane

August 7, 2014
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The prospect of Hurricane Charley evoked no fear - most Cape Coral residents went through the precautions almost by rote. Check the canned goods supply, buy batteries and bottled water, gas up the car and board up the windows.

With Charley, a Category 2 storm, expected to make landfall up around Tampa, we went to bed Aug. 12, 2004 with the prospect of facing some strong winds and heavy rains the next morning.

We soon learned Mother Nature is anything but predictable.

By mid-morning, Hurricane Charley was strengthening - it became a Category 3, then a Category 4 with the prospect of becoming a killer Category 5 by the time it made landfall. And landfall had shifted to Lee County with the Cape dead on in the eye's path.

The situation had moved rapidly from the routine to the critical and it was too late for most of us to evacuate. While residents of Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Pine Island sought refuge, Cape Coral called for evacuations downtown, around the Yacht Club and Bimini Basin. The rest of us hunkered down in the dim light of homes cloaked with plywood or hurricane shutters.

Charley, though, took a slight jog north and, at about 3:45 p.m. on Friday the 13th, the storm bearing winds up to 145 mph ripped through North Captiva cutting the barrier island in half, torn through the northern tip of Pine Island and roared its way through Punta Gorda en route to Arcadia, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Official landfall was Caya Costa, about 20 miles from Cape Coral.

While we escaped the heavy devastation of our neighbors, Cape Coral did not escape Charley's wrath. While the storm was short in duration, passing over us in little more than an hour, thousands upon thousands of homes suffered damage. Ruined roofs. Destroyed lanais. Collapsed pool cages. Uprooted trees and landscaping.

And debris everywhere.

City officials estimate 41 percent of the homes in the city suffered harm and damage estimates quickly rose from $305 million to $600 million in Cape Coral alone...

- Eye of the Hurricane

Nature's Fury 2004

Breeze Newspapers

* * *

Wednesday, Aug. 13, will mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Charley, the first of four hurricanes to hit the state in less than six weeks.

Charley was followed by Hurricane Frances on Sept. 5, Hurricane Ivan on Sept. 16 and Hurricane Jeanne on Sept. 25 - marking 2004 as the year of the hurricane for Floridians statewide.

Frances, which made landfall just north of West Palm Beach, triggered the then-largest evacuation in the state's history.

Ivan made landfall in Alabama but spawned tornadoes in northern Florida that left half a dozen people dead.

Jeanne, a Category 3 with winds in excess of 125 mph, blew in at Hutchinson Island - just two miles from where Frances had made landfall less than three weeks before.

Collective damage was in the billions.

There is more to remember as we note the anniversary, though, than damage and destruction.

Hurricane Charley also marked a remarkable time in our community's history as neighbor stepped forward to help neighbor and those who had - extra ice, plastic tarp, chainsaw, pickup truck, or just a strong back - shared and pitched in.

Hurricane Charley also exemplified the efforts of countless public and private sector workers and officials including, but not limited to, public safety and public works personnel and utilities and solid waste collection employees.

By the hundreds, they unflinchingly put in the hours and the effort needed to get roads open and roofs covered and the water plant back up and running even as LCEC worked to restore electricity to an entire city without.

A virtual workers army got tons upon tons of debris cleared and picked up, and meanwhile expedited permitting to make it possible for home and business owners to get houses and commercial buildings repaired.

The summer of 2004 remains a proud moment, a shining example of a people and a place that came together and did what needed to be done.

Our most vivid memory of Hurricane Charley?

We were never more proud to call Cape Coral home.

-Breeze editorial



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