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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014

From 2004: Monster Charley crosses state

Published:   |   Updated: August 13, 2014 at 06:12 PM

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Charley, here is the original Tampa Tribune story as it appeared on Aug. 14, 2004.

By WILLIAM MARCH
wmarch@tampatrib.com

PORT CHARLOTTE — Florida's southwestern Gulf Coast cowered under a roof-ripping horror Friday while the Tampa Bay area, as it has often in the past few decades, once again dodged a hurricane bullet.


The howling winds and rising water that had been aimed straight at the heart of Tampa instead veered right, plowing into Charlotte Harbor at 3:45 p.m. with winds reaching 145 mph.

It hit the mainland 30 minutes later, with storm surge flooding of 10 to 15 feet, the National Hurricane Center said. Nearly 1 million people live within 30 miles of the landfall.

Hurricane Charley then raked its way north and east up the center of the state, inflicting damage and distress in a swath through Lakeland and Orlando before heading offshore, a diminished storm, above Daytona Beach.


President Bush declared a federal disaster area for the regions in Florida affected by both Charley and Tropical Storm Bonnie, which hit the Panhandle on Thursday.

Gov. Jeb Bush had asked for a disaster declaration making residents eligible for emergency federal aid in some 40 counties.

Based on Charley's projected path through Tampa, the governor had estimated damage from Charley would exceed $15 billion. If true, that would have made it one of the top 10 most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history, along with 1992's Hurricane Andrew, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Only fragmentary reports of actual damage were beginning to trickle in Friday night from the areas most heavily affected by the storm.

Statewide, nearly 1 million customers were left without power, including 300,000 in Polk County.

In Lee County, the property appraiser's office estimated $2.97 billion, most of it — about $1.6 billion — in storm surge damage to homes and hotels, and the rest wind damage. Emergency management officials said there was one confirmed fatality, but they had no details.

The Associated Press reported three deaths across the state and 40 injuries in Punta Gorda alone.

On upper Captiva Island, all the structures were heavily damaged. Damage was also heavy on Pine Island, where access is cut off.

Top recorded winds in Lee County were 90 mph.

Two hospitals, Cape Coral Hospital and Gulf Coast Hospital in Fort Myers, and the Fort Myers post office lost all or part of their roofs.

In Punta Gorda, Carmen Marshall couldn't find words for it.

Her husband called with the news: "Your store is gone."

Hurricane Charley came in through the windows and doors of her furniture and gift store on the city's main street shortly after 4 p.m.

"Is this even my store?" she asked, eyeing the debris, watching water running through the ceiling onto her showroom floor.

Nearly every business in the city's main street was blown out, roofs ripped off, power out, inventory soaked, debris strewn over the street and neighborhood.

Near destroyed mobile home communities, people walked aimlessly among ripped-up trees, sometimes crying, identifying former landmarks.

Roofs were ripped off many homes, and residents said they had been told not to expect power for two weeks.

Intensity Surprises Forecasters

In Charlotte County, directly in the storm's path, some local officials were unhappy about what they said were inadequate forecasts of the storm's intensity until just before landfall.


"We are ground zero," said Wayne Sallade, director of emergency management in Charlotte County. "They told us for years they don't forecast hurricane intensity well, and unfortunately, we know that now. This magnitude storm was never predicted."

The state put 5,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen on alert to help deal with the storm, but only 1,300 had been deployed by Friday night, a state emergency management spokeswoman said.

In the hurricane's aftermath, Port Charlotte, a city of 46,000, lay dark and quiet, traffic lights smashed, power poles snapped and lying on the ground.

Debris from building awnings and trees littered the streets.

Traffic had resumed by 7 p.m., as people tried to get back to their homes. The result was chaos, as people attempted to drive the darkened streets, including the U.S. 41 main thoroughfare, without street lights.

In one strip center, a 10,000- square-foot liquor store had been smashed when the hurricane picked up a U-Haul truck and dropped it through the store's roof.

"I don't want to talk about this. It almost killed me," owner Frank Unger said.
Mark Rockower, 42, and his daughters, Kayla, 14, and Nicole, 10, took refuge in the bathroom as the hurricane bore down on their Port Charlotte home.

A shed blew down the street and slammed into the house, shattering a window, letting wind shriek in.

"We thought we were all going to die," Rockower said. "All I wanted was to live through it and for my daughters to live."

Nicole said she was so scared that "I thought I was going to explode."

In reported incidents:

At Charlotte Regional Medical Center in Punta Gorda, up to 50 people came in with storm injuries. The hospital was so badly damaged that those injured and existing patients were being transferred to other hospitals on Coast Guard helicopters.

"We can't keep patients here," Chief Executive Officer Josh Putter said. "Every roof is damaged, lots of water damage, half our windows are blown out. ...

"There's a lot of crush injuries. Things have fallen on people, crushed their legs, crushed their pelvis — a lot of bleeding, a lot of major and minor lacerations."

In Port Charlotte, the roof was ripped off and windows shattered in the Salvation Army headquarters and chapel building on Loveland Boulevard. Two workers escaped injury, but supplies inside were destroyed.

At Deep Creek Rehab and Nursing Center in Port Charlotte, parts of the roof were ripped off and windows broken. No residents were injured, but the storm's winds sucked the doors off the building.

"A lot of us were holding the doors, trying to keep them shut, using ropes, anything we could," administrator Joyce Cuffe said. "You could hear pieces of the roof being torn away."

Buddy Martin, managing editor of the Charlotte Sun, said he drove Interstate 75 from Seminole Lakes toward Punta Gorda and saw what looked like "a war zone" with overturned tractor-trailers.

Jim and Pat Morgan of Charlotte County decided to take shelter in the airport hangar where they keep their single-engine Grumman. As they sat wrapped in carpets, debris penetrated the side of the hangar, and the door.
Charley, which came ashore as a Category 4 storm, is the most powerful hurricane to hit Florida since Andrew hit south of Miami 12 years ago, which was recategorized a Category 5 storm in 2002.

Tampa "Kind Of Lucked Out'


For about 24 hours from Thursday through midday Friday, Hurricane Charley looked like "the big one" Tampa residents have long expected, but the area has often escaped.

"Our area kind of lucked out," said Russell Henes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin. "We kind of dodged a bullet. It curved faster than we thought."

For some Tampa residents, Charley was reminiscent of Hurricane Georges, which ravaged islands in the Caribbean in 1998 before heading up the Gulf coast toward Tampa. It then turned unexpectedly west and landed in Mississippi.

Opal threatened in October 1995 but delivered only a modest street flooding and scattered power failures.

Andrew left billions of dollars of damage as it came across the state — $38 billion by some estimates — but lost its steam by the time it reached the Tampa Bay area.

Tampa is by no means hurricane-proof, but typical weather patterns make hurricanes less likely than in other parts of Florida, Henes said.

"It's not that it cannot happen," he said. "It's not easy for everything to be right for it to happen."

Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Rod Reder said damage reported in the county was minimal.

"We've had wilder days on Halloween," he said. From midnight to 7 p.m., the dispatch center fielded 1,900 calls for service. About 3,000 calls come in on a normal Friday.

He said the lower number of calls likely was the result of the department's request that residents refrain from inundating the sheriff's office with unnecessary complaints.

"I really give credit to the public because they did exactly what we needed them to do," he said.

A volunteer team of deputies was being assembled Friday to help clean up areas hard hit down south.

Long before midnight, tens of thousands of Tampa area residents who had evacuated their homes began returning, tearing down the plywood they had nailed up hours before.

Hillsborough County officials quietly removed their evacuation order about 9:30 p.m. Friday, after inspecting for storm damage in Plant City and finding little but an occasional downed power line or tree limb.

Larry Gispert, director of the county's emergency operations center on Hanna Avenue, said shelters would stay open until this morning for special needs people and others who wish to stay.

No damage or power losses were reported in Pinellas County, officials there said.

During the evacuation, south Tampa looked like a ghost town, the windows on Bayshore Boulevard's multimillion-dollar houses boarded up. Some storm-lovers walked Bayshore videotaping the bad weather.

At 1:45 p.m. Friday, with the storm still bearing down on Tampa and expected to hit within hours, the only business open on Fowler Avenue east of Interstate 275 was Diamond Nail Salon. Several women sat in chairs getting their nails done, seemingly oblivious to the approaching hurricane.

At 9 a.m. Friday, the Bank of America branch in Temple Terrace had added a $2 fee at its ATM, plus "any additional fees," according to the machine's electronic message. An hour later, the fee had been removed, apparently after angry customers complained.

Lakeland experienced mainly cosmetic damage and some power losses, initial reports indicated. In Bartow, the storm knocked out the fire department's radios, leaving Fire Chief Jay Robinson in the dark about where damage had occurred.

Best Intentions Go Awry


Some Tampa Bay area residents fled their homes to escape Charley, only to have it find them on the other side of the state.

"I feel like the biggest fool," said Robert Angel of Tarpon Springs, who left his home to seek safety in a Lakeland motel, and found himself in the storm's path.

"I spent hundreds of dollars to be in the center of a hurricane," he said. "Our home is safe, but now I'm in danger."

P.J. Myers-Chase of Safety Harbor and Danielle Davis of Clearwater Beach left late Thursday to stay with friends near Walt Disney World.

"I felt like I was doing the right thing by getting myself out of harm's way," said Myers-Chase, 23. "Apparently, I made the wrong choice."

For the Tampa Bay area, the worst news to come from Friday's flirtation with disaster is that the hurricane season isn't over.

As Charley left town, two more tropical weather systems developed in the Atlantic and one is on a track similar to the one Charley took toward Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico.

Called Tropical Depression No. 5, it was east of the Windward Islands on Friday night, heading northwest into the Caribbean Sea. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami show it becoming a hurricane by Monday, and bearing down on Cuba with 92 mph winds by Wednesday.

Tropical Storm Danielle, meanwhile, is just south of the Cape Verde Islands, but is taking a more northerly path that might keep it out of the Caribbean.

Forecasters believe it will become a tropical storm with 66-mph winds in five days.

KEY DEVELOPMENTS

Shelter roof peels off in Arcadia, exposing hundreds of evacuees.

Storm's abrupt turn reminds Tampa of 1998's Georges.

Compliance with evacuation order low.

Stores stripped bare will restock today.

TV returns to normal after hours of talk.

Survivors of Andrew offer support to their neighbors to the west.

Aid agency tents prepare to move south.

Federal agencies work around-the-clock.

Reporter Falguni Bhuta, Tom W. Krause, Andy Reid, Ted Byrd, Allison North Jones, John W. Allman, Guy Boulton, Carlos Moncada, Roy Cummings, Baird Helgeson, Valerie Kalfrin, Lindsey Peterson and Cheryl N. Schmidt contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press also was used.

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