Ridin’ the Storm Out


Where were you during Charley?  That is the question on everyone’s lips and minds this week in Punta Gorda, Florida.  If you have to ask, “Charley Who?” you are obviously a newcomer and while we welcome you to our lovely little corner of paradise, please step aside while us old-timers reminisce.  As you have heard ad nauseam lately, Hurricane Charley blew into Punta Gorda on Friday the 13th in August 2004.  While the storm had initially been forecasted to hit this area—that is often the best place to be.  The storms never hit where they are expected to.  And as is usually the case, a few days before landfall, the destination of the category 2 hurricane was changed to Tampa.  Of course, you all know how this story ends.  Just as the storm was skirting the west coast of Florida, it ramped up into a cat 4, banked hard right, and hit Punta Gorda square in the kisser.

My family and I were in our home when the storm hit.  We had placed our daughter’s twin mattress on the floor in our 1st floor, interior wall closet and closed her and all the animals in there.  Roll call:  1 eight-year-old daughter, 3 dogs, and 9 cats.  Thank heavens for roomy walk-in closets.  In my defense, I was not the crazy cat lady at that time.  We only had one cat of our own, but we were fostering a new mother cat and her 7 kittens for Suncoast Humane Society, where I worked back then.

My husband and I kept an eye on the storm’s progress as best we could after the power was knocked out.  Listening to the battery powered radio about the storm’s progress was a lesson in futility.  It carried the report from the TV meteorologist.  He kept saying, “As you can see the storm is here (points).  If you are here (points), you’re in trouble.  This is what it looks like here (points)…”  He was obviously pointing to things on his maps and screens, but without power, we couldn’t see the television screen to which he was referring.  (Note to FEMA—can we get some radio announcers to do the weather during major storms accompanied by power outages?)

Standing at the aquarium window in our dining room we saw the neighbor’s roof blow past.  We decided not to wait to see if the wicked witch would follow on her bike and immediately decided it was time to dive into the closet ourselves.  A tense moment was lightened when we opened the closet door to find our daughter bound and gagged with a robe sash.  Kate had amused herself (and the animals, no doubt) by pretending that they had kidnapped her and tied her up.  We all huddled for what seemed like hours as the walls rocked and swayed.  When it finally calmed down, we weren’t sure if we were in the eye of the hurricane, or if it had passed.  The weather reporter was quite helpful.  He announced that the eye of the storm was here (point, point).

Finally venturing out of the closet, we surveyed our house and the neighborhood.  We were very fortunate.  A couple of 100+-year-old oak trees took the brunt of the storm for us.  The powerful winds uprooted the trees next to our house, but luckily they landed just next to the roof.  The root balls exposed were almost as tall as the 2 story house.  While I was sad to see the trees gone, I’m sure that is what deflected the winds around the house so that it sustained only minor cosmetic damage.  Most of our neighbors were equally fortunate, except for the one across the street who lost a large section of her roof.

Our entire cul-de-sac worked together to clean up the storm damage.  We fired up the grills and cooked all the food from the freezers that would soon spoil.  Red Cross delivered ice and water routinely.  A steady police presence kept us feeling safe.  Our (now) favourite neighbor worked for FPL and got our area’s power restored after only a little more than a week.

Peace River Wildlife Center fared quite well also.  The cages and habitats sustained little structural damage.  Most of the permanent resident birds had been transferred to other facilities to the east and north.  Other patients went home with rehabbers and volunteers to ride out the storm.  Thanks to the fact that it was a fast moving storm, the predicted storm surge and flooding did not happen.  That would have been devastating to such a low-lying area.  It was soon after Charley that I started volunteering at PRWC.  That is when the real trouble began there!

by–  Robin Jenkins, DVM

A victim of the time spent hiding from Hurricane Charley.
A victim of the time spent hiding from Hurricane Charley.