The historic clock on Marion Avenue in downtown Punta Gorda lay on the ground broken, stopped at 4:37 p.m., marking the approximate time on Friday, Aug. 13, that Hurricane Charley swooped down like an angel of God and made its mark in history. Friday the 13th indeed.
Charley was projected to make landfall in the Tampa area as a dangerous category 2 hurricane. Hours before its strike, the massive storm surprisingly turned sharply east, leaving residents in the new path little time to react, and watching in horror as it amassed strength and turned into a high category 4 storm. Directly before power was lost, televisions showed Charley poised for a run straight up the gut of the Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda communities.
Charley came, and came hard. At its initial landfall, it packed sustained winds of 145mph, with gusts of a walloping 180mph. Charley so ravaged Charlotte County, that residents of over 20 years found themselves lost only blocks away from their homes because nothing was recognizable.
In total, 12,019 homes were destroyed completely and an additional 19,095 homes sustained ‘major’ damage, leaving them uninhabitable.
Statewide, Charley immediately left over 2 million residents without power and caused almost 8 billion dollars in damage to homes alone. Fourteen days after Charley struck, most of Charlotte County was still without power or clean water. Twenty-six people have died as a result of the storm, matching the total death toll from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
While Charlotte County bore the brunt of Charley, many other communities fell in Charley’s path, including those as far north as Orange County.
“Everything looked unfamiliar,” Lacey Menkin, freshman and resident of Orange County, said. “There were so many trees knocked over I couldn’t see the road.”
Jamie Jirout, a senior from Port Charlotte, described her experience with Charley.
“There was a long while when I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to us or if we were going to make it,” Jirout said.
In response to Charley, many in the UM community sprang into action. The Volunteer Services Center held a donation drive collecting bottled water and hygiene products, and The Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs placed phone calls to over 400 UM Students in the affected areas, offering both assistance and good wishes. The office is making assistance available to students affected by the storm.
Many students have already received book scholarships and parking passes to assist with financial burdens created by loss of work and other storm-related situations.
Charley was truly the perfect storm, turning without warning, intensifying rapidly, and then pounding the state from the Charlotte County area on up to the Atlantic coast. In an eerie and ominous display, the remains of what used to be a Shell gas station sat destroyed in the calm after the storm in Port Charlotte. The overhang installed over the pumps to keep customers dry from rain was on its side with the letter ‘S’ of the store name blown away. It read, “hell,” and it couldn’t have been more appropriate.
Students are encouraged to contact Mariana Valdes-Fauli at 305-284-4922. Assistance will be given on a case-by-case basis.
Don Donelson can be contacted at email@example.com.