Hurricane Charley: Out of destruction comes order

Mother nature has a cruel way of showing her awesome power. Often times we become too wrapped up in our own splendor and the things we create, and then Mother Nature flexes her muscle and reminds us all how temporary we and the things we create can all become. It had been 12 years since the major disaster of Hurricane Andrew, and more than 40 years since a major hurricane had struck the gulf coast of Florida. Long enough to forget the chaos that is created by such an event.

My family came to Charlotte County in 1975, and we have been there ever since. My grandfather developed many of the landmarks that are pointed to when residents describe the charm of the community. As I was walking the streets of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte in the days after Hurricane Charley, an inescapable thought kept recurring in my head: “We are in a war zone.” Homes leveled to the ground. Businesses reduced to rubble. The landmarks ripped to shreds. Lives scattered into the wind.

Such a sight can easily break a man down. It can give you justifiable cause to crawl into a hole and not want to come out for months. In the hours during the Hurricane strike, and immediately after, I came to some profound realizations in life that have led me to view this horrific disaster in a different light. The homes, businesses, and landmarks destroyed are all objects of man, and they can all be rebuilt. The material possessions contained in those places are also objects of man, and they can all be lived without.

When word of the Hurricane’s turn reached my family, we had only 45 minutes to react. We decided to go down the road to my grandmother’s house that was equipped with storm shutters. Trying to decide what items we had that we could not live without and needed to bring with us was a lot easier than it seems when you play that game as an icebreaker. It was easy because you quickly realize there is pretty much nothing you own that you couldn’t live without. We took our dogs and ourselves.

As I sat huddled in the bathroom of my grandmother’s Punta Gorda home with the full might of Charley roaring around us like a freight train, I had an epiphany. I looked around and I could see outside as the trees were flung around like toothpicks, cars were thrown across the street, and the neighbor’s houses were gutted like freshly caught fish. In all that chaos, I found myself focusing less on what was outside and more on what was inside: my parents, my grandmother, two of my aunts, four of my cousins, and the seven dogs we collectively owned. Family. The only thing you cannot live without.

Hurricane Charley was an event that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. But yet, at the same time, I would wish it on some of the closest of my friends.

Don Donelson can be contacted at