Hurricane Charley was the second major hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. Charley hit Fort Myers Beach on August 13, and at its strongest, it reached 150 mph winds, making it a strong Category 4 hurricane. Fortunately for Fort Myers Beach, Charley was a relatively small storm; it was confined to the center and extended no more than a couple of miles around the center of that storm. A real true Category 4 storm is much, much bigger, but it was the strongest hurricane to hit southwestern Florida since Hurricane Andrew twelve years before, in 1992, and before that, Hurricane Donna in 1960.
Meteorologist Robert Van Winkle compared Charley to the devastating Hurricane Katrina. "If Charley would have been one of those kinds of storms, the storm surge would have been 17 feet. We would have had serious problems, and I think we still probably could have been picking up the pieces today had that happened," he said.
Charley rapidly intensified from Category 2 to Category 4 in the few hours prior to its Florida landfall. My husband and I might have left the island before the hurricane hit if we had known it would go to a Cat 4. As it was, we stayed with our cat, Shadow, who panicked when the wind picked up. She jumped up to the highest shelf in our storage closet and wouldn’t come down. The water in the closet went to two feet deep, and the shelf was six feet high, so the cat was never in any danger, but she didn’t know that. She meowed pathetically from her perch until I was able to grab her and keep her safely with us on stairs to the second floor. From there, we watched the hurricane winds and storm surge hit Fort Myers Beach.
Times Square was deserted in the calm before the storm.
Businesses were boarded up in preparation for Hurricane Charley.
Red Coconut RV park was also deserted.
Charley’s winds got up to 150 mph.
Hurricane winds blew the water towards shore, creating the surge that covered the island in some places.
My street, Andre-Mar Drive
Andre-Mar Drive from our house
The waters from the Gulf and the Bay met on our street.
Mango Street Market
The Newton House on the beach side
The vegetation was destroyed and screens were blown in.
The Newton House facing Estero Boulevard
The Newton House didn’t weather Charley very well.
Matanzas Pass Preserve
Robert on the beach after the water receded
The wind of a hurricane causes the water to pile up higher than the ordinary sea level and causes flooding problems. Storm surge on Fort Myers Beach was six to seven feet and, together with sustained winds, caused all kinds of damage. The salt water corroded electrical wiring in cars, homes and appliances, ruined upholstered furniture, and caused mold to start climbing up drywall in a matter of hours. The wind caused damage to roofs, lanais, fences and less substantial structures.
Ruined bedding from Howard Johnson’s
Andre-Mar Drive was lined with ruined household goods ready for garbage pickup.
Everything touched by salt water had to be discarded. Drywall and insulation had to be torn out and thrown away and walls treated with an anti-bacterial spray. Then everything in our house had to be dried out with huge hot-air fans running for 24 hours straight.
Vegetation was put in black plastic garbage bags for pickup.
Times Square in the aftermath of Charley
Old San Carlos Boulevard practically empty
Kind folks at the Beach Theater had a cookout for the stranded islanders.
The folks in line stayed on the island; they didn’t want to leave because they couldn’t get back on. The authorities closed down the island so that no one could get on or off. They kept it closed down for a week, ostensibly “for our own good.” After a week’s time, people came back to a bigger mess than we had because we got started on cleanup right away. We managed without electricity, but we always had running water, or we probably couldn’t have stayed on the island.
The Southern Baptist Convention from Kentucky set up shop at the Fort Myers Beach Baptist Church. The Red Cross assigned this group to come to Fort Myers Beach. The church members go wherever they are told to provide relief services.
The Red Cross supplied food and water. The volunteers on-site did the rest.
Red Cross trucks rode up and down the streets of the island passing out meals.
Free meals were offered to anyone who wanted them in this makeshift cafeteria under the Baptist Church. This was a godsend to us because we had no electricity, no food and no appliances to cook food in anyway. Members of the Convention are in the yellow T-shirts. They are not youngsters--mostly they are retired folks who travel far and wide to help their neighbors, as Christ instructed them to do in the Bible. (I know this because I asked a number of them why they did it.)
Meals were handed out-- no questions asked, no donations solicited, no proselytizing done-- and they were quite good meals, as I remember
The Reef Restaurant before Hurricane Charley
The Reef was a small, unimposing restaurant, but it regularly offered three All-You-Can-Eat specials consisting of steamed snow crab legs, deep-fried frog legs or crunchy grouper. And you could alternate any of these entrees--if you had a big enough appetite, that is. That was one special restaurant.
The Reef Restaurant after Hurricane Charley
The “X” on the window means it was deemed uninhabitable.
The Reef Restaurant after Hurricane Charley
The Reef Restaurant was demolished.