A large crowd gathered at the American Legion shortly before noon last Tuesday to "celebrate" the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Charley. Those attending shared stories about where they were when the hurricane hit.
Hurricane Charley was the third named storm, and second hurricane of the 2004 hurricane season. Charley lasted from Aug. 9, when it formed in the Atlantic, until Aug. 15, when it passed over the state north of Pine Island on its way back to the Atlantic.
Charley was scheduled to hit Southwest Florida and the Pine Island area Aug. 13. Doug Manson (now deceased American Legion Historian) opened the American Legion hall at 9 that morning. It was shortly after 10 a.m. when people began showing up. As more and more cars were parked in the lot, this drew in even more people and by 10 a.m. the rain and wind were so intense that leaving the island was impossible. By noon the hall at the legion was becoming packed and many people showed up with their pets: dogs, cats, birds.
Among those attending the Hurricane Charley party were, from left, Guylin DeMeyere, Sonja 'Sonny' Kousoutis, Claudine Alvarez and Linda Lewis.
"It was like a zoo in here," Sue Walter said.
As the storm moved northward up the gulf, and just before it struck the northern tip of Captiva Island, it changed from a Category 2 storm to a Category 4 storm with winds reaching 130 to 156 mph. The storm struck North Captiva Island, severing it in two parts resulting in a breech that was 450 meters wide as gulf waters swept across the island.
By that time, according to Manson, there were more than 100 people packed into the small hall. Guylin DeMeyere arrived shortly before noon.
"When the storm hit it was raining so hard it looked like a white-out in a snow storm, you couldn't see through the wind and rain," DeMeyere said. It was reported that wind gusts reached 170 mph in St. James City. The legion kept serving hot food not really knowing when the power would go out. Then around 2 p.m. it did. Fortunately there was a back-up generator that kicked in. But the island was without power."
The storm continued to rage for several hours until 3:30 p.m., when the winds died down and the skies brightened up.
"Everyone was anxious and wanted to see how much damage their homes sustained," DeMeyere said. "Fortunately for us, our house was newly built and built to withstand hurricane force winds. We did have some damage but not what was expected. The roof was so secure that when the wind went under the eaves it couldn't move the roof so it blew downward into the house blowing out the drywall and insulation. I had pink insulation everywhere," DeMeyere said.
"I've lived on the island for about 25 years and never experienced anything like it," Walter said. "I went home and waded through about three feet of water to get to my house. Luckily my house was the second one on the block. I didn't have any water damage but I did have some wind damage."
"The worst of it wasn't the storm but the next two weeks without electricity. Meat, fish and everything that people keep in freezers was going bad and I believe it was a health hazard. Groups of us were going around cleaning out refrigerators and freezers of people that weren't on the island. A few people had water but for most of us were without. People were washing up in swimming pools," DeMeyere said.
"I had running water," Walter said. "And people were coming by to use my outdoor shower."
Everyone agreed that Winn-Dixie, the American Red Cross and Bank of America helped people survive in the aftermath of the storm - providing food and supplies wherever needed.
The next year the American Legion decided to have a "We Survived Hurricane Charley" party and have held the party every year since.
"This is our 9th consecutive year. We just get together and get silly. We eat, drink and do our little 'storm dance.' It's just an excuse to have a good time and remember the hurricane," Linda Lewis, American Legion Ladies Auxiliary past president, said.