Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm with 145-mph winds, made landfall 10 years ago on Aug. 13, 2004, near Punta Gorda, about 60 miles south of Anna Maria Island.
Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn, who was mayor at that time, remembers that the storm’s path was predicted to make landfall at the mouth of Tampa Bay as it moved north along Florida’s Gulf coast.
“We really expected it would be bad. The island would have been in the northeast quadrant of Charley, and that’s always where the highest winds and rain are in a hurricane,” she said.
Anna Maria Island was evacuated and city governments were relocated inland in expectation of flooding and severe damage on the island.
“We feared the worst,” she recalled.
The storm was expected to strike Tampa Bay around 3 p.m. that day. Around 10 a.m., however, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center in Miami said they detected a slight easterly movement in the hurricane’s path.
That movement changed the storm’s course before it reached Tampa Bay and brought it ashore at Punta Gorda. Charley smashed through Charlotte County, bending light and telephone poles, destroying mobile homes and tearing the roof off other homes and structures.
Charley then pushed inland and caused considerable damage in the Arcadia area and along its path through the state.
SueLynn recalls how relieved city and island residents were, even though the island’s good fortune was someone else’s bad luck.
And there was little wind or rain on the west side of the storm, so the island didn’t get much impact from Charley, she remembered.
However, once news of the devastation of Punta Gorda and Arcadia was received, island churches and volunteers began collecting food, clothing and personal items for victims of the storm.
The response of islanders was “incredible,” SueLynn recalled. “Everyone wanted to help because we had been lucky.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency set up a large number of mobile homes in Punta Gorda and Arcadia to accommodate those left without a housing.
“We were lucky that time,” SueLynn said. “I remember feeling relieved, yet sorry that others had not been so fortunate.”
Although the island missed the brunt of the hurricane, wave action in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in severe erosion along the island’s coastline. Three other Atlantic hurricanes that season added to erosion of the island’s beaches, although none made landfall near Anna Maria Island.
An emergency beach renourishment project took place in 2005, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted that project after learning the contractor was not renourishing the beach to Corps standards.