Story Tools

Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Island 'lucky' to escape wrath of Hurricane Charley
In the wake of Hurricane Charley, only the coffeemaker sits at ready in this demolished building. Islander Photo: Courtesy WMFR
Lesson in storm dynamics
Looking south toward Captiva Island, Cayo Costa, an island on the south side of Boca Grande Pass this is mostly uninhabited state park, has been divided by the bearing of Hurricane Charley. Islander Photo: Jack Elka
Another dynamic
The inlet where the bridge links Sanibel and Captiva islands has been gorged with sand by Hurricane Charley. Islander Photo: Jack Elka
Storm syntax?
Don't boil three days, but rather Islanders were advised to boil drinking and cooking water one-minute before use through Monday. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

Anna Maria Island defied the odds on Friday the 13th, drawing to the proverbial inside straight and finding the magic card that pushed Hurricane Charley east of its expected landfall and sparing the Island from "catastrophic devastation."

"We were lucky," said Holmes Beach Commissioner Don Maloney, in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley.

Up until 2 p.m. on Friday, all predictions from the National Hurricane Center in Miami had Charley headed straight for the mouth of Tampa Bay.

"We expected a Category 3 or 4 hurricane with winds of up to 145 miles per hour to strike directly over the Island. The center was forecast to hit the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It was really looking horrible," Maloney said. "We figured we had about four hours before it hit."

But at 2 p.m., Islanders got lucky with the draw, while others were not so fortunate.

Maloney was at the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center with Holmes Beach Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens and other Island and county elected officials when the unexpected happened. "We watched the right turn of the hurricane, which was incredible to us," he said. "It was a miracle for the Island, but it finished off Port Charlotte and I really feel for the people there."

Along with 145 mph winds, a Cat 4 hurricane passing over or just to the west of Anna Maria Island would have brought a storm surge of anywhere from 14 to 20 feet, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Had the storm surge and winds happened as predicted, "There would be nothing left of this Island," said West Manatee Fire and Rescue Chief Andy Price. "We would have had the same devastation that you are now seeing in Port Charlotte. We would have had massive destruction and some deaths."

For those who still doubt the destruction and storm surge, Price pointed to a picture in a local daily newspaper of North Captiva Island, which is now split in half. "The road is completely washed out and I understand some hotels and homes are gone," he said. A similar storm surge here would likely have split the Island around 22nd Street North in Bradenton Beach, he indicated.

Another likely breach in the Island would have been at about 14th Street South in Bradenton Beach, where historically there once was an inlet. It is the narrowest part of the Island.

A lot of people in the Charlotte area apparently didn't take the threat seriously, Price observed.

"All the forecasts had it coming directly toward us. When it moved, a lot of people there weren't expecting it, and it was sudden and took them by surprise. I can only expect that a lot of people didn't listen to the warnings.

"I feel fortunate and lucky for the Island, but at the same time, I feel for the people in Charlotte County," he added.

The WMFR has sent two trucks and two crews of firefighters to help in that county, Price said.

He also praised Islanders for heeding the warnings to evacuate. "People really understood the danger of the storm. I just hope that people will take the next one seriously, too. I've always said that it's not if, but when. We know we are going to get hit someday."

Price said the Island evacuation went very well, but a few people probably stayed on the Island. "I'm sure a few people remained, but Friday morning, I didn't see anybody. It was like a ghost town."

Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby agreed. "We had four people that stayed in the city," he said. "We started with 12 who stayed, but we were able to talk the others into leaving."

Had Charley struck the Island, said Price, the WMFR staff would now be looking for the bodies of those who had stayed, not thanking their stars that no damage occurred.

Haas-Martens, who was the official Holmes Beach representative at the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center during the storm, had high praise for the EOC.

"The EOC did a great job of keeping us informed of what was happening and getting decisions from us," as the policy group of the EOC, she observed.

"We were told to expect catastrophic devastation on the Island, right up until the time the storm turned. There was tension, then relief, then we worried about the people in Charlotte County. We said, 'Thank God for us,' but we also said a prayer for them."

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, who was also stationed at the emergency operations center in Bradenton during the storm, said Friday "was a long day, it was like waiting for the train wreck" until the storm turned to the east at about 2 p.m.

"It was a major wake-up call for us," he added.

Law enforcement officials had sealed off the Island to oncoming traffic at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 13, and the EOC policy group composed of countywide elected officials was reluctant to re-open the Island to traffic, even after the danger had apparently passed.

"They didn't want anybody back on the Island until Saturday morning," said Maloney, but Lt. Dale Stephenson of the Holmes Beach Police Department "put the pressure on" to lift the evacuation order. That order was given at 7 p.m. Friday evening and Islanders began returning to their homes and breathing a collective sigh of relief.

Manatee County health officials shut off the water to the Island at 6 a.m. Aug. 13, and Island residents were ordered to boil water for home usage until yesterday. Water service was restored to the Island at about 7 p.m. Friday.

Contrary to some reports, Florida Power & Light never planned to shut off electricity to the Island. An FPL spokesperson said they never deliberately shut off electricity to customers, but would not send out a repair crew for a downed line is winds exceed 38 mph.

The "rumor" of an electrical shut-off for Anna Maria Island may have been prompted by Progress Energy in Pinellas County and Tampa Electric Company in Tampa. Prior to Charley's arrival, Progress Energy shut off electricity to the barrier islands it services in Pinellas County, while TECO turned off power to Davis Island.

Those who stayed
Anna Maria City Commissioner Dale Woodland did not evacuate, but remained at his home.

"I stayed to protect my property," said Woodland, who has a first-floor elevation of 14 feet. "I was worried, and it looked real bad, but I've been through these before. I wasn't worried about flooding because of my elevation."

Woodland said his main concern was for the city, not for himself personally.

Those who left
Contrary to one media report, Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore did not stay in her house, but evacuated to her husband's surgical clinic in Sarasota Thursday evening.

She said she was in constant communication with Haas-Martens, the city's designated EOC representative, in addition to Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn, along with Commissioners Linda Cramer and Duke Miller, in addition to city staff, stayed at the Comfort Inn in Bradenton.

The mayor said she was in touch with Commissioner John Quam, the city's EOC representative.

The temporary city hall at the Island Baptist Church was open until 4 p.m. Thursday, said the mayor, while she stayed until about 5:30 p.m.

Some Anna Maria residents apparently went to the city hall on Gulf Drive for re-entry tags. Finding that location under construction, they then proceeded to the Holmes Beach City Hall for their tag, rather than the city's temporary office location.

Bradenton Beach City Clerk Nora Idso said that city gave out about 300 re-entry tags. "It was about 10 deep for a while on Thursday," she said.

That city's evacuation of records and computers went well, she said, and the staff spent much of Saturday puting things back in order so city hall could re-open for business on Monday.

"By far, the evacuation and actions of residents and our Island governments was excellent," said Price. "As I said, I hope we don't forget the lessons learned."

Amen, added Maloney.

"I've always said that 80 percent of the people who live on this Island have never experienced a major hurricane," he said. "Now that 80 percent still haven't experienced a major hurricane, but they've experienced the biggest scare of their lives.

"Anyone who thinks the Island would have only suffered a little damage just has to look at the pictures from Port Charlotte, Arcadia, Punta Gorda and Captiva Island. That's what we would have looked like," noted the commissioner.

"We were lucky this time. We got a taste of the real one and what has to be done, but remember, it's not a question of if we have a major hurricane, but when."