Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hurricane Charley: Ten years later

While I have been doing emergency PIO work since I was hired at my agency in 1998, Hurricane Charley was a seminal moment for me. Sure, our emergency operations center had opened for storms such as Floyd in 1999 and Harvey in 2000, Charley was something else entirely.

For those of you who may not know much about the storm, it formed in early August, and traversed the Caribbean Sea, just brushing Jamaica. Before the storm made landfall in Cuba, the National Hurricane Center had the storm coming ashore right across Pinellas County where I work. During our long shifts, we kept hoping that the storm would somehow dissipate or turn out to sea. But it didn't. It just kept growing in intensity until it reached Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale.

Hours before the storm was to make landfall on Friday, August 13, it deviated from its forecast track and deviated east, right into Charlotte County as a Category 4 hurricane. The animated GIF above shows the eye's landfall into the Port Charlotte - Punta Gorda area, where wind gusts in excess of 170 mph were reported.

One week after the storm, one of our TV station's videographers and I went to Charlotte County to record the damage, and it was unbelievable. When I got home from that one day in the affected area, I wrote this account of what I saw. We later produced this video of the damage:

Images that still - ten years later - are burned into my mind. Homes and businesses damaged every direction as far as you could see. Complete failures of masonry curtain walls. Massive destruction.

And, people helping. Police departments, sheriff's offices and fire units from across the state were on scene, working the issues. I even got involved in the relief effort, 'throwing ice' with the deputies from Palm Beach and Pinellas Counties. Yup, that's me in the white hat handing out bags.

We learned a lot about public information from that storm. We also learned that while the storm did miss the Tampa Bay area, it was critical that we recorded the events of that storm to show our residents why they need to be prepared for the next time, when the storm doesn't turn.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist

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