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Spared from the Storm

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 13, 2014
At 140 mph, Hurricane Charley cut a new pass through southern Cayo Costa Island, the island just north of North Captiva Island.
At 140 mph, Hurricane Charley cut a new pass through southern Cayo Costa Island, the island just north of North Captiva Island.
  • Longboat Key
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Juan Florensa
Public Works Director

When Hurricane Charley narrowly missed Longboat Key on Aug. 13, 2004, Juan Florensa had been the town’s Public Works director for three years.

“It was the first time I, or the town, had ever experienced a full-scale evacuation,” he said. “We had all been watching the weather forecasts, and we sort of knew what we were in for, but when officials in Manatee County notified us that morning that the storm was headed right toward us and we needed to evacuate, we went to the mainland, hunkered down and prepared for the worst.”

Florensa was at home in Lakewood Ranch when the storm made landfall.

“I was in a safe room in my house when we heard over the radio that the storm had taken a major right turn and missed us,” he said. “We are very relieved that nothing had major had happened, but we were very concerned about loss of power and its effect on the sewer system.”

Florensa’s main concern as Public Words director was that if the power was out and the sewer systems weren’t running, waste wouldn’t go to the proper location, and the town might have a messy problem on its hands.

The threat of the storm began to dissipate around 3 p.m., and Florensa joined other town officials to assess the storm’s toll.

“It was very eerie in town right after the storm,” he said. “The streets where filled with debris, it was dark and the town was dead quiet.”

Fortunately, power outages didn’t affect the town’s sewer system, and Florensa was able to use Hurricane Charley’s close encounter as a learning experience.

“Hurricane Charley was anti-climactic, but up until then the town hadn’t seen a major storm come through since the ‘60s,” he said. “It was a critical experience for town management.”

Susan Phillips
Assistant to town manager

Assistant to the town manager Susan Phillips believes Hurricane Charley made the town realize the importance of being prepared.

“We hadn’t seen much storm activity until then, and that year put us in a position to take a hard look at how a hurricane could affect this barrier island,” said Phillips, who served as the town’s public information officer during the storm.

Even though Charley and the storms that followed were near misses, the town learned valuable lessons from neighboring communities that weren’t as fortunate.

Charley was the first of four storms to threaten the island during summer 2004, along with hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

Phillips said Sanibel opened up to neighboring city officials after the storms in hopes they could learn from it.

“After Charley we set up a joint meeting between both of our towns’ commissions,” she said. “After the storms began to die down, our city commissioners spent two nights on Sanibel to learn what the town experienced.”

Each of the town’s department heads went to Sanibel to meet with their counterparts. The commission looked at damages to the town, examining both what and what not to do from Sanibel’s leadership and preparedness plan.

“We learned that a town spends a considerable amount of money just clearing roads and restoring service,” Phillips said. “A sound financial plan for dealing with hurricane damages is a must.”

Because Longboat Key sits within two counties and is only accessible by two bridges, the town created its own state-recognized emergency and evacuation plans.

“But, if town staff are the only ones prepared, it will just lead to more suffering,” she said. “We need our homeowners, business owners, resort owners and everyone in the community to have a hurricane plan in place.”

Doug Coffman
Longboat Key police sergeant

Police never left when the Key was ordered to evacuate Aug. 13.

The entire force at the time was called in to help with the evacuation, and officers stayed Aug. 13 and Aug. 14, at Casa Del Mar Beach Resort.

“Most of the police were already off the island before the police chief made the call for everyone to report to Casa Del Mar,” Longboat Key Police Sgt. Doug Coffman said. “The officers left their personal vehicles on the mainland and were ferried out to the island.”

However, little police action was needed on Longboat Key after the storm turned south and spared the town.

“It was the off-season here, and there weren’t a lot of people here to evacuate, but I’d say getting everyone off the island was harder than repairing the storm’s damages,” Coffman added. “We were lucky, there wasn’t much damage, and it was a good practice run for us, but not everybody was as fortunate as we were.”

Lessons learned
Town officials share the lessons they learned from Longboat Key’s experiences during Hurricane Charley and from meeting with other impacted communities.

• Generators are a must, but they should be stored on the mainland.

• To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family or business communications plan.

• Debris on the roadways creates a need for spare tires.

• Heavy cloud concentrations can render cellphones useless.

• Know your surroundings.

• Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.

• Determine how and where to secure your boat.

• Consider building a safe room.

• Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.

• Learn the elevation level of your property and whether the land is flood-prone. This will help you know how your property will be affected when storm surge or tidal flooding are forecasted.

• If you’re in a high-rise building when high winds are present, be prepared to take shelter on a lower floor because wind conditions increase with height, and in a small interior room without windows. When flooding may be occurring, be prepared to take shelter on a floor safely above the flooding and wave effects.



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