The 13th of this month marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Charley’s unwelcome visit to my community. Yet in many ways, it seems as though it was only yesterday. The Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of 150 mph and gusts to 190, carved a destructive path through the heart of Charlotte County, Florida late in that afternoon and set us on a course of recovery that continues to this day.
Not long after this $3.2 billion hit to our county, including the loss of 11,000 residential units, we began referring to Charley as, “Urban Renewal by Disaster,” and the changes in both appearance and attitude speak volumes in terms of our community’s resiliency.
No city impacted by a major disaster serves as a better example of this recovery and renewal, than Punta Gorda, Florida, the “Little City That Could!”
Hit very hard on that fateful Friday the 13th, no small municipality has seen quite the complete devastation that Punta Gorda endured in about a two-hour period that sweltering August day. Thousands of homes (including 90% of the public housing) and businesses were damaged or destroyed, three schools (within the city limits) were lost, along with numerous churches, restaurants and hotels.
Temporary housing became a huge challenge, with thousands needing to be close to schools and jobs in our community. Just 10 days after Charley, a group was organized that included dozens of individuals who would have any input whatsoever in the target project. After more than 14 hours, the group had designed what would later become a 551-unit manufactured home community, where some Charley survivors would reside for more than two years.
The residents of Punta Gorda didn’t take time to fret and moan about what they’d lost, but rather immediately set about designing a plan that would help them emerge from the considerable destruction around them. An advisory panel called, “Team Punta Gorda” was formed by the City Council, and an urban planner was hired to lead the way, along with an executive director. This group met frequently and considered many proposals, the best of which were passed on to the elected council to consider.
These projects included the gleaming Events and Conference Center on the Peace River, two signature hotels, professional centers, churches and schools. Within five years, most of Charley’s scars had healed and now only those who were here would even know a major hurricane had visited the city.
Today, this Florida Gulf Coast jewel shines as a beacon of resiliency that did it the right way!
Editor's Note: The views expressed by Wayne P. Sallade do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.