This August 13 marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Charley, which ripped through such barrier islands as Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island.
Before Fort Myers Beach was declared a disaster area, residents and visitors of the Beach were asked to leave the island through a mandatory evacuation by Beach Fire officials. While some braved the major storm conditions by remaining on the island, those who heeded the departure advice were only allowed back on the Beach some five-plus days later on Aug. 18, 2004. Tempers flared during the interim as residents tried to re-enter but were pushed back by Lee County Sheriff's deputies and National Guardsmen. The island was deemed unsafe due to services down and Estero Boulevard and much of the island being covered in sand, debris and downed power lines.
Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, along with his then-girlfriend, now-wife Paula, was in the short-term rental business on Fort Myers Beach in 2004. Lahaina Realty has since sold that part of the business.
"We had a couple of hundred units that we represented. When we finally made it back on the Beach, we had 200 freezers that had food, fish and anything else you can name inside that sat for a week," he said. "We had to go to each unit and clean them out one at a time."
Kiker quipped about the help he received from fellow Beach residents. He also stated he lost a car through that storm.
"You never knew how many friends that you have until they come to help you," he said. "After they helped you, you wondered how many friends you had left.
FMB Hurricane Preparedness Re-Entry Pass
In advance of each hurricane season, the Town of Fort Myers Beach issues Hurricane Re-Entry Passes to islanders and to island businesses. The purpose of these passes is to expedite re-entry to Estero Island once a mandatory evacuation order has been lifted. This service is provided to islanders free of charge, however registration and annual renewal is required.
- To get an online application, go to www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/3403 . n Once you acquire an application, follow the steps provided:
1. Complete the application, including your signature and date.
2. Be sure to include your pass(es) number on the application, if this is a renewal, to insure that the database can be kept current. This will also assist us in replacing a lost or stolen pass.
3. For your convenience you can:
a. drop off the application and supporting information at Town Hall, located at 2523 Estero Blvd.;
b. fax the application and supporting information to 239-765-0909;
c. mail the application and supporting information to: Town of Fort Myers Beach, 2523 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931
d. e-mail application and supporting information to Pass@fortmyersbeachfl.gov
(When using one of these methods above, please allow for adequate time to process the application and mail the pass. Please provide a mailing address if it is other than the local addresses required on the application.)
4. You can also go this route:
a. process your application at one of the designated Re-entry Pass locations. The locations, dates and times will be posted each year on the Town's website, at Town Hall and in the local papers.
Please be certain to include or bring with you all requested information when submitting the application. Your application can not be processed without the required supporting information.
5. Re-Entry Passes are property of the Town of Fort Myers Beach. The Town has authority to deny issue or repeal issued pass from anyone for reasons of providing false information.
6. A fee will be assessed for lost or stolen replacement passes.
1st Replacement- $5.
2nd Replacement- $20.
7. Passes are non transferrable.
- To register, please provide the following:
1. State issued photo identification (i.e.: Driver's License, Passport, Government issued ID).
2. Proof of Residency: Tax bill or Deed for property owners; current lease or letter from landlord and current utility bill for renters. (Max 2 Issued)
3. Businesses: Current tax bill or occupational license. (Max 3 Issued)
4. Property Managers: Property Managers License and list of properties managed. (1 pass per 5 properties managed, Max 5 Issued)
- Passes should be hung on the rearview mirror or placed on driver's side dashboard.
-information provided off of Town website www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov
"Looking back on it, half of the damage was caused by the water in (Hurricane) Charley, and the other half of the damage that happened was from the winds from (Hurricane) Wilma (which tormented the Beach in Oct. 2005).
Beach Fire Chief Darren White was a fire fighter back in 2004 when the hurricane hit. He was part of the first crew back on the island.
"We did the recognizance of the island," White said. "The boulevard was covered with sand. There was a lot of debris, and it was washed out in the middle of the road."
White also recalled the fire that occurred on Pearl Street during the storm and the help that was there for those who needed it.
"Some of the things I remember was working with the Red Cross," he said. "I was 'boots on the ground' when the hurricane came through."
Kiker pointed out that a major storm can happen on any given year.
"After those hurricanes, we all remained afraid for years," he said. "I think everybody is becoming too comfortable again."
Hurricane Charley has been called the worst storm to hit the Beach since 1960 when Hurricane Donna's eye passed over Estero Island.
In its 2014 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued last week, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a near-normal or below-normal season.
NOAA claims the main driver of this year's outlook is the anticipated development of El Nio this summer. El Nio causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. It can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, making it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms.
The outlook calls for a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season. For the six-month hurricane season, NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 2 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).
These numbers are near or below the seasonal averages of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, based on the average from 1981 to 2010. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
Council looks to summarize EOP
The Town's Emergency Operations Plan is consistent with the National Incident Management System and the Lee County Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and describes and details actions to be executed following the declaration of an emergency affecting Fort Myers Beach. Go to www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov to view the complete plan.
Town officials are reviewing the plan and are outlining it to a more efficient "executive summary" that could be indexed to specific entries.
"Council wants something that is not as cumbersome as what we currently have," said Stilwell. "It's not the kind of document one can go to in a crisis situation."
During a recent workshop, Council discussed the EOP and tasked the Public Safety Committee to come up with summarizing it. The members cited Beach Fire's emergency manual as a good document to follow.
"In a state of emergency, brevity is the key," said Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda. "That's what I found with the fire department's manual. What do we add to that to make it a clear and decisive action?"
The 174-page Emergency Operations Plan was prepared by then-FMB Planning Group consultant Rodney Melsek and was adopted on July 24, 2006. The EOP has not been updated since.
The entire incorporated area of the Town of Fort Myers Beach is located within an area of
Coastal High Hazard as defined in Florida Statutes, Chapter 163.3178. All life and property on
Estero Island is especially vulnerable to destruction by high winds and flooding caused by hurricanes as well as their accompanying tornadoes and heavy rainfall. Large areas of the island are subject to damage from wave action of floodwaters. Life and property may also be endangered by the insufficient precautions of others, when wave action batters structures with unsecured debris and wreckage of destroyed structures.
Hurricane hazards come in many forms, including storm surge, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, high winds, tornadoes, and rip currents.
Since it is a barrier island, the Town is limited by the two exit points for evacuation, necessitating advanced warning. During an emergency, utility services may be disabled, and may continue to be nonfunctional for extended periods; public safety may be impaired through lack of police and fire protection and emergency medical response; downed power lines, gas leaks, and damage to structures can cause safety hazards; and basic necessities such as food, fresh water, and gasoline may be unavailable for extended periods.
So, remember: Be safe but, more importantly, be prepared before disaster strikes.
---- The following excerpt is a story done by Charlie Loucks, who was a Beach Observer staff writer at the time of Hurricane Charley. This appeared in the Aug. 18, 2004 issue, just days after Hurricane Charley passed by. Beach residents, who were given a mandatory evacuation by Beach Fire officials prior to the major storm, were allowed to re-enter the island.
The Fort Myers Beach emergency management team decided on Monday to re-open Estero Island today at 9 a.m. Estero Island has been closed to residents since a mandatory evacuation, which began on August 12 as Hurricane Charley moved through Cuba on its way to Southwest Florida. A curfew from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. will remain in effect until further notice.
Beach Fire Chief Steve Marcus declared Fort Myers Beach a disaster area last Friday, Aug. 13, just after the storm had moved through the Beach and left Estero Boulevard covered in mounds of sand and power lines down throughout the island.
Beach Mayor Bill Thomas, Vice Mayor Garr Reynolds, and Councilmen Howard Rynearson and Bill Van Duzer attended Monday's meeting.
Marcus and Captain Kerry Griner of the Lee County Sheriff's Office West District, agreed to open the island to residents only after it was determined that water and sewer utilities, which were a major concern, would be functional enough that they would not become a health hazard once residents returned to the Beach. Estero Island will be open to the general public on Friday, they decided.
Town Manager Marsha Segal-George reported that Florida Power and Light had nearly completed restoring power on Estero Boulevard and would begin working on side streets today, which should be nearly completed by the weekend.
Beach Water reported that water pressure is up to minimum operational levels and water bacteria test results would be completed today at noon. Gucciardo said residents should boil water as a precaution.
Re-entry will be allowed to Beach residents with proof of residency such as a driver's license with a Fort Myers Beach address or other proof such as a recent utility bill with the resident's name. Vehicles will be checked on a car-by-car basis and passengers who can't provide proof of residency will be turned away, Griner said.
Gucciardo said that even though there is still a massive amount of work to be done to rebuild the island, he believes the island would be able to handle the influx of residents.
"We may not be 100 percent on sewage - we may not be 100 percent on electric, but we'll be ready," he said.
Segal-George added, "We're ready to roll."
Beach Chamber President D.J. (Petro) Petruccelli said Tuesday that official re-entry cards will be issued today. "We will issue three cards per business," Petruccelli said.
The Beach Chamber will issue cards from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. at a cost of $1 each. The Chamber office is located 17200 San Carlos Boulevard.
Segal-George said two comfort stations will be set up on the south end of the island providing portable restrooms and water, adding that two portable medical facilities will began operation today across from the Holiday Inn providing free tetanus shots. A doctor will also be available for residents. For medical questions, you may call 765-1344.
"We know we'll have some health issues," Segal-George said.
Publix, Jay's Hardware and some other convenience stores will be open with limited supplies. The American Red Cross will be set up at DiamondHead.
Griner said extra deputies would be brought in from other areas to protect unoccupied homes.
"We haven't had any looting and we won't have any looting," Griner said, adding that Fort Myers Beach is a very high priority for the sheriff's office.
"The Beach will be a major concern for the sheriff's office when we begin to let people back on the island," he said.