Today is the fifth anniversary on what some islanders might recall as the most significant event in the history of Southwest Florida.
On Friday the 13th, 2004, Hurricane Charley passed across our region with winds approaching 150 mph and waves nearly 15 feet high. The storm battered buildings and tore down trees, leaving in its wake an unforgettable path of devastation and destruction that to this day, Sanibel and Captiva residents still discuss with a fair amount of melancholy.
And while unlike other anniversaries, the five-years-since-Charley date will not be celebrated in a traditional manner - save for a few hurricane parties at The Timbers and American Legion Post 123 on tap for tonight - we think that this occasion does deserve at least a moment to pause for reflection.
We should be thankful.
First and foremost, we should be thankful that everybody on the island survived. Charley is reported to have contributed to 31 deaths in the U.S., Jamaica and Cuba. Property can be replaced, but lives cannot.
Secondly, we should be thankful that the devastation wasn't worse. Considering that the epicenter of the storm passed between northern Captiva and Upper Captiva Island, damage to the island's structures might have been far more severe. We think that the folks responsible for developing Sanibel's building standards - keenly aware of the possibility of what effect a hurricane might have here for decades - can be credited with limiting the amount of damage seen five years ago.
Also, we should thank the city's leaders, staff members and hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers - from the kind-hearted people who delivered hot meals to homebound and power-less citizens in the days following Charley to the legion of police, firefighters, EMTs, faith groups, community organizations and charity workers who worked side-by-side with Lee County officials, Red Cross and National Guardsmen - without whom the return to "normalcy" here wouldn't have been as swift.
We learned a lot from Hurricane Charley - about ourselves and what we are all capable of, about each other and about the awesome power of Mother Nature. We also know more about making preparations in advance of severe weather events, perhaps more than we ever thought we'd need to know. But it is with that knowledge that we can face whatever may come next, pray that it won't.
The islands of Sanibel and Captiva have clearly been changed by the events from five years ago. In many cases, we think those changes are for the better.
And for that, we are most thankful.
- Reporter editorial