Hurricane Charley 10-year anniversary nears

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CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. -- This week marks 10 years since Hurricane Charley ripped through parts of the Suncoast.

On August 13th, 2004, the category four hurricane devastated Charlotte, Hardee and DeSoto counties.

Charlie had been the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992.

15 deaths were attributed to Hurricane Charley; four of those in Charlotte County. It also caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Those who lived through Hurricane Charley say it was a storm they will never forget.

“I remember where I was when John Kennedy was shot, I remember what I was doing and where I was at 9/11, and I remember where I was when Charley hit Charlotte County Florida. I will never ever forget that day.” Sharon Thomas was the assistant director of the Animal Welfare League of Charlotte County and says thankfully they evacuated all the animals before the storm and she recalled the damage left behind. “All the windows were blown out, a tree had fallen, so that whole part of the building was destroyed. The shelter itself, the roof pulled back, the front of it and the water was about a foot deep throughout the whole building.”

“You could just see roofs of trailers floating up and going,” said Freddie Jordan. After the storm, he remembers feeling overwhelmed by the amount of destruction around him. “I got up and I walked out and I thought, my God, where do I start? And I bent over and picked up a piece of metal and I said to myself, well there is a start.”

He said after the shock of the storm passed, everyone joined together to begin the clean-up process. “We would put everything out in the street, all the garbage, they would push it up the street and they came in with those big buckets and load it every other day and there would be piles 15-20 feet high.”

Thomas said she remembers driving to Venice for gas. “It was like I was going back to a third world country. Everyone in Venice was happy and it looked beautiful and everyone is getting their gas and there groceries and normal life. And the minute you get off I-75 on exit 167 or 164 it was like you were in a third world country.”

While the destruction will always be a part of their memory, both Thomas and Jordan say what they remember the most was how the community pulled together. They said neighbors, friends and even strangers worked together to begin the clean-up process.

Thousands of volunteers, including the National Guard came to help after it struck the Suncoast.

To remember the destruction Hurricane Charley caused ten years ago, an exhibit has been put together by the Charlotte County Historical Center. It displays a number of physical items, videos and pictures from the storm.

On Wednesday, Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam will visit Punta Gorda.  The two toured the devastation of Hurricane Charley together with President George W. Bush in the days following the storm’s landfall in 2004.