PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (WWSB) - Fifteen years ago today, Hurricane Charley made landfall in Charlotte County. The Suncoast has seen a handful of hurricanes since then, but nothing quite like that one where effects can still be seen now.
“It was the worst impact and storm since Hurricane Donna which was 40 years earlier. It had been a long time since we were impacted, and Hurricane Charley made a direct hit on Charlotte County, and we were digging out for months afterwards,” Brian Gleason, the Communications Manager for Charlotte County, explained.
The Category 4 hurricane destroyed homes and buildings, left the city without power for almost a month and took the lives of four people. However, officials says those four people did not listen to the warnings.
It is devastating outcomes like that one that the county now focuses on to make sure all residents are prepared before and after a storm hits.
“We want to be 100% storm ready. We want our residents to be storm ready, and so we’ve made a big push since Hurricane Charley to make sure people know what to do, they have a plan in place and know when to leave,” Gleason said.
Aside from reminding residents to protect their homes and have an evacuation plan, the county has made dozens of improvements like installing generators at lift stations for wastewater and having extra fuel on all city trucks to enhance responsiveness during and after a storm.
“When you get a clean slate like a hurricane gives you, you almost have to get better than you were,” Gleason tells us, “You go from 60-year-old buildings to brand new buildings, comprehensive plans, all that stuff that goes into a community vision – and you get to do that from a clean slate.”
Plus, one major change, 15 years later, is that technology has become a major part of emergency disaster plans.
"Cell phone communication was basically non-existent, so I know a lot of things have been done to harden that," Josh Taylor, the Public Information Officer for the City of North Port, explained.
Code Red has been added to basically all counties on the Suncoast - to ensure everyone is able to get the safety they need. These alerts will go straight to your phone and notify you of everything from when shelters are open to where water can be found and updates on the storm.
“It’s important for people to be educated on what’s going on,” Taylor added.