The Aftermath of Hurricanes Charley and Frances on Sanibel Island

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City of Sanibel

SanCap Survives Charley

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 Monday, September 27, 2004

I know it has been far too long since I have updated you on our state, but we’ve felt like we’ve been in a state of siege.  As a hurricane, Ivan didn’t affect us too much but for a while we thought it would so it sent us scurrying to get plywood, etc.  When we finally assembled enough plywood for our older windows and sliding glass doors, it was clear that Ivan would stay out in the Gulf and hit the Panhandle instead.  So, great, now we have plywood.  Hurricane Jeanne also did not hit us directly but it gave us tropical storm weather on Saturday night and yesterday that was very similar to that of Frances.  And just before Jeanne, our cat, General Burnside, died.  We had him for almost 14 years.  He was at least 21 years old.  Now we are sad and worn out, but we will be better soon. 


We can’t get anyone to return our calls about rescreening the pool cage, so Tom is doing it himself.  He’s also been working on a new textbook under some deadline pressure.  Our roofers have not come back to finish our roof, and maybe they won’t be here for months.  Who knows.  My brother who lives in Dade City, Florida, is without electrical power.  He and his family, fortunately, have a generator, but it eats gasoline like you wouldn’t believe.  Over a million people in Florida do not have electrical power now. 


We went out in the tropical storm weather yesterday because we could not stand being shut in any longer.  We inspected the neighborhood, making notes about tarps off of roofs.  We drove to the east end of the island.  The building debris piles along the Gulf Drives were depressing to me.  We stopped in to visit with a friend, and we went to a very late lunch.  While we were at lunch, we watched it rain like crazy.  Then the rain stopped and we went home.  I contacted neighbors with tarps off of their roofs. 


There are no more tropical storms or hurricanes on the horizon.  Let us all pray that it stays that way until the end of the hurricane season in November.

 Monday, September 6, 2004

That was one very long weekend.  Frances was a huge storm that began to hit us on Saturday night and continued until this morning, ending with a tornado warning between 7 and 8 a.m.  We thought Frances would never leave!  This morning, there are still strong breezes, and it is difficult to stand out on the beach because the wind is coming in strong, straight from the Gulf, carrying sand and salt spray with it.


After the tornado left this morning, Tom and I went around Gulf Pines and Gulf Shores, making our list of tarps off of houses and new damage.  (See GPPOA discussion board link at left.)  This afternoon, we will go check out the inside of all the houses for which we have keys.


Now we are watching Ivan, the terrible storm that seems to be following a path similar to that of Frances.  But Ivan is stronger.

 Friday, September 3, 2004

Much can change in a day.  Yesterday at 3pm, city council met and reinstated the ban on alcohol sales and the curfew (9pm to 6am) because of the approach of Hurricane Frances.  Today, they met at 10am and lifted the curfew and the ban on alcohol sales because Frances’ path has shifted to the north, farther away from us.  It is still a dangerous storm, but is threatening us less and less.  It is also expected to arrive later.  We will get our Frances-related weather on Saturday night and Sunday all day (instead of Friday night and Saturday all day as previously expected).  So, we have another day to get ready.


On Monday, we will be checking all the Gulf Pines houses for which we have keys.  We will report back to the owners that day.


Important to note: Access to Sanibel will be limited to workers and residents until September 10, according to action taken by City Council today.

 Thursday, September 2, 2004

As I write this, several men clamber noisily on the roof over my head. This has been a nerve-wracking week.  First, there was a series of little emergencies involving the community pool on our street.  Then there were huge trees being cut up and moved by heavy equipment on our street.  Tom spilled a bucket of paint when he moved a ladder in the dining room (which is in a state of ceiling reconstruction).  The paint got on one of the better oriental rugs so we’ve been trying to get that dry after a thorough hosing.    Finally, our roof sprang more leaks as we had a huge thunderstorm with very heavy rain yesterday.  We scrambled, moved all the living room furniture into one corner, moved and covered the porch furniture, and placed wastebaskets and pans under the leaks.  The thunder was incessant, and the lightning frightfully close.

Now as the tough little men tear off our old roof and put roofing felt on, the city about to issue a voluntary evacuation for Sanibel because Hurricane Frances might hit us hard.  Even if she doesn’t hit us HARD, we will at least be getting 70 mph winds and ten inches of rain, according to Sanibel’s meteorologist, Doppler Dave.  As of now, however, there is no place to evacuate to, as far as I can tell.  It isn’t safe to go north, east, or south, and to the west is the Gulf of Mexico.  I suppose we could drive to the airport and take whatever flight is available and affordable, but then getting back on the island is so hard.  With Charley, it was five days until islanders were allowed to return to their homes.

There isn’t much storm surge predicted for us with this storm.  At least, that’s what the experts say now.  But there is some likelihood of spin-off tornadoes.  The storm will start on Friday night and go on all day Saturday.  When it gets bad, we’ll be in a little room in the lower level that has no windows.  It is already stocked with 7 gallons of drinking water.  Today I bought a little battery operated radio and we have plenty of batteries.  Two flashlights, lots of candles, matches and enough canned goods complete the picture. 

Right now, Tom is out back cutting down tall Australian pine trees with his Stihl chainsaw. I urged him to find a strong guy to help him, but he’d rather work alone.  It scares me to death.  But so do those trees.  Charley uprooted and broke thousands of Australian pines on Sanibel.  Indeed, one of the biggest ones on our back lot line is now much smaller than it used to be.  And all of the pines are so defoliated that they weigh much less than before August 13.  It is a good time to cut them all down.

The freezer has three bags of ice in it.  It should take a while for that to melt.  Tomorrow we’ll cook the food in our fridge that might spoil – like the new package of bacon Tom just bought.  Even if the power goes out, there is still a possibility of cooking because we have propane (as long as a tornado doesn’t cart the tank away).

This morning, I prepared the other house, putting away everything that was outside (including Tom’s lumber that was miraculously untouched by Charley) and turning off the water.

We’re also prepared with two large rolls of Visqueen (heavy plastic sheeting) and three rolls of roofing felt, as well as a bucket full of roofing nails and disks.  So, if Frances or her affiliated tornados tear off our brand new roofing felt, we can replace it on Sunday.

Even with all this going on, Tom did some writing for his latest textbook this morning, and I updated the Campus Partners web site.  I wish I could say “business first,” but all I can say is “business goes on,” as life goes on.  In this case, life is living in a state of emergency.

This week I’ve been cleaning, cleaning, cleaning up after Charley.  I also started to restore the finish on the antique dining table.  After a day of rubbing and scrubbing, my arthritic hands are screaming with pain.  The next morning they’re much better.  Then I repeat the cycle.  I’ve discovered that I’d rather drag trees from one end of our lot to the other than to scrub or rub with my hands for hours.  Dragging trees is much easier on the arthritis.  Using a chain saw, however, is not easier.

I just went to check on Tom because the chain saw noise had stopped.  He is okay.  It is the chain saw that is hurting.  More later.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Tom and I feel like we've been back on Sanibel for many weeks, but it has been only about 10 days. For the first 8 days, we worked so hard. I was chainsawing trees, and Tom was up on the roof, putting up roofing felt. I finally took a day off on Sunday and went to church. Now I've begun cleaning indoors, at last.

We've spent a good bit of time helping others, too. Probably too much time, but there is just so much to do and so much that other people need help with. Yesterday, we agreed to have Leslie G. stay in our other house. She is a former teacher on disability pay who is undergoing treatment for cancer. She does work part time teaching Sunday school. The low-rent apartment that she lived in on Sanibel before Charley is uninhabitable due to the storm surge. Yes, indeed there was some surge for those who live near the water but in an area not protected by beach ridge or dunes. Mud and a few inches of water slopped through her place, and now there is a horrible mold problem.

The landlords say they will have it all fixed. Meanwhile, Leslie has been house-sitting in various places. But on Thursday, she needs another place. We agreed to have her stay at our other house until the renters come in mid-October. She may pay us a little rent, but she can't afford much. However, she's going to help with the cleaning over there, and that takes one load off of me.

We've helped neighbors Dieter, Henry, Nancy, Ken, and Wendy by doing various things ranging from cutting up trees that were in the driveway to getting fans and air conditioning going in musty parts of a house. Tom helped Ken cut a tree that was on Ken's roof yesterday, and will help Ken replace a few roofing shingles later this week. I've made lots of phone calls for people who aren't here, talking to them, arranging things for them. We have keys to several houses now that we are checking and letting insurance adjusters into.

Our adjuster finally came to see us yesterday morning. He walked in, saw the gaping hole in our dining room ceiling, and said, "Wow. This is the biggest damage I've seen so far." We were favorably impressed by him. We do not yet have his report or know what the insurance company will pay. His inspection was thorough and lasted quite a while. It was funny how tired we felt afterwards. After all the hard physical work we've been doing, you'd think this would have been an easy morning. But it was emotionally exhausting because we had to go over everything, realizing all over again how much damage was done.

We have hired a roofer and expect him to show up any day. The contract says he must complete the work within two weeks.

Helping people has been rewarding, but we know we have to limit our time for doing that because we need to do things for our own houses. Especially with Hurricane Frances threatening to pass over Sanibel on Saturday, we must try to get the remaining Australian pines on our back lot line cut down, or at least topped.

So, from now on, my rule of thumb is that if a person needs our help, fine, we will certainly help. But if they have another way of getting that help, they will have to use that other resource instead of us.

More later.

A letter to a friend:

August 23, 2004 (10 days after Hurricane Charley struck Florida.)

Hi Linda.

It is great to hear from you. Sorry for the delay in my response. Last

week, we were able to get Delta to change our tickets to allow us to come

home from Europe much earlier than expected. It was only last Wednesday

that island residents were allowed to return. We flew direct from Paris to

Miam iand spent Friday night in a hotel in Miami. Then on Saturday, we

drove our rental car to a Lowes in Miami, loaded up on roofing felt, nails,

water, gas cans, and a big roll of screening.

We were well informed due to high-speed internet in Paris and a host of

quickly started community web sites and discussion boards, as well as our

local abc and nbc stations who did all-day-long live broadcasts on the

internet/broadband. We also had a fantastic 7 euro phone card with a

thousand minutes so we had called people back home.

We'd already been told we had some roof damage (shingles & some roofing felt

only; all sheathing remained intact) on our main house. We also knew that

getting that supplies on Florida's west coast would be tough. We made the

right decision, because our roof damage was bad enough that we had a leak

into the dining room, lost some ceiling there, and got water damage on the

antique English mahogany dining table. Sob.

But we were very fortunate. The other house has little damage. Screens are

out in the pool cage, and the pool is a little green and dirty. The roof

there is almost unscathed. Only a few ridge cap shingles are missing. Even

the solar panels on the side of the roof facing the Gulf are still there. I

won't know if they leak until the power comes back on steadily and the pool

guy arrives.

At our main house, we have power, phone, nonpotable running water, and

sewer. Not bad. Not everyone on the island has so much service and


The main problem is trees down everywhere. That's why residents could not

come back until Wednesday. The roads were utterly impassable until then.

Remember the huge Australian pine trees lining Periwinkle Way? Gone. Same

on Captiva Drive.

A category 4 hurricane can do awesome things.

At least we didn't get much of a storm surge.

I never thought I'd be receiving help from the American Red Cross. But they

are here, giving out potable water and ice at Jerry's and Bailey's grocery


For law enforcement, we have our police, the sheriff's department, and the

National Guard. Only residents and workers who have passes from the

temporary city hall on the mainland are allowed on the island. Captiva is

still off limits. Damage there is much, much worse. Residents are brought

in by bus, and they are not allowed to spend the night.

There is a perimeter guard set up to keep people from coming to the islands

by boat.

Our routine is now this: Up at 6 or 6:30. Coffee, juice, oatmeal or

toast. Get into work clothes. Drink water. Tom goes out and works on

roof. I go to other house and work on the pool and pick up the neighbor's

roofing shingles that are strewn all over our property. I break up and

collect broken tree limbs and stack them into a huge pile at the front of

our house. The heat and humidity make us feel wasted by 10 a.m. We drink a

lot of water all morning.

We come into our house. I do phone calls and other communications to

arrange for all kinds of things, not just for us but for others, too. Tom

naps. We eat a little. Then we do other smaller chores all afternoon,

chasing after mold, replacing a screen, cleaning our three refrigerators

(when power is off for over a week in south Florida, you'd be surprised what

grows in a fridge), talking to the neighbors who stop by and knock on our


Late afternoon or early evening we get whatever food or supplies we need for

the night, because there is a 7pm to 7am curfew. So we cannot go out to eat

with friends. And there is no cable TV, but who cares, we hardly ever watch

it anyway. We eat, read, talk, and go to bed early.

When I talk about what has happened, my voice shakes a little. The island

looks utterly different. I cannot describe it to you. The tall trees are

mostly gone. Debris is scattered everywhere.

I think often of all those poor people in towns like Arcadiaand Punta

Gorda -- places that look worse than war zones. All those poor people who

lost everything and who have no insurance.

We are fortunate, and we know it, but we are also very tired and

overwhelmed. Everyone comes together, and we all share and talk in our

e-mails about our experiences. The sense of community here has just

increased 20-fold.

Thanks for your concern, Linda. More later.

Oh yes, new e-mail address, below:

Barbara Joy Cooley