Triad Magazine

A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.

Charlie

By Carrie Donna Kolba

Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” (because I’m a hopeless 22-year-old romantic) started playing on my cell phone at 11p.m., on Thursday, August 12, 2004. I was sleeping at the time, and I let the first call go to my voice mail. My phone started ringing again, and then my house phone started ringing. I, of course, let everything go to my voice mail and the answering machine. I was not wanting to get up, to answer the phones knowing I had to be at work the next day. I didn’t know at the time the urgency of the call. I knew we were under a hurricane warning and flood watch for the Tampa Bay area, but I’ve lived in Florida all my life. I lived through Hurricane Andrew with 165 mph winds on August 24, 1992, and a through a no-name storm in 1999 that caused flooding, destroyed roads, and washed out in Port Charlotte closing the town for almost two weeks. To a 17-year old, all that meant was no school. Growing up in Florida, I know what kind of damage a hurricane or a no-name storm can do. Of course, we haven’t had a major hit in over 12 years.

Around 12:30 a.m., Friday, August 13th, 2004, I decided after the fourth or fifth time my cell phone rang to finally pick up. My baby sister, Maria, who is 16 years old, called me from her cell phone. She lives with my parents and my brother, Edward (19 years old) in my home town of Port Charlotte, Florida. My sister, Crystal, and I moved to Tampa in 2002 to attend college.

Maria called wanting to know if Crystal and I were coming to my parent’s house to wait out the hurricane. I asked, “Why?” The last time I had heard, the hurricane was heading to Jacksonville, Fl. My sister informed me it had changed course and was heading to Tampa, Fl. Crystal and I started planning and loading up my truck with our belongings and
my (standard) poodle “Lucky.”

By the time we were heading to hit the road, Maria called me and told me that hurricane Charley was moving faster than they expected, and it was projected right towards Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, and Arcadia, Florida. It was too late to leave because the roads were packed, and by all reports from the local news, traffic wasn’t moving. My parents wanted us to stay put. We went to my sister’s place of employment at the University Community Hospital in Tampa because they had set up a shelter for hospital employees’ family members and their pets.

While waiting out another hurricane and expecting the worst, we learned that Hurricane Charley had turned toward Port Charlotte, and residents only had a 30-minute warning. I immediately called my family wanting to know what was happening. My father hadn’t prepared our home for the storm because, by all accounts, it wasn’t supposed to come near them. He and my brother helped friends and family members board up their homes. At the time, I thought my father had boarded up all the windows like he always does when we have a hurricane watch or warning. I learned later that he was the first time in 12 years that he and my mother hadn’t.

I kept calling Maria. After two hours of trying to get through and hearing “all circuits are busy, please call back later,” I finally heard the phone ringing. I got to hear Maria screaming at my mother and father: “We are going to die! Is this hell?” I had to listen helplessly as they tried to survive as Hurricane Charlie descended on my parents’ home. All I could do was listen because my sister dropped her phone, and it remained on. I’ll never forget the most terrifying phone call of my life. I had to listen to my sister, brother and parents helplessly try to keep the front door from bowing in as Hurricane Charlie pounded. I kept screaming in the phone for Maria to pick up, and I listened as the wind, rain, and hail pounded against the house. I could also hear debris hitting the roof and front door. I heard my father screaming for my brother and mother to keep pressure against the wood they were holding up to the window. My father was trying to hammer it into the wall. By that time, it was too late. As fast as he was hammering, the wind was pushing it back out. It was chaos.

I later learned that the pressure he was talking about was a large panel of plywood up against a large window in the front of the house. While my family held that, my father was doing the same holding up a piece of plywood to the front door because it had a rectangular window in the middle of the door.

I later learned that because of the pressure and winds that a large series of tornados passed over my parent’s house and certain areas around the state with over 150-170 mph winds. A man in Port Charlotte was killed by a piece of metal while holding up a piece of plywood up to a window. We learned that my parents’ neighborhood in Port Charlotte and North Port experienced a Category 5 hurricane in certain areas.

On August 16, 2004, after everything had finally settled down, my family called me from my uncle’s house because my parents were without electricity and water and were staying there. After they made the phone call telling me that they were alright, I finally could relax. My family’s home had roof and water damage, and they lost everything electronic: ceiling fans, refrigerator, microwave, oven, 3 wall phones, 4 computers, 6 TV’s, 4 air conditioner units, 2 water pumps\generators, etc. Each of my parent’s and sibling’s vehicles was damaged as well. Except for my family’s lives, everything else was replaceable.

My family was luckier than most. When I was finally able to view the damage, my home town looked nothing like the town in which I grew up. It looked like a war zone, with no buildings in certain places, buildings that were half-gone or caved in, roads gone or covered in debris, and no phone lines, traffic lights or power lines. There was no longer an abundance of trees to shade old U.S. 41 or local neighborhoods. Neighborhoods were totally destroyed, and neighbors whom I had known since I was a small child, were now homeless. This was the biggest and most horrific event a small town could experience. The town was under a curfew for a while, and there was no school to speak of for over three weeks, but eventually after all the damaged was assessed, the community, surrounding communities, and other states helped. This is what makes us a wonderful country. We all come together after a crisis. It’s Thursday, May 12, 2005; it’s been almost a year since Friday ,August 13, 2004. The community has moved on but this is a day many of people will never forget.

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