Hurricane Charley hit Punta Gorda in 2004; Ian takes a similar path

Eighteen years ago, Kevin Doyle rode through Hurricane Charley at his pub in Punta Gorda and saw Category 4 winds blow the roof over his head.

“It was heartbreaking,” Doyle said. “It was terrifying.”

The August 13, 2004 storm destroyed half of Celtic Ray Public House. And the rest of Punta Gorda fared no better, taking a direct hit and suffering the worst damage in southwest Florida.

Doyle remembers walking through downtown Punta Gorda afterwards and seeing the destruction. The storm caused $3.2 billion in damage in Charlotte County and destroyed about 11,000 Punta Gorda homes and 300 of its businesses.

“You didn’t know what street you were on,” Doyle said of downtown Punta Gorda after Charley. “No landmarks, no street signs, no traffic lights. Cables crossing the road – live.

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Now that Hurricane Ian is hitting Florida’s west coast this week, Doyle hopes he won’t have to go through all that again. But he said he felt better about his chances if Ian followed Charley’s path and made landfall at Punta Gorda.

After Charley, he and his son Max Doyle rebuilt their bar with storm windows and a new Miami-Dade hurricane-grade roof. Additionally, they plan to take out the generator and mount a few more windows on Tuesday.

“I would say I’m worried,” Max Doyle said. “I just want everything prepped and ready. But I wouldn’t say I’m anxious or scared.

Punta Gorda: A Town Rebuilt After Hurricane Charley

The good news: Punta Gorda is considered to be in much better condition than it was in 2004. Like Celtic Ray, much of the town has been rebuilt to higher standards designed to withstand high winds.

“Half the town was wiped out,” Kevin Doyle said. “Most of it was garbage. It was replaced by more solid stuff.

Today, Punta Gorda – which was directly affected by Charley – is seen as a model for the rest of the world on how to rebuild after a devastating hurricane.

“Punta Gorda is an example of doing the right thing in the wake of a storm,” said Jim Beever, a retired climate change planner who lives on Pine Island. “They did the first Coastal Climate Adaptation Plan for a city in Florida, and it was because the community was very smart and knew they wanted to build safer and better.

Linda Molitor pulls wet and soiled clothes from the rubble of her destroyed mobile home in Punta Gorda, Florida, a day after Hurricane Charley hit on Saturday August 14, 2004.

“They are doing very well. They are recognized internationally and all over the world.

Yet this assurance only goes so far. And as Hurricane Ian brings back memories of Charley in Southwest Florida, anxiety begins to mount for some.

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Krissy Chenault may work at a bar called Hurricane Charley’s, but she said she’s in no rush to do 2004 again.

“I am a woman who prays,” Chenault said Monday afternoon at the bar in downtown Punta Gorda, “and I will pray tonight and tomorrow.”

Memories of Hurricane Charley

The Port Charlotte woman saw with her own eyes the devastation that Hurricane Charley – the storm, not the bar – did to Charlotte County. She therefore takes no risks with Ian.

“If they tell us to leave, I’m leaving,” she says. “I’m not wasting time.”

Chenault was in Tampa with her daughter when Charley hit, but her Port Charlotte home survived the hurricane remarkably unscathed. She hopes Ian will spare her too, and has been staring at spaghetti patterns and forecast cones for days now.

“I’m anxious,” she said. “It’s days and days and days of the unknown. And my kids are in Tampa. I worry about them.

"If they tell us to evacuate, I go out," explains Krissy Chenault, 47, bar manager at Hurricane Charley's in Punta Gorda.

Like many other businesses in Charlotte County, Hurricane Charley will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday after employees grab chairs and lower storm shutters, Chenault said. Then she will return home to Port Charlotte and bring Ian back.

Stephanie Stewart plans to do the same at her Punta Gorda Isles condo. But she feels safer this time around than in 2014, when Hurricane Charley ripped a hole in the roof of her former home and nearly knocked off its sliding glass doors as she and some guests of the house protected them from the wind.

“It was scary,” Stewart said. “The wind was blowing and you could see them tilting a bit. But they didn’t break, so we were safe. It’s all a memory. »

Chef Travis Winesett and sous chef Stephan Breton installed plywood on the storefronts of Hemingway's restaurant in downtown Punta Gorda. They were closed on Monday so it was a good time to get the restaurant ready. The men were all there for Charley and had a "hope all this was for nothing" attitude. As Hurricane Ian creeps ever closer to Punta Gorda, do locals feel like this storm will be another Charley? Monday September 26, 2022.

That memory keeps coming back this week as Hurricane Ian targets Florida as a possible Category 4 storm, but Stewart said her new condo was built to stricter hurricane standards. So she’s not too worried.

“The condo has hurricane windows, so hopefully they can withstand all the winds,” she said. “That’s why we got him. Time will tell us.”

At Celtic Ray, co-owners Kevin and Max Doyle keep a close eye on the weather forecast and hope the hurricane spares them this time. Now it’s just a matter of watching and waiting to see what Ian does next.

“It’s like waiting for a turtle that might stop,” Max Doyle said with a smile.

Kevin Doyle, however, said he was not too anxious. Their bar has been rebuilt harder than ever, and almost all hurricanes seem much more manageable after Hurricane Charley.

“I’m mostly annoyed,” he said. “Because it’s a disruption of business – and life.”

Contributor: Chad Gillis, The News-Press

Follow Charles Runnells on Twitter @charlesrunnells.

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