EDITOR'S NOTE: One of a series of personal accounts from the historic landfall of Hurricane Charley on Sanibel and Captiva on Aug. 13, 2004.

Billy Kirkland is the owner of Billy’s Rentals and Billy’s Bike Shop on Sanibel. On the afternoon of Aug. 13, 2004, he recalls, “We knew [Hurricane Charley] was coming. We did not know that it was going to be a Category 3 because it was a very short-lived Category 2.”

The City had advised all island residents to evacuate but, as Kirkland notes, they could not force anyone to leave. The Kirklands had recently built a new house. It was on pylons, set back from the shoreline, and equipped with a generator that could power the entire house.

In retrospect, Kirkland admits they probably should not have stayed, but they had food, water and power so stay they did along with a couple of neighbors they invited to stay with them.

The storm hit the island about 3:15.

Getting the cleanup started

We were lucky that [the storm] wasn’t any worse than it was,” says Kirkland. “It was bad because we lost a lot of trees on the island and there was no power for more than a week. But by us staying, in hindsight, it was a benefit to the city because once the storm passed through, we jumped right in and started clearing some of the debris.”

Once Kirkland had deemed it safe to leave his house, he and a friend, Rusty Farst, who owned a landscaping business, reconnoitered their immediate surroundings to assess the storm damage. He also began communications with city officials who were off island and had to stay off for five days after the storm passed.

At the time, Kirkland had a tractor business along with his bike rental business. He and Farst had training for such situations; so with Kirkland in a tractor and Farst working a chain saw, they started clearing the road to his house and had it cleared by nightfall.

Within the next few days, Kirkland had a contract with FEMA to help with the clean up and he recruited his employees from the closed bike rental business to help with the cleanup.

We had three crews running,” says Kirkland. “My wife and the girls picking up the aluminum from pool cages. I had two crews running with the tractor and then we rented a bobcat. And I was very lucky because outside of one employee catching poison ivy, no one was injured.”

Eyes on the island

The city also relied on Kirkland and his people to check on a few others who had not evacuated or check on people’s homes for damage. In addition, Kirkland set up a program for people who had left their pets on the island, most likely because at the time there were no shelters accepting pets.

So the city gave us a location at city hall,” says Kirkland “where I could make phone calls. Then we set up a call center off island where people could call in and tell us their address, the type of pet, and its name. My wife and I would go check on the pet, make sure it had food and water and report back to the owner.”

Ten years later, Kirkland has high praise for the city and the administration for its pro-active stance with Charley and not waiting for the federal government to take the lead. The city took the lead, documented its activities and submitted them to FEMA for reimbursement.

Out of the tractor business

According to Kirkland, by the first of March 2005 the community was operating at its pre-Charley pace.

We opened up [his business] a little at a time,” he says. “But I turned in my tractor at the end of February and said I was going back to bike rentals.”

Recently he opened a second bike rental store in the Bailey’s complex.