Periwinkle Way near Jerry's Foods on Sanibel Island (SC Photo by Dorothy Wallace)
Periwinkle Way near Jerry's Foods on Sanibel Island (SC Photo by Dorothy Wallace)

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.

One of the things I learned was that when hurricanes come, barometric pressures change, and I learned this the hard way,” says Chuck Bergstrom. “On the Monday before Charley, I thought I had an ear infection. To make a long story short, I ended up at Health Park having a heart attack.”

The hospital admitted him, and on Wednesday he underwent surgery for a triple bypass. He rode out Charley in a hospital bed. That aside, Bergstrom paints a behind the scenes picture at how the community pulled together.

What happens is really neat,” says Bergstrom. “Health Park goes to storm mode. The first floor is for ob/gyn, the second floor patients with heart conditions, the third floor is for staff who are willing to work and their families who are invited to stay.

A slight change of plans

I had my surgery on Wednesday morning and was to be released on Friday, Aug. 13. But at three in the afternoon Charley struck,” he says. “Eventually, they rolled my bed into the hallway, the storm goes through, the hospital’s generators kick in and I didn’t go home. I needed to have access to water and air conditioning, so I was there for three days.

When we came back to the island it was unique,” says Bergstrom.” The first thing that struck me was there were no birds. It was hotter than the Dickens because the storm had cleaned out the atmosphere, and it was a heat that reminded me of being back in Vietnam. When we came to the corner and turned from Causeway Boulevard onto Periwinkle Way, it was almost overwhelming. There were no trees on Periwinkle. It was wide open and you realized you had never seen Periwinkle without shade.

Personally, we were very lucky. We lost power [to their house] and we lost our pool cage and 50 tiles off the roof.”

So Bergstrom and his wife, who were both real estate agents, started checking houses on behalf of friends and clients.

The new face of Captiva

The most amazing thing was going up to Captiva because you could not believe that it was the same island you had seen two weeks before,” says Bergstrom. “There were buildings on South Seas [Island Resorts] with missing roofs. There were houses on the Gulf that had curtains blowing in and out of the windows. The piles of debris on the streets were so high you could stand in their shadows. And they were running the trucks removing the debris all night long for weeks on end.

It’s a vivid memory,” says Bergstrom, “But the beauty of it was also a great place because of the way people helped each other. Jerry’s Foods became the FEMA feeding center for the workers. There were steam tables with food and you could buy a meal for a buck and a quarter. So we’d all meet there at night and keep up on stories. And the workers were amazing. We had power teams from North Carolina, from the Midwest and workers from all over the Southeast. None of those workers ever paid for a dinner.

That’s how we got through. It was all about people and all about helping each other,” says Bergstrom. “It was a scary time but it reinforced that it’s all about people.”

Entering the 21st Century

Bergstrom reflects on the years since Charley.

It’s amazing what has happened since then, and the relationships that were created and how unique it was to share that old-town experience.”

There was an after-the-fact positive aspect to Charley, says Bergstrom. “There was also the uniqueness of bringing the buildings into the 21st Century, with the new strapping and the new nailing patterns and the impact glass.”

Bergstrom is still a real estate agent. Regarding Sanibel, he says, “This is still the greatest place in the world. Lucky me. I get to live in shorts, so I’m not complaining.”

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About the author

Bob McCarthy has written for regional, national, and international magazines, and was the editor for two business publications. He has written numerous video scripts for marketing and public relations, one of which won an industry award.
Bob co-founded www.teampoweredsuccess.com and is the co-author of 
Collaborative Blogging: A Team Approach to Social Media in 6 Easy Steps. The eBook is available at Amazon.com.
You can visit Bob’s web site, www.theb2bwriter.com, to read samples of his work, watch three-minute “click flicks” and download helpful tips.
Bob is a member of the Gulf Coast Writers Assoc. and the southwest Florida chapter of ASTD.