SCCF Education Director Kristie Anders walks in a new pass on North Captiva that was created by Hurricane Charley. She and her husband, Red, were among those who sat threw Charley when its eye made landfall on North Captiva on Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. All photos courtesy Kristie Anders
SCCF Education Director Kristie Anders walks in a new pass on North Captiva that was created by Hurricane Charley. She and her husband, Red, were among those who sat threw Charley when its eye made landfall on North Captiva on Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. All photos courtesy Kristie Anders

For a few minutes on the afternoon of Aug. 13, 2004, the sky was blue and the wind was calm on North Captiva Island. In those few minutes, the door of the firehouse swung open and in came a man carrying his dog, raising the gathering inside the firehouse to 18 people.

Those few moments were the eye of Hurricane Charley. The hours leading up to those few moments of calm were anything but calm; they were hectic, and so were the hours, days and months that followed the passage of Charley, a compact, dynamo of a storm that came and went in a hurry and left a $13-billion path of destruction behind in Florida.

Charley started its march through Florida on North Captiva. Kristie Anders and her husband Red were among the 27 people who stayed on the island during Charley and they were among the 17, then 18, who rode it out at the firehouse. She will not forget what she saw next.

It moved through pretty quickly. About 4 p.m. we went out,” Anders said. “The fire chief wanted to hold us longer, but he issued us all the fire hats he had and let us go.

The first thing all of us were inclined to do was go to our houses. So Red and I came out in boots, fire hats and machetes and started home. Every landmark I knew was gone. The paths were covered by blown over trees,” she said.

Red Anders, described by Kristie as a Cajun through and through, hugged the high ground and got them to their home near the beach. It was fine, but the second story had blown off a neighbor's house only to crush another neighbor's house.

Our house is low,” Kristie said. “Closer to the ground is better. No self-respecting tree grows more than 30 or 40 feet and houses shouldn't either. Because our house is low, we slept at home that Friday night.”

They may have slept at home, but that was about the only convenience that was left. The power went out before Charley made landfall and it didn't come back on until early October. Cellphone towers had no chance in the face of Charley.

Red Anders is smiling in his fire hat shortly after finding that
 the Anders home had survived Hurricane Charley.

Before the storm

Mr. and Mrs. Anders were certainly candidates to ride out Charley. Red, as Kristie noted, is a Cajun and she is a Floridian who can rattle off a long list of storms she has weathered. They are people of the outdoors—the inland estuaries and the beaches and sea. For her part, Kristie has been on the islands for 31 years and for 20 of those took a boat from North Captiva to her previous job at 'Ding' Darling NWR and her current job as education director at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. All that said, they were amazed that Charley did what it did and what it didn't do.

We were getting mixed messages from the National Weather Service and our local meteorologists,” Kristie said. “The national stations were saying it was going to hit Tampa-St. Pete, but our locals were not so sure and they said 'Get ready Lee County.'

Red and I took the most optimistic view. Charley was a small storm; we can get 60- to 70-knot gusts here in an afternoon squall,” she said. “On Thursday we expected Charley to break apart some and be less organized when it crossed the mountains in Cuba.”

Despite this, the Barrier Islands were taking preliminary precautions. SCCF boarded and shuttered up on Wednesday, Aug. 11, and then told its employees to go take care of their own homes and belongings. That meant a boat ride home across Pine Island Sound for Kristie.

After that ride back home on Wednesday night I was looking at the storm,” she said. “We are prudent in hurricane season and we had stocked up a lot of things—water, Gatorade. By Thursday we had pretty much decided we were going to stay on the island.”

On Thursday, Aug. 12—Charley Eve—the North Captivans were battening down the hatches, including moving their boats to the mangrove swamps.

The mangroves act like shock absorbers. That's what we do with our boats anytime there is a blow,” she said.

The evacuation order for the Barrier Islands had been issued. The last water taxi left North Captiva on Thursday afternoon.

There we were,” Kristie said. “We were ready for something. Then on Thursday night we heard the landfall had been moved to Sarasota, and then it was moved to Boca Grande, which is 10-12 miles north. We went to bed thinking it would be closer than what we originally thought.”

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th dawned and it would be an astounding day.Hurricane Charley damage, North Captiva

Kristie Anders, the hurricane veteran, knew what she was seeing on the radar.

Friday morning the eye of Charley tightened right down. It was almost a collapsing of the eye and it went from a Category I hurricane to a Category IV in matter of hours. It was astounding,” she said.

Charley came almost due north. Most of the storms come in off the water, but not Charley. It came right up the coast and stayed just offshore. It missed Fort Myers Beach, but Sanibel sticks out,” she said.

Katrina came a year later in 2005. It was a huge, traditional hurricane.

The roof blew off the house above and crushed the house below.

Hurricane Charley damage, North Captiva

If I had seen Katrina on the radar instead of Charley there was no way we'd have stayed on the island. Katrina filled the whole Gulf of Mexico, but Charley was flukey how fast it built up speed. Even on Friday morning the emergency ops people on Sanibel thought they could handle the emergency system on Sanibel. As soon as Charley got to Cat IV with winds to 140, they were out of there.”

Anders isn't sure exactly when the power went out and the last weather radar was viewed. They were busy, especially Red, who was pounding boards.

Red's a carpenter,” Kristie said. “He was boarding everybody up. We were probably last to board. At one point I looked at him and said, 'You might want to board our house now.'”

Happy Trails to the fire house

That Red did and he and Kristie put their two pets, a bunny and a tropical bird that whistles Happy Trails, into the safest room in the house. Then it was happy trails to the fire station, where they arrived about noon.

North Captiva is an island about 3.5-miles long with several hundred houses. Many have summer rental programs. As Kristie says, “it was a no-brainer to evacuate the visitors.” Once the visitors were gone and the residents who chose to leave had done so, North Captiva was left with 27 people. The fire house was relatively new and had been built to withstand high winds with a second-story living quarters area. It was the logical place to hole up.

While all of this was going on, a strange phenomenon was happening in Pine Island Sound. Hurricane winds circulate counterclockwise, meaning the winds were coming from the east as Charley moved north.

My big fear is storm surge. I know what water can do, and so does Red,” Kristie said. “In Charley we were really lucky because the winds from the east blew the water out of Pine Island Sound. We started Charley with a 3-foot water deficit in the sound. On Friday night the boats were all stuck in the mud.”

Even with that 3-foot deficit, watching Charley work was no fun.

People often think a storm surge is a big wave. It's not. It's a slow-moving rise in the water with waves on top of it. We had shutters and could see out. I watched the water come in and get up to the first two steps of the fire station. Then I watched a golf cart go under and the water get to the fifth step,” she said.

The eye

It was very calm, the blue-sky thing,” Kristie said of the passage of Charley's eye. “The chief wanted to keep the place buttoned up. The door came open and I think he thought someone was sneaking out for a cigarette. It was one resident coming in with his dog. He decided the fire house was the best place to be and he used the eye to get there.”

Then it was back to the storm, and it didn't take that much longer for the bottom chunk of Charley to blast its way through. Then it was on with life—life that would be significantly different for quite a while.

The ground doves and cardinals were back in the yard in a couple of hours,” Kristie remembers, but that was about all.

We didn't see the sheriff until Sunday afternoon,” she said. “Then a legitimate property owner showed up in a boat with supplies, generators and gas and the sheriff didn't want him to land. We snuck around to another part of the island and unloaded his boat.”

Martial law

The Barrier Islands were under martial law. On Monday the National Guard landed on North Captiva, ready to defend the island.National Guard, N. Captiva, Charley

God love them. There were eight, I think. They had rifles and flak jackets and were ready to defend the island as well as clean it up,” Kristie recalls. “They started cleaning up and by afternoon they were about ready to drop. We convinced their commanding officer that 'hey, it's just us' and that they didn't need rifles and flak jackets.”

More soldiers joined the cleanup in subsequent days and it became apparent that travel time to and from the mainland each day was costing a lot of work hours. The guardsmen began to stay on the island at the same time food in powerless freezers was thawing and needed to be eaten. On the third day, more guardsmen joined the ranks.

Nat. Guard, N. Captiva, Charley

They ate well. We ate well. Everybody ate well,” Kristie said. “Those three days with those young men were really special. I never got to see them again.”

Off the island

North Captiva was already remote. Now it really was. The Anders had painted 'Red and Kristie OK' on their roof.

Cellphones were useless. Once in a while from the top of a roof somebody could get a signal from a tower somewhere. When FEMA finally arrived one of them started to make a call. We looked at each other and said, 'We will see how this goes.' ”

Kristie's first trip off the island after Charley was a supply run. She took a plane to the mainland and drove to Home Depot in Naples, which was missed by Charley, looking for adapters to hook up wells to generators.

I was a mess. The guy in Home Depot found a whole box of adapters. As I was checking out, a guy said he wanted to help and bought the adapters. I never saw him again either. We saw a lot of generosity after the storm.”

Eventually the Barrier Islands got back on their feet, but Kristie and Red still found shingles and other debris on North Captiva years after the storm.

Hurricane Wilma came the next year. Kristie evacuated and Red stayed behind. A student of storms with an eye on the sky during hurricane season, Kristie already had room reservations.

Red's a little harder to get off the island,” she said, but they were both there—there in the Eye of Hurricane Charley—on Aug. 13, 2004.