Remembering 2004 the ghosts of charley, frances and jeanne – news – the ledger – lakeland, fl gas emoji


She is too young to recall Donna, but she distinctly remembers the 2004 hurricane season, when hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan crisscrossed Florida, causing deaths, widespread damage and power outages. Charley, Frances and Jeanne were responsible for the worst natural disaster in Polk County history, causing nine deaths, generating more than $1.2 billion in property damage and destroying about 2,300 homes and businesses. Hurricane Charley, the strongest of the three, inflicted $770 million in damage alone.

Gibson and her husband, Clyde, chose to ride out the triple storms in their 1960s, midcentury modern, home on the north shore of Lake Buffum. That area was the epicenter of that hurricane season because it saw the eyes of hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne all pass over rural land just to the northwest of the lake. The outer bands of hurricane Ivan could also be felt there. An unnamed storm in 1939 passed close by that same spot, but long before Gibson’s home was built.

“Charley was the worst hurricane we endured out at Lake Buffum because it was a nighttime storm and all you could hear was the sounds of severe winds and trees hitting the ground and parts of the house, but you couldn’t tell what the damage was,” Gibson said of the deadly Category 4 storm. “The winds were severe and the sounds of tornadoes going through here — it was very scary, especially when you’ve got to take care of two small children.”

Gibson’s children, Anna Mae and William, were 14 and 8 at the time and stayed in a closet that is buffeted on two sides by a massive, two-faced, brick fireplace in the living room and den areas. That fortress-like closet is where Dee Gibson rode out Hurricane Irma last year.

She credits the house’s flat roof and cinder-block construction with protecting them from the hurricanes. Her neighbors, who had pitched roofs, didn’t fare as well. She was also lucky in that all the trees lost in 2004 and again during Irma never hit the house.

At least three people in Polk County died as a result of Irma, including 7-year-old Terryn Wilson of Lakeland, who died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a gas-powered generator was used inside her family’s home, authorities said. Polk County officials said 18,314 structures sustained some impact from the hurricane, including 71 buildings destroyed, 1,328 with major damage and 7,444 with minor damage.

Irma, Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Donna are the storms people remember, but they were not the first to march across Florida’s peninsula. A dozen other storms have wreaked havoc in Polk County since the area was settled. Eight unnamed storms swept through Polk County between 1859 and 1949. The next year, hurricanes began to be named and that’s when Hurricane Easy and Hurricane King both crossed opposite corners of the county.

A spot just north of Gum Lake on State Road 557, north of the town of Lake Alfred, has also seen numerous storms pass over in the last 166 years, including two unnamed storms in 1859 and 1945, along with Donna in 1960 and Erin in 1995. An unnamed storm in 1852 passed just to the north.

As the beginning of the 2018 hurricane season approaches, Gibson said people should be prepared for the worst. They lost power for up to two weeks during each storm in 2004 and seven days following Irma. They had a small generator to run the refrigerator during Charley, but a neighbor found one big enough to run power for the whole house. In addition, her husband, an outdoorsman, has a sun shower — a bag that is filled up with water, then hung in and heated by sunlight.

The Polk County Emergency Management office urges residents to prepare a 72-hour survival kit for each hurricane season. The kit should include drinking water in durable containers (1 gallon per day per person), canned and nonperishable food, a can opener, a first-aid kit, flashlights and a battery-powered radio, along with extra batteries, prescription medications, cash and insurance policies. Those with special needs should check with the Emergency Management office in advance for lists of emergency shelters. They are also encouraged to make sure their house numbers are properly displayed in case emergency workers need to reach them.