Published: Jun 02, 2010 3:12 PM EDT
Updated: Jun 02, 2010 12:13 PM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla.--  In the lifetimes of many people here, three major hurricanes have roared off the warm waters of the Gulf and slammed right into Southwest Florida.  The names are Donna, Charley and Wilma.

He may be legally blind now, but Frank Pavese carries vivid memories of Hurricane Donna which hit Southwest Florida in September of 1960.  Pavese told us at the time his pregnant wife had started labor pains.

"I took my wife to the hospital.  The winds were starting to get strong," Pavese remembers.

He then returned home and hunkered down with his three children and his mother.

"Oh I mean it was terrible.  The house was shaking," Pavese tells WINK.  "I was scared to death.  When the wind was from the east, I had the whole family on the other side of the house."
Pavese later picked up his wife and new baby from the hospital and noted the damage along the way.

"There were roofs all over Lee County that were destroyed.  And Fort Myers Beach was a mess," he says.

Donna killed one person in Lee County, 49 others during its march up the east coast of the U.S.

It took 44 years until the next major direct hit.

"We were all frightened.  To say you were not scared, that you were calm -- well you weren't!  It was a terrible ordeal," Janis Teegan says about Hurricane Charley.

When Charley hit in August of 2004, Teegan was spending her first summer in Southwest Florida living at Windmill Village in Punta Gorda.  A small but powerful storm, Charley was churning off our coastline.

Teegan recalls, "It was a knot in your stomach because you didn't know what it was going to do."

Charley veered northeast, plowing over Punta Gorda and heading to where Teegan evacuated:  Sebring.  After the storm, she returned to Punta Gorda to find rubble.

"There was aluminum siding wrapped around the trees.  Hardly any buildings were standing," Teegan tells us.  "You're in shock.  Just shock."

Charley killed 34 people and did 15 billion dollars in damage.

It took only 14 months until the next big storm crashed ashore.  Wilma made landfall at Marco Island in October, 2005.

Jack Lemon remembers just how violent the storm was.  He told us, "The wind, it wasn't just a wind.  It was a screaming wind.  Finally, it came right across here and it picked up debris from across there and blew limbs and stuff, across the water, smashing it into my house."

Wilma killed 35 people and caused 10 billion dollars in damage.

The history of the worst storms in Southwest Florida also includes the Hurricane of 1928.  That storm caused Lake Okeechobee to over-run its banks.  The floods killed thousands of people.