FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. - We are just a few weeks away from August 13th. The day will mark 10 years since Hurricane Charley hit southwest Florida.
The damage was significant and the lessons learned were tough but crucial. Now, a decade later, WINK News takes a look at Fort Myers Beach and how it's better prepared than ever to respond to a big storm.
People waiting in line for food. Roads crumbled. Homes underwater. Photos are now a vivid reminder for Mark List of the Island Sand Paper. In the days after Hurricane Charley, he documented the destruction around the island.
"The feeling of so much loss and devastation was phenomenal," List said. "It was crazy but off the island was even crazier."
Cars sat bumper-to-bumper and patience wore thin as people waited,with few clear answers.
"We know people were frustrated," one man told a WINK News crew back in 2004. "We ourselves were frustrated. We have pets and we don't know if they are alive or not."
Once Charley subsided, damage assessment and cleanup began. But, with information scarce, people turned to the Island Sand Paper to get crucial answers about their homes.
"I was driving around, putting out the paper which was to be hand delivered by Don Block, our delivery guy, as people came on the beach so they would know which houses have already been inspected, what the FEMA regulations are," List recalled.
Post-Charley, first responders focused on what was lacking: better communication on and off the island, more equipment like chain saws for fallen trees and more manpower the smaller emergencies.
That's why CERT or Community Emergency Response Team was created.
65 volunteers, comprised of former firefighters, nurses, and engineers are trained in first aid and disaster response.
"We have our own radios to stay in communication as a team and with the fire department and we have also added emergency communications to our training, traffic and crowd management to our training ," CERT leader Alan Vacks said.
This week, the team and other first responders will train on the Arm 360 damage assessment program, allowing them to know exactly who needs help and when.
"They can tell you exactly is the house is completely gone or there is nothing but sand there," Vacks said.
From lessons learnedcomes better preparation.
"we keep our fingers crossed that nothing happens but we are prepared in the event something does," Fire Chief Darren White said.