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Riding Out Hurricane Charley, 2004 by Ghostsniper

We went through hurricane Charley back in 2004 and food wasn’t on my agenda for the 9 days we did without power. Ice + water. That was my only concern.

Our house was only 2 years old. It was designed and built by me (Yes with my own hands – and about 100 other people’s hands. ), and sustained zero damage even though Charley’s eye passed within just a couple miles. But our 6′ high estate fence and most of the pool enclosure were completely gone as they are designed to be torn loose in small sections that FEMA describes as being “non-threatening to adjacent structures,” of which there were none.

All our freezer food was grilled in 24 hours then stored in coolers that were rapidly loosing their cool in the 100 degree, 90% humidity. After 3 days our water was getting low and there was no ice anywhere. I jury-rigged a cord to charge up our well equipment (220v) off my generator (110v), which I did every 12 hours. But it was ice I craved and there was no way to get any. There was an ice maker in the fridge but I wasn’t going to run the generator for hours to make that paltry amount of ice because fuel was also at a premium.

Hurricane Charley was the first hurricane to make landfall in our area in the 40 years I had lived there. It sort of caught us off guard. The numerous false alarms over the decades by the media had jaded us and we believed Charlie would pass us by. But in the last 2 hours it did a 180 in the gulf and came straight toward us.

Charley came NE from the gulf up Pine Island Sound and stormed across the land mass of Bokeelia Island then diagonally up Charlotte Harbor toward Punta Gorda, passing only a few miles NW of our home in the NW Cape Coral. Many roofs and large sections of walls were detached and deposited into Pine Island Sound.

I criss-crossed that Sound almost daily as most of my work then and still was the design of large scale custom homes on the islands of Useppa, Cayo Costa, Captiva, and Sanibel. Once, after Charley, while crossing the sound in a 32′ Donzi with twin 454 chevy V-8’s at about 50 mph, the boat hit a submerged roof breaking one of the lower units completely off and bringing the boat to a dead stop. I was standing and wrenched both shoulders out of the sockets – very painful. The driver slammed his face into the dash knocking out all his front teeth and another guy did a 50 mph somersault off the front of the boat and skidded 100 feet across a shell shoal and was bleeding from square yards of shaved flesh. We got back to the dock on a trolling motor as the computer wouldn’t let 1 engine fire up.

Charley caused the largest single residential claim in State Farm Insurance’s history in Florida. I did the restoration work on that home. It was on Upper Captiva and faced directly on the gulf, less than 200 unprotected feet from the home to the waterline. A massive custom 3 story on top of driven wooden pilings.

A 16′ wide sliding glass door on the 3rd floor failed and acted like an air scoop to Charley’s 300mph core velocities. Inside, the air pressure equalized and then over inflated the entire structure – it literally exploded. From the top down. The structural framework for the 3rd floor collapsed into the 2nd floor. Amazingly enough a large structural corner beam configuration that supported the 3rd floor dropped and landed on a Corian countered kitchen island that took and sustained the full weight. Kitchen island intact, the weight and wind force caused the 2nd floor to collapse into the 1st floor. All of this happened in mere seconds. The weight of 3 collapsed floors then caused 47 of the 48 10″x10″ pressure treated wood pilings to snap clean off. Only 1 was left undamaged. The snapped pilings caused the whole thing to collapse onto the ground like a giant pile of kindling wood in pastel Florida colors.

It was my job to wade into that trap and find out why the structure failed and that is how you now know the story you just read. As I said, at 3.5 million dollars, a total loss, it was the largest single residential claim in State Farms 100+ year history in Florida.

The owners were not present when the disaster occurred, having previously left to another island they also had a residence on (very wealthy, very nice – unlike all the lies you hear about wealthy people uttered through curled envious lips by the american communists). They decided they had loved the home and wanted it rebuilt just as it was before. So now my job was to reconstitute the home but in such a way that it would now be capable of sustaining 300mph continuous wind velocity.

It took a year to clear the property of the debris (there are no bridges to Upper Captiva so all things must be barged back and forth) and reconstruct the home. The only remaining original aspect being the 1 wooden piling that was not damaged. That piling was not incorporated into the structure as I questioned it’s structural validity, but a local guy chainsaw art effected it and turned it into a multiple ring toss game for drunkards. You know, the 3″ rusty steel ring on a long fiberglass masonry twine and you try to swing it to hook onto a small wooden peg. I think it had about 5 of them on that carved totem. I just looked at the place on Google Earth. It is alive and well and we still get a Christmas card from the owners each year.

Irma’s on it’s way to that area right now. I expect to get another Christmas card from those wonderful people this year.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Howard Nelson September 6, 2017, 11:35 PM

    Helluva story, gs. Well done. Take care.

  • MMinLamesa September 7, 2017, 3:31 AM

    That was interesting. I wonder what the premium is on the rebuilt home? I wonder why any insurance company would even offer a policy?

  • Bill Jones September 7, 2017, 4:12 AM

    ” There was an ice maker in the fridge but I wasn’t going to run the generator for hours to make that paltry amount of ice because fuel was also at a premium.”

    The astonishing number is 143.
    To change 1 Ib of water at 32 degrees to 1 Ib of ice at 32 degrees requires 143 BTU’s.

    that’s 80 % of what it takes to get water at 32 degrees up to boiling.

    Phase shifts a bitch.

  • Bill Cox September 7, 2017, 6:21 AM

    Wow, that is the most detailed account of what a hurricane does I’ve ever heard. Thank you for that.

  • Autumn Cote September 7, 2017, 7:04 AM

    Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more contehnt diversity for our community and I enjoyed reading your work. I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. If “OK” please let me know via email.


  • Jean September 7, 2017, 10:38 AM

    I was living in Daytona then. The wind dropped to a paltry 100 mph for a solid 24 hrs.
    It was terrifying.

  • Guaman September 7, 2017, 1:49 PM

    300 mph winds? It seems a little strong to me – at best, extreme gusts near the eye. Such a velocity would allow us to realize the age old dream of flying cars.
    In any case, if you want to be secure, look at a masonry structure – without supplemental insulation it is thermally inefficient. However, when the storm passes it will still be there and you don’t have to evacuate and leave your possessions to the storm or those brave souls who go out to take other people’s stuff during condition 3. Build tough and stay home.

  • Gordon September 7, 2017, 4:53 PM

    I have seen a silo-shaped masonry house that survived a direct hit from a Cat 3, on the beach. The curved sides don’t catch the wind, and the dome roof doesn’t have the edges. A storm surge might still take it, though, I don’t know. The owners said it wasn’t as noisy as a regular house in a storm, either.

    This one will almost certainly be the most expensive hurricane ever, just because there’s a lot more
    improved property and a lot more people than there used to be. But there have been very few Category 5 hurricanes to hit land. And for one to just churn offshore, right up the coast, as this one might, well…it kind of makes the occasional blizzard here seem tame.

  • Gordon September 7, 2017, 4:59 PM

    Oh, yeah, last Cat 5 to hit the US was Camille in 1969. A lot of people died, including 153 in Virginia from flooding rains, days after landfall. Camille hit nearly the same place as Katrina, but did little damage to New Orleans.

  • John September 8, 2017, 6:47 AM

    The point about the 16′ wide sliding glass door on the 3rd floor failing and acting like an air scoop to Charley’s 300mph core velocities should be noted by everyone. This same phenomenon occurs when garage doors fail during storms. Most folks think its windows that fail and cause damage to the house. Garage doors are more susceptible to failure because of their lightweight construction and flat projected surface exposure to the wind. When the garage door fails, the garage becomes pressurized and the next thing to fail is that single entry door into your house. These doors will fold like a cheap lawn chair once they are under stress. There are multiple ways to reinforce the door on a temporary basis. One way is to lay plywood up against the inside (garage side) of the door and gently roll your cars up against it. Not perfect but better than doing nothing. A more substantial method is to secure vertical studs from the floor to the top of door……and be sure to reinforce the entry door from the garage to the house.

  • Gordon September 8, 2017, 8:52 AM

    That is good advice. I’m unlikely to encounter a hurricane in Minnesota, but you never know. And my garage is fully detached. That should protect the house, unless the garage roof punches a hole in the house as it sails by. We did have a tornado pass about six blocks away. It didn’t even ruffle our shingles. But folks were finding shingles from other houses a long way away.

  • ghostsniper September 8, 2017, 10:26 AM

    “…tornado pass about six blocks away…”

    Hurricanes don’t work that way. Unless you’ve been in one it’s hard to imagine what you are dealing with. When Charley started up I was out in the front yard checking it out, the wind. Everybody’s been in heavy winds and that is easily dealt with.

    The surface of the earth is traveling at 1000 mph but we don’t notice it because EVERYTHING is moving at that speed and always has been. Now, if suddenly the earth speeded to oh, say, 1200 mph would you notice? Of course you would because everything all around you would be blowing up from the increased pressure and you yourself would be blown halfway around the world. The amazing pressure of a hurricane is almost more than your brain can register. When the speed gets up to say 80mph you will be in awe of how your body acts in that kind of force. This isn’t like a stiff breeze but rather like the entire earth has sped up on it’s rotation. There is no width or height to it, nor does it let up. Just a constant and overwhelming increase of air pressure from 1 direction. It’s like god hisself (if such a thing exists) is dikkin around with the whole planet, with a mischevious grin on his face. Scary shit.

    My wife and son were hunkered down under a mattress in the laundry room but I would have none of that. Our home, my life’s dream, my fortune, was being attacked and I had to be sentinel and soldier to this onslaught. When the wind was still not yet gale force I patrolled the outside area watching for known things to fail – fascia, soffit, trim work, and the effect on the landscaping and water features of which we had plenty.

    When the wind became to powerful to sustain I went in and constantly patrolled the entire interior perimeters taking note if any windows and doors were leaking, how bad the buffetting was on the garage doors, and the 34′ of sliding glass doors across the rear that led out to the full length pool deck.

    All exterior glass on our new home was of the 200 mph variety. That is, it has been tested by shooting an 8′ long 2×4 at them at 200 mph and the glass didn’t break nor did the frame release from the wall. But we were close to the eye so I knew the mph would exceed that. Plus, airborne missle were everywhere. 30′ tall palm trees (which have very small rootballs for anchorage) were uprooted and flew like giant arrows. One went sideways as it hit our fence and took out about 30′ worth. Days later I found some of our fence panels up in the trees 4 blocks away.

    We had a 16′ dbl. pocket sliding glass door from the living room out to the back porch, with the pool out beyond that. After a large portion of the mansard pool enclosure took off to parts unknown the wind pressure on the slider increased tremendously. I stood right there in the living room on a 45 degree angle with both hands on the center joint of the sliding glass doors and the wind buffeted them violently to the point that my elbows ached and my feets were sliding backwards on the maple floor. Fearing the whole thing would give way I fled to the garage were I had some lumber. Quickly, and using my cordless Paslode framing nailer with 3-1/2″ nails, I grabbed 12′ 2×4’s and nailed them together end to end with another one sistered across the middle. I made 3 of these and I dragged them into the living room. Then I nailed them across the wall opening that housed that 16′ wide sliding glass door. Yep, I slammed a whole bunch of big nails right into the maple casings around that door, and on into the PT framing beyond. (It was all replaced later on and I don’t attribute this loss to the hurricane itself) I then used more lumber to act as spacers between braces I had installed and the slider itself.

    I’m an engineer and I tend to err to the safe side when it comes to the projects I design. I’d rather spend a couple dollars more up front than a lot more after the fact. I did not engineer these doors but took the word of the company that did and I almost paid the ultimate price for it. I’ll never know if those doors would have failed without my bracing but I’d rather be safe than sorry. If that door had failed then the same situation would have occurred to our house that happened to the house I described on Upper Captiva. And since we were in our house we might have been killed.

    None the less, after Charley, and prior to the next one 1 month away, I hired a storm shutter company to custom install a $3700.00 remote controlled roll up shutter over the door that retracted to the ceiling when not in use. I should have done this from the beginning, after all, I had prewired the door for this specific application, but in an effort to save some coin, and knowing that a hurricane hadn’t been in this area for more than 40 years, I didn’t follow through with it. Lesson learned.

    We keep surviving these storms and learning from them and our engineering practices and methods keep getting better. I truly believe the buildings I design now are much, much safer than they were even just 20 years ago. Are they as safe as they should be? Probably not. But as long as people get to buy what they want their building will be as safe as they want. Is there such a thing as a 100% hurricane fail safe building? Yes. I know what it takes to create a domicile that will survive any hurricane-flood-fire-tornado-earthquake, even direct missle strikes, but only Bill Gates could afford it. So, as with most things in life, we live with some risks, each and everyday and we aspire to be better tomorrow, and in spite of the petty bickering and backbiting we find ourselves immersed in each day, we will. Bet on it.

  • Gordon September 8, 2017, 12:30 PM

    See, now most people would not think to have a Paslode on hand. I see a future for you in disaster survival consulting. Most people also do not have a dozen studs handy, either. I do, but they’re out in the yard holding up the tomatoes, so they’re not precisely at hand.

    The Paslode can also curtail the activities of looters, but the safety feature requires you to firmly contact the forehead of the looter before the Paslode will fire.

  • ghostsniper September 8, 2017, 2:52 PM

    “…safety feature…”

    @Gordon, as all good framers know, a hammer is not always a hammer but whatever the user needs.
    Ever used one of the claws as a big straight screwdriver?
    Thus is the way of the Paslode too. Sometimes you have to jam that nose in a tight spot and cannot engage the *safety feature* (example, nailing hip jacks to the hip jack main) so you pull that safety back with a finger and pull the trigger, launching the nail through space and time to it’s eventual destiny.

    Ever try to back a 3/4″ anchor bolt out of a 2×12 ledger board only to be met by contrary threads that won’t grip? What to do, what to do????

    Ka-Ching, I got an idea!!!
    I’ll jam the claw on my trusty framing hammer (28oz Estwing) under the washer and pry the bolt *out* and hold pressure on it while working the deep set socket to spin that bitch back out of there.

    See, when you’re 14 years old and too young to work at regular jobs and you are desperately craving some coin to woo your current squeeze you take on the miserable job of working with your dad on a home he is building. He drops you off at the jobsite at 7am, briefly describes what needs done, then says he’ll be back at lunchtime and it better be done. My dad wore size 12 redwing work boots that fit a pair of ass cakes appropriately so you can bet your bottom dollar the stuff got done no matter what. When there is no one to ask, you figure it out for yourself.

    The older I get the smarter my dad becomes. When I was 14 he was an asshole and a bore and was so out of touch with reality it was embarrassing. I’m a grand dad now and for all of my life I have benefitted from the things my dad taught me, mostly against my will, and whether I realized it or not.

    He wasn’t concerned with being my *friend* and he didn’t care if what he required made sense. His word was the law and if I didn’t like it I could leave anytime I wanted, but once I go out that door there was no coming back. Now, I suspect I would have been welcomed back into the fold but back then he put the fear of life itself in me and I stayed. His work killed him when he was 47 and I was 25 and he my wife and son never got to meet him. I’ve missed him terribly for most of my life and would give everything I have to have one more conversation with him, especially now that we are of the same mindset. Maybe someday I will…..

  • Andy Texan September 8, 2017, 8:57 PM

    I hunkered down during Hurricane Ike in 2008 which hit about 11 pm. Although only a category 1, the howling wind was interminable and frightening. I spend the night on the floor in the closet. Power was out for 2.5 weeks. We moderns are not used to hardships that used to be universal.

  • Snakepit Kansas September 9, 2017, 12:31 PM

    I caught the corner of a typhoon while in the PI more than a decade ago. No massive devastation like Ghost is writing about. Out here we simply dodge tornadoes, or so people think. I have had visual on one of them here in 40 years on the planes. They will scare the bajesus out of you.

  • Gordon September 10, 2017, 8:22 PM

    Heh, Ghostsniper, I actually do know of the trick you mentioned with the Paslode. I was shown by the Paslode guys, after they made me swear to never, ever, show anyone else, especially anyone purchasing one. “… launching the nail through space and time….” You have a pretty good way with words for a mechanical guy.

  • ghostsniper September 11, 2017, 4:12 AM

    Hey Gordon, just last week I got a new cordless nailer to accommodate my Paslode framer and Paslode angled finish nailer. It’s the Ryobi P320 Airstrike 18 Volt One+ Lithium Ion Cordless Brad Nailer. I’ve been a heavy Ryobi user for more’n 20 years and have 30+ of their various 18v tools.

    Couple years ago I tore out and replaced an inadequate deck on our house and was left with a surplus of old/worn deck boards, mostly 2×8’s and 5/4 decking. In the past week I ran some of that wood through my Dewalt table saw to the proper width and thickness I required, then through the Craftsman miter saw to the proper length. In AutoCAD I had already designed a number of items I wanted to build to put on the new deck – few tables, planters, etc. I used the Ryobi brad nailer extensively for the smaller stuff and it held up very well, I was surprised frankly, not believing an 18v nailer would hold up to my very high standards, But it did. It shooters nails from 5/8″ to 2″. Whoa. Very versatile. So if you’re interested in a nailer for the little stuff I highly recommend this: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Ryobi-18-Volt-ONE-AirStrike-18-Gauge-Cordless-Brad-Nailer-Tool-Only-P320/203810823

    Don’t forget to get an assortment of nails to go with it. I went with the Porter Cable brand though it was a toss up with Senco.