This Time Chicken Little Was Right
"Could this be the year of the Big Storm?" That was the title of the column I wrote just a few short months ago, in February to be exact. As usual, I caught a little flak from my neighbors about being pessimistic. I think they may have been the only ones to read my column.
Back in January, 2001, I wrote an article called "Bulletproof", where I wrote: "Again, we sidestepped any hurricanes or major tropical storms. That could be a problem in itself." Again, the only responses I received were about being morbid.
In fact, the very first column I wrote for the Charlotte Sun back in August 1999, was one titled "Now What?" The column started: "When finally allowed into the area that used to be your business, the first thing that strikes you is absolute devastation. Where there used to be sinks are only PVC pipes sticking up from the concrete. What used to be a roof is lying across the work and service areas. No windows have glass, and quite often there are no walls."
I wrote that column specifically to assist the Business Services Committee of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. They were trying to hold a disaster preparedness seminar for small businesses. When only two respondents show any interest in the program, it was dropped.
The attitudes here were so bad, I actually had a former county commissioner tell me that it was impossible for Port Charlotte to suffer a direct hit from a hurricane. I could only wonder how Wayne Sallade, Director of Emergency Planning and his staff could ever succeed in preventing disaster if a major hurricane struck Charlotte County. The majority of residents and businesses here had never suffered a major storm and the attitudes of residents and business owners were less than complacent, they were apathetic at best. Even hurricane Donna, the last storm in memory, was not one to cause much concern about preparation or the after effects.
Now that we have been ravaged by Charley, and scared to the point of evacuation by Ivan and Francis, disaster planning and preparation are no longer a discretionary part of the business budget: they are now main concerns. Everyone here knows we can get hit again, even next year, if the atmospheric conditions dictate a hurricane again cross Charlotte Harbor. The naiveté is gone, but, unfortunately, as newcomers move to our area, and the memory of this busy season fades away, the old ways will creep back and the same old feeling of being bullet proof will again dominate the local attitudes. We have already been told by friends that they believe North Port is the safest place in Florida. If the area isn't struck for twenty of thirty years, the "experts" who didn't think it could happen here will again gain credibility.
They should leave it to the real experts, like Wayne Sallade and his team. Any questions about Charlotte County Emergency Management can be found on the website: http://www.charlottecountyfl.com/emergency/.
We can be glad they got it right the first time.
George Mindling © 2004
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