Part I: The Storm
As a kid growing up on Fort Myers Beach, I can recall many times packing our belongings and heading into Fort Myers because of a potential hurricane. Luckily, most of those trips turned out to be nothing more than a social event for the parents and kids who drove to town (Ft. Myers), checked into a hotel, and waited out the storm. Luckily, most of those storms passed by without doing any major damage. We would return to the island happy to have missed a day or two of school. Our luck ran out, however, on September 10, 1960, when Hurricane Donna made a direct hit near Naples.
Hurricane Donna formed off Cape Verde on August 29, 1960. By August 31, Donna had become a hurricane and was headed west into the Caribbean Sea. When the storm reached the Leeward Island on September 4, it had grown into a Cat 4 hurricane. Donna struck Puerto Rico and the Bahamas before it turned northeast heading right towards Cuba and the Keys.
One hundred and twenty people lost their lives in Cuba because evacuation plans were not in place. When Donna went through the Keys, the winds were 145 miles per hour. Donna went up the coast, making landfall south of Naples with 150 mile per hour winds and a 12-foot storm surge. Over 75% of homes on Fort Myers Beach were damaged or destroyed.
In 1960, the island ended at Big Carlos Pass as the bridge on the south end had not yet been built. Cottages were ripped from their foundations and were floating in the bay. Estero Blvd was covered with debris, downed trees, and sand.
Donna became weak as it passed across the state and entered the Atlantic. On September 12, the storm made landfall as a category 2 hurricane near Topsail Beach in North Carolina. The storm continued to move northward striking Long Island before turning extratropical over Maine.
Hurricane Donna was the fifth-strongest hurricane of record to hit the U.S., causing 50 deaths, $387 million in property damage and affecting over 50 million people according to the National Hurricane Center.
Stay Tuned for Part II: Surviving the Storm