Hurricane Donna: After the Storm

Dated: 09/10/2019

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Today is September 10, the anniversary of two hurricanes that affected Fort Myers Beach 47 years apart.  Heralded by some meteorologists as the “peak of hurricane season,” September 10 will always be a date that causes me to stop and reflect on how vulnerable coastal cities are when it comes to hurricanes.

I was in elementary school when we were forced to evacuate because a hurricane called Donna was moving through the Florida Straits.   Having written about the days before the storm and the evening of the storm in previous blogs, today, I would like to reflect on what it was like on the island directly after the storm.

Donna moved through Southwest Florida during the night of September 10.  By morning, the sun was shining, and my parents were eager to get back to the beach.  The drive from North Fort Myers to San Carlos Blvd was uneventful.  I don’t recall seeing too much destruction as we drove down McGregor on our way to the island. 

Once we reached Minor’s Corner (where Planet Fitness is now at the intersection of Gladiolus and McGregor), we had a hint of what was to come.  Many people whose trailers were on the gulf side of Red Coconut RV park decided to take their units off island when the storm threatened.  Back in those days, San Carlos Blvd from McGregor to the Beach was nothing but gladiolus and potato farms.  Somewhere among these fields, our friends had placed their trailers hoping to protect them from the storm surge.  Unfortunately, the powerful winds did more damage than the water.  We were shocked to see that these trailers were scattered about the fields in various stages of destruction: some were completely destroyed; others were turned upside down or lying on their sides.  This was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

We were stopped by the old swing bridge and had to show proof of residency before we were let on the island.  As we made our way down Estero, I noticed that the road was covered with sand and debris from homes and fallen trees.  When we rounded the curve by the library, I was shocked to see my father’s lounge chair smack dab in the middle of the road.  His workbench was turned over on the side of the road.  It didn’t take long to realize that we were about to enter a disaster zone.

We had a 40 something foot trailer with a large Florida room attached.  The Florida room was the “family room.”  It housed the television, my dad’s lounge chair, all our family photo albums, and other items that one would find in such a space.  The room was totally gone, ripped from the trailer and torn apart by the hurricane force winds.  Nothing remained where the room once stood.  The trailer itself had faired a little bit better because it was still in one piece.  Unfortunately, it was turned on its side and filled with water.

After accessing the damage to our property, we looked around the park and saw destruction everywhere we looked.  The Australian pines that provide much needed shade during the hot months were lying on the ground making it hard to navigate around the area.  Our best friends had just purchased a new trailer which was on the front row.  All that was left of the unit was the 50 foot frame.  The entire trailer had exploded, and the contents were scattered around the park.

(To be continued…..next hurricane post will discuss how we coped after the storm)

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Ellie Bunting

Ellie has returned to real estate sales after spending the last 40 years teaching English at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers She has teamed up with her husband, Bob, who has been a....

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