Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)


We were in the cross-hairs. On Thursday evening, Aug. 12, 2004, Hurricane Charley was barreling northward into the Gulf of Mexico straight at Tampa Bay. This was expected to be the first hurricane to hit us head-on since 1921 — and at least a Category 3, at that.

More than 800,000 people in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties piled into their cars and tried to evacuate, turning the Gandy Bridge's northbound span into something resembling the Magic Kingdom parking lot during spring break.

Then came the turn.

About 1 p.m. on Friday the 13th — 10 years ago today — the National Weather Service announced that Charley had swung to the right and acquired a new target. About 3:45 p.m., the storm slammed ashore at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor.

Though it spared Tampa Bay, Charley — by then a Category 4 — ripped through Lee and Charlotte counties, with winds clocked at more than 145 mph. Then it pushed inland, wreaking havoc across Central Florida.

By the time it was done, Charley had killed 10 people and caused more than $14 billion in damage, making it the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history. It was the first of four hurricanes to clobber Florida that year, a nightmarish run of bad luck.

A decade later, the survivors of Charley's pummeling have pulled together a new life. Punta Gorda calls itself "the best small city in Florida," and the city manager says it's all due to the makeover from Charley.

— Craig Pittman, Times staff writer

See images before and after

Use the handle in the middle of the photo to slide the image to the right to see a before photo and to the left to see an after image.

The SunLoft Center now occupies the site of the Professional Center which was destroyed during the hurricane.

"I lost my job and my home all in one day," said Cecilia Carr as she searched through the items that she would pack into a trailer and haul away to a storage unit in hopes of rebuilding her home and her life in Crystal Lakes mobile home park. "Life has changed. It's just a whole different world. I had to go back to work in order to survive without my husband being here. Things have changed," she said of life after Hurricane Charley ten years later. Carr poses outside of her home, which was built after her previous home was destroyed. "I can't bring back all the memories I had. So you have to start over, it's hard." Among her possessions she lost her grandmother's china closet. "I had my grandmother's china closet that got destroyed. It's hard, even today it's hard, It's unbelievable. If I had stayed here [during the Hurricane] I probably would have gotten killed."

Port Charlotte firefighters had to clean up the roof of the Port Charlotte fire department after Hurricane Charley blew the roof off. At one point there were 14 firefighters taking shelter in one bathroom.

Airplanes at the Charlotte County Airport were tossed around like toys by Hurricane Charley. Devestation was extensive at the airport where Sheriff officials rode out the storm in buildings. Punta Gorda Airport was later rebuilt.

Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda was severely damaged by Hurricane Charley. Fierce rivals Port Charlotte and Charlotte High Schools were forced to share the Port Charlotte campus in the aftermath.

Auto Zone employee Tom Ponzio, center, looks over his former place of employment while his manager, John Sader, keeps watch in case looters show up.

Residents of Windmill Village mobile home park near Alligator Creek sit in the shade of what's left of their damaged clubhouse.

"It was so surreal, it was just unreal. It looked like a bomb went off right after it. I'll never forget it," said Anne Correia of what living through Hurricane Charley was like. Today, she poses with her dog, Ginger, for a portrait near her home in Port Charlotte. After taking in a kitten that was found in the the engine of a truck at the Charlotte County Airport, she named it, "Charley's Angel". She later gave the kitten to a little girl who had lost her cat in the hurricane.

A mural showing the old and the newly rebuilt Sacred Heart Catholic Church can be seen in the parking lot outside of the new Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Punta Gorda.

10 YEARS AGO, TAMPA BAY FEARS WERE SPARED 08/12/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 11:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays late-night bullpen shuffle: Alvarado, Pruitt down; Kolarek up


    The Rays shuffled their bullpen again after Tuesday's game, sending down struggling LHP Jose Alvarado along with RHP Austin Pruitt to Triple-A Durham, and turning next to LHP Adam Kolarek, who will make his major-league debut at age 28,

  2. Tampa Bay Times honored for top investigative story in Gerald Loeb annual business awards


    The Tampa Bay Times was a co-winner in the investigative category for one of the highest honors in business journalism.

    Tampa Bay Times current and former staff writers William R. Levesque, Nathaniel Lash and Anthony Cormier were honored in the investigative category for their coverage of "Allegiant Air" in the 60th Anniversary Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. 


  3. Pasco woman gives birth to child fathered by 11 year old, deputies say


    A Port Richey woman was arrested Tuesday, nearly three years after deputies say she gave birth to a child fathered by an 11-year-old boy.

    Marissa Mowry, 25, was arrested Tuesday on charges she sexually assaulted an 11-year-old and gave birth to his child. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. For good of the Rays, Tim Beckham should embrace move to second

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — The acquisition of slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria said a lot of things, most notably that the Rays are serious about making in-season moves to bolster their chances to make the playoffs, with a reliever, or two, next on the shopping list.

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 27:  Tim Beckham #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with teammates after scoring during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 27, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) 700011399
  5. St. Petersburg showdown: Kriseman faces Baker for first time tonight at the Rev. Louis Murphy Sr.'s church

    Local Government

    A standing-room-only crowd packed a Midtown church banquet hall Tuesday to witness the first face-off between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker in what is a watershed mayoral contest in the city's history.

    Former Mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor.