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Remembering Hurricane Charley’s destruction, 18 years ago today

Charley was the first of four hurricanes that battered Florida in 2004.
Sandy Agabedis reacts as she finds her business of 10 years, The Blossom Shop, destroyed after Hurricane Charley tore through downtown Punta Gorda on Aug. 13, 2004.
Sandy Agabedis reacts as she finds her business of 10 years, The Blossom Shop, destroyed after Hurricane Charley tore through downtown Punta Gorda on Aug. 13, 2004. [ CHIP LITHERLAND | Chip Litherland ]
Published Aug. 13, 2019|Updated Aug. 13
This National Hurricane Center satellite image shows Hurricane Charley south of Orlando moving north-northeast, in an image time-stamped at 7:32 p.m. on Aug. 13, 2004.
This National Hurricane Center satellite image shows Hurricane Charley south of Orlando moving north-northeast, in an image time-stamped at 7:32 p.m. on Aug. 13, 2004. [ NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER | AP ]

Editor’s note: This story was first published on Aug. 13, 2019, the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Charley’s landfall.

Eighteen years ago, Hurricane Charley walloped Florida. It was the most devastating storm since Hurricane Andrew came ashore in 1992. Charley killed 15 people directly, caused an estimated $16 billion in property damage and left more than 1 million people without power.

Charley made landfall in the Punta Gorda area on Aug. 13, 2004, as a Category 4 hurricane. It struck the state just over 24 hours after Tropical Storm Bonnie made landfall in the Panhandle and was the first of four hurricanes to threaten the Sunshine State that year — Frances, Ivan and Jeanne followed.

At the time, the evacuation triggered by the storm was the largest in Tampa Bay area history. According to Tampa Bay Times archives, 1.9 million people in 11 counties were told to evacuate. More than 800,000 from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco were instructed to leave town.

A sign on a Fort Myers business expecting Hurricane Charley is shown on Aug. 13, 2004.
A sign on a Fort Myers business expecting Hurricane Charley is shown on Aug. 13, 2004. [ MARC BEAUDIN | AP ]

It seemed like Charley was headed right toward Tampa Bay, but a low-pressure cold front pushed the hurricane’s path to the east before it could get here. Tampa and St. Petersburg received less than an inch of rain; winds only reached 30 mph.

RELATED: Floridians shared their most unconventional hurricane tips

Other parts of the state were not as fortunate. After Charley’s twist to the east, the storm destroyed thousands of homes in Charlotte and Lee counties, with some of the worst damage occurring in Punta Gorda.

Photos and front pages from Times archives capture the intensity and destruction of Hurricane Charley.

An upscale home on Capitiva Island is framed by mounds of debris from a damaged home near Captiva Drive. The island was hit hard by Hurricane Charley's high winds. Many of the expensive homes can now be seen from the road since the island's vegetation was blown down by Charley's winds.  Times (2004)
An upscale home on Capitiva Island is framed by mounds of debris from a damaged home near Captiva Drive. The island was hit hard by Hurricane Charley's high winds. Many of the expensive homes can now be seen from the road since the island's vegetation was blown down by Charley's winds. Times (2004) [ KEELER, SCOTT | St. Petersburg Times ]
A request for help is shown in the backyard of a home in Osceola County on Aug. 19, 2004.
A request for help is shown in the backyard of a home in Osceola County on Aug. 19, 2004. [ HUBER, RED | Associated Press ]
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A moving and storage van lays on top of a station wagon in the East bound lane of State Road 528 in Orange County after crashing on a road slick from heavy rain from the outer bands of Hurricane Charley.
A moving and storage van lays on top of a station wagon in the East bound lane of State Road 528 in Orange County after crashing on a road slick from heavy rain from the outer bands of Hurricane Charley. [ CRAIG RUBADOUX | AP ]
A family Bible was found resting in a tree outside a mobile home that was destroyed by Hurricane Charley. The mobile home was located along a rural stretch of US Highway 17, approximately six miles north of Punta Gorda.
A family Bible was found resting in a tree outside a mobile home that was destroyed by Hurricane Charley. The mobile home was located along a rural stretch of US Highway 17, approximately six miles north of Punta Gorda. [  SELECT YOUR BYLINE | St. Petersburg Times ]
Mitch Zeidan, owner of Mitch Mart on SR 44 in Inverness, updates his message he originally wrote before Hurricane Charley as he and a group of employees board up the store in preparation for Frances, the second storm in three weeks. Times (2004)
Mitch Zeidan, owner of Mitch Mart on SR 44 in Inverness, updates his message he originally wrote before Hurricane Charley as he and a group of employees board up the store in preparation for Frances, the second storm in three weeks. Times (2004) [ CODDINGTON, STEPHEN J. | St. Petersburg Times ]

Front pages tell Charley’s story

The front page of the St. Petersburg Times for August 13, 2004, featuring coverage of Hurricane Charley.
The front page of the St. Petersburg Times for August 13, 2004, featuring coverage of Hurricane Charley. [ TAMPA BAY TIMES | St. Petersburg Times ]
The front page of the St. Petersburg Times for August 14, 2004, featuring coverage of Hurricane Charley.
The front page of the St. Petersburg Times for August 14, 2004, featuring coverage of Hurricane Charley. [ St. Petersburg Times ]
The front page of the St. Petersburg Times for August 16, 2004, featuring coverage of Hurricane Charley. The storm killed 15 people directly, but in the days to follow 20 more indirect deaths were added to the count.
The front page of the St. Petersburg Times for August 16, 2004, featuring coverage of Hurricane Charley. The storm killed 15 people directly, but in the days to follow 20 more indirect deaths were added to the count. [ TAMPA BAY TIMES | St. Petersburg Times ]
The front page of the St. Petersburg Times for August 17, 2004, featuring coverage of Hurricane Charley.
The front page of the St. Petersburg Times for August 17, 2004, featuring coverage of Hurricane Charley. [ TAMPA BAY TIMES | St. Petersburg Times ]

2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.

RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here’s how to get ready.

DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits

PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.

SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.

• • •

Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change

PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.

PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don’t understand the risk.

PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?

INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.

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