Lessons learned: Reflecting on Hurricane Charley 15 years later

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POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – On the 15 year anniversary of Hurricane Charley, officials say lessons have been learned from the deadly storm that caused power outages for weeks.

Restaurant owner Toula Giannopoulos remembers the emotional aftermath.

“I just sat on the ground and started crying,” she said. “But, you have to do what you have to do.”

The city of Fort Meade turned the power back on at her restaurant, John’s Drive-In, earlier than others.

“The city let me open up,” she said. “That way everybody had a place to eat, because Hardee County got hit just as bad as Polk County did.”

Giannopoulos provided food and air conditioning to residents crippled by storm damage.

“Bad storm, real bad storm,” said Fort Meade’s public works director Jackie Cannon.

As public works director, Cannon is in charge of the city-owned power utility.

When Hurricane Irma swept through two years ago, Fort Meade had learned from Charley.

“We did something different,” Cannon said. “We shut the power off when the winds got up to 35 miles per hour. Saved a lot of transformers. We changed out probably 28 transformers during Irma and over 100 during Charley.”

Trees are also trimmed farther away from power lines now in Fort Meade in response to Hurricane Charley.

If Charley came now, Charley said the city would be better prepared.

Polk County’s emergency management director said the same thing.

It was because of the hurricanes in 2004 that hit Polk County– Charley, Frances and Jeanne– and a storm the next year in Mississippi that required help from Floridians, that the Florida state legislature doled out money for emergency management, according to Paul Womble, Polk County’s emergency management director.

Polk County’s $5.5 million Emergency Operations Center opened in 2010. The center allows workers to train in the facility and stay on site during the storm.

“[Charley] really was a wake up call for everybody to actually go through a major hurricane like that that took weeks to respond and recover,” Womble said.

Womble’s biggest lesson from Charley: be prepared.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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