Sunday, July 23, 2017


Life is under no obligation to give us what we expect.

                                                   Margaret Mitchell

Chapter Two

FRIDAY, AUGUST 13, 2004

Hello Charley

The morning was calm and peaceful.  It was another work day for Charlotte County Public School (CCPS) employees, except we were working at home, securing personal property.  As planned, at 10:00 a.m. the District Leadership Team (DLT) used the 800 Megahertz radios to check in.  Figuring that Charley would have passed us by early evening, we were to check in again by radio at 6:00 p.m.
Charley, the predicted hurricane, entered the Gulf of Mexico on the way to its presumed destination of Tampa, Florida.  As it moved along the way on its northern path, Charley made an unpredicted “wobble” to the east and bore down on Charlotte Harbor. Too late, residents of Charlotte County found that Charley was heading directly for them.  Those who lived in Charlotte County know what happened next.  The winds came…
       At approximately 3:45 p.m., Hurricane Charley first nailed Cayo Costa Island beginning its roar through Florida.  At approximately 4:00 p.m., Hurricane Charley began hammering Charlotte County with 145 mph winds.  Wind, the relentless wind, came with a vengeance. According to the dedicated sculpture in Lashley Park in Punta Gorda, it was 4:29 p.m. when the clock in downtown Punta Gorda stopped.  At 4:35 p.m., before the anemometer located at the Charlotte County Airport broke, the device recorded wind speeds in excess of 145 mph. 
According to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale (See Appendix II) Hurricane Charley was officially classified as a Category 4 hurricane.
          As folks recalled later, when the hurricane hit, Charley sounded like the roar of a train heading straight toward them.  The calm of the eye that followed was terrifying, for people knew another train, perhaps even more powerful was on its way.  There seemed to be no place to hide.  The storm was ferocious. Telephone poles were snapping in half, glass was breaking everywhere, trees were falling across roads and over houses crushing roofs and cars.  Pool and porch screens were flying and cars and trucks were flipped upside down.  It was not safe to be outside.  Tornados tore at buildings, tearing off slices of homes so that they resembled the back side of a child’s doll house or sometimes leaving homes in piles of rubble. Children were huddled in closets only to find the roofs above them had been ripped off.  Personal possessions were blown away, and panicked pets tried to find a safe haven from the torturous wind.  It was a force—an unbelievable natural force of nature.  Staying out of its chaotic path was all important since metal, trees, parts of mobile homes, roof tiles and shingles, and glass were flying everywhere. 
     The damage was beyond what could have been imagined.  After the storm, those who ventured out and were not turned back by law enforcement found it difficult to take in all of the destruction.  People were in what could only be described as a collective state of shock. Furniture had been flung from homes and glass doors had shattered, cutting some who were inadvertently in the way of the flying debris.  So many trees were down with some leaning or crashed into the homes or cars near them.  Personal confusion was evident everywhere as the totality was too much to be absorbed all at once.  Eyes became wider than normal, trying to take in and communicate to the brain what had just happened. People wandered around in what came to be described by many as a zombie state.  With the majority of the county having no power, when darkness fell that night it literally was one of the darkest, if not “the” darkest night in Charlotte County history.  As soon as possible, members of the School District ventured out to survey the damage to the schools and District properties. The immediate assessment indicated that all of the schools were damaged and some were decimated.  Buses were damaged, the central warehouse housing supplies for schools was in shambles—destruction was at every turn.

EMOTIONAL REACTION

          When a person experiences an incident outside the range of normal human experience, it disrupts that person’s sense of emotional balance.  Experiencing Charley did just that for Charlotte County residents.  Confusion and suffering were almost everywhere.  Human response to traumatic events does not discriminate.  Not only are there psychological responses, there are physical ones as well.  The fight, flight, or freeze response is quite common after a traumatic event.  A heightened response by any of the senses can be experienced as well as a possible increase in adrenaline and hormones.  All of this can be followed by total physical exhaustion.  And the emotions—they can go haywire after a traumatic event.  Some people regress to an earlier stage of development while others become the caretakers.  The natural disaster of Hurricane Charley gave equal opportunity to all for a traumatic reaction, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, or culture.  Thus, the majority of Charlotte County residents were feeling the effects of this natural disaster. 
Trauma is always associated with loss—of faith in the future, of trust in others, of fairness, of justice, of worldview and of meaningful people or of sentimental property.  All over the County, people were feeling some or all of these things.  While it is true that people took comfort in the arms and words of others, still the loss, not just of physical property, but the loss of placement in the world was looming large. 
The District needed to respond not only to employees, but also to all of the people of the County.  People needed comfort and nurture—children, confused by adults who were out of emotional balance, needed reassurance and normalcy.  Children needed to feel safe again amidst all of the destruction surrounding them.  Charlotte County needed to know and believe we all could go forward.  We knew we needed to help restore emotional balance, and we also knew that Stephen Covey had it right when he so succinctly stated, “First Things First” (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People 1989).  Tarps and water and basic human needs were an immediate need and at the foreground right after the hurricane.  But we knew, we knew, that after that, the emotions would come cascading forward.  We needed to be prepared to help with the emotional aftermath that inevitably would arrive. 

THE DAY AFTER—AUGUST 14, 2004

          The initial leadership meeting began at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 14, at the Charlotte Technical Center in Port Charlotte, the day after the hurricane.  Some leaders left homes that were partially or totally destroyed, but they came; some had to chainsaw away trees to clear streets to attend, but they came; and some were injured, but they came. As we gathered in the lobby of the Tech Center, we were met with no electricity, and with an unnerving constant blare of the battery-supported fire and security alarms.  Once the audio wires were cut, there was an eerie silence as the meeting began.  Instinctively, a leadership circle was formed with some pulling up chairs, some standing, and some sitting on the floor.  The leadership circle was complete and its unspoken symbolism resonated throughout the room.
         

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