(News-Press.com) - Southwest Floridians who lived through Hurricane Charley's wrath showed their resilience in the face of a disaster and its aftermath; their newfound sense of community; and a respect for and awe of nature's power. They remember what they lost and realize material things aren't important. All that matters are their lives and those of loved ones. For that, they're grateful.
Ten years ago, Cecil Cavenaugh stood in the rubble of a trailer in Suncoast Estates, his 2-year-old grandson, Jacob, in his arms.
Hurricane Charley had roared through the day before, leaving destruction in its wake.
The trailer on Laurel Lane and McDaniel Drive had been home to his grandson and granddaughter Amber, then 7, and their maternal grandmother, Helen Bishop. There was nothing left.
Today, Cavenaugh, 61, remembers the hardship of the months following Charley, a neighborhood that came together and outsiders who came to help.
"It was six weeks, we still had no electricity," the retired Desert Storm veteran said. "We had power poles on the ground." They couldn't flush a toilet or bathe.
"We had people living in tents out in their backyard," he said.
The Red Cross and Meals and Wheels came by with food and water every day, he said. "They were fantastic."
Strangers came into the community and gave out money. One man drove up to the home of a single mother with six children and handed her $2,000, telling her to feed her children, he said. "There were four or five like that."
Cecil rode out the storm at his brother-in-law's concrete block home off Slater Road. "We sat on the porch and watched the whole hurricane," he said. The home shielded them from the wind. They saw trees bend to the ground from the winds, then rise.
He remembers how an air conditioning unit remained intact on the porch of his own home on Marx Drive. On the unit, two "itty bitty" cactuses were attached and blooming, he said.
Bishop recalls sitting on her couch and realizing too late Charley was heading for them. She grabbed the grandkids, dogs and birds and started driving to her mother's house on Pondella Road. Before they got there, the storm hit.
"That was horrible. Tin roofs started flying. Light poles snapping in half," she said. Bishop prayed.
When she returned to her trailer, the clothes Bishop had just gotten from layaway at Walmart for her granddaughter were strewn over the parking lot of the Circle K across the street.
What she misses most are the family photographs. "All those memories," she said.
Today, a white trailer with blue shutters stands in the destroyed trailer's place, provided by the landlord within six months, Bishop said. At the front, four canna lilies are in vibrant red bloom.
Jacob, now 12, and 5 feet 2 inches tall, remembers nothing. But the hurricane had an effect, Bishop said. Jacob fears storms. "He sees a cloud coming outside, he wants to come inside," she said.
The storm changed her, Bishop said. "I'm thankful to be alive. Thankful I have my grandbabies. If my grandbabies are all right, everything else doesn't matter."
Cavenaugh said he feels no long-term effects from the storm. "Life continues on. Little setbacks continue on. You've got to keep going."