Hurricane Charley Hit Florida Leaving Hardships in Its Path

August 20, 2004 - 11:54

As expected, Hurricane Charley hit the state of Florida with a vengeance and has left a lot of damage and despair in its path. GPN has been getting information from growers and University of Florida staff all week regarding the aftermath of the hurricane from a week ago. Some were not damaged at all, while others were virtually destroyed. As of press time, more than 300,000 people were without power, more than 1,000 people were living in shelters and homes were destroyed by the thousands. Winds were clocked at around 145 mph at the eye of the storm that hit August 13.

Many people in the green industry came out pretty well from the storm, while a number of facilities were badly damaged. For those people GPN felt it was best to leave them alone to let them figure out what is next.

According to the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA), an early estimated dollar loss and damage is in the $100-200 million range. However, this number could change based on more detailed reports. Loss of nursery crops and damage to greenhouse and shade structures range from partial to complete devastation for nurseries in the path of Hurricane Charley. Damaged areas include Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Lee, Polk, Osceola, Orange and Volusia counties.

An article from the Palm Beach Post, stated that the Insurance Information Institute is estimating “Charley's insured losses at $7.4 billion, less than the $15.5 billion that Hurricane Andrew racked up in 1992 but more than Hurricane Hugo's $4.2 billion worth of property damage in 1989…Adjusted for inflation, Andrew's losses rise to $20.3 billion, and Hugo's to $6.2 billion.”

“Ben [Bolusky, FNGLA’s executive vice president] and I were down in Wauchula and Arcadia and near Port Charlotte yesterday, and what we saw down there, depending on the nursery, some are totally wiped out; some have small damage, and some had damage and have since fixed it,” said Bill Klinger, president of FNGLA. “Some of the nurseries have back-up generators, the ones that have it are in pretty good shape. From what we saw yesterday, three of the six nurseries had been hit pretty hard, but one of them looked like it wasn’t damaged at all.”

Hearing from the People

Even though the storm changed course at the last minute, green industry people were getting prepared all over the state just in case, since they remembered the devastation from Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Many people said that they lost a lot of poly from the roofs of their greenhouses and some crop damage along the way. However, people were surprised at how much was saved.v

The following are some of the more positive accounts, since the people who were devastated have enough on their plates right now, that we have gotten from some of the people in the industry regarding the hurricane:

“Hurricane Charley hit the Fort Myers area at approximately 3 p.m. on Friday with hurricane force winds and sheets of rain. By 6 p.m. it was all over. The Alva and Live Oaks Farms are still standing! For the strength of the storm, we had minimal damage.

At Alva, we lost poly and fiberglass roofs and some Saran. The spray tractor roof was a total loss. Power was off from 3:30 p.m. Friday to 1:30 p.m. Saturday. As of 2 p.m. today [Saturday], all critical systems have been restored.

At Live Oaks Farm, we also had damage to poly and fiberglass roofs. Power remained on during and after the storm. The Parrish Farm had minimal wind-related damage.

Due to the power loss at Alva — there will be some disruption to mum shipping on Monday and Tuesday [August 16 and 17]. Mum unrooted inventory was being moved to a temporary cold storage area until the power was restored. The inventory will need to be relockered and bar code recorded before shipping can resume.”
Patrick Crump, Yoder Brothers, Ft. Meyers, Fla.

“We had minimal damage to our facility. We lost a small greenhouse, poly from another, and a few old shadehouses. There are some trees down, but none fell on any structures. Power was restored to most of Lake Placid Tuesday morning. I do not currently have power at my home and probably won't until next week. The traffic lights, gas stations and grocery stores became operational on Tuesday, August 17.

Lake Placid is in much better shape than the other two towns in our county— Sebring and Avon Park. The eye of the storm was about 30 miles away, so we were so very lucky. Cost of the storm is minimal — about four extra days of labor with about eight employees. We wouldn't even have that except that we do all the pots for the Caladium Festival, and 10,000 plants had to be moved into the warehouses before the storm. Then, we had to repair anything salvageable in the shadehouses, greenhouses, etc. and move them back out.

Our 150-acre caladium farm only received about 2 inches of rainfall because the storm moved so rapidly. Rain was our biggest concern to the crop. Some plants in a 40-acre section are snapped off at the stems, but the tubers are okay, and the plants should regrow. We are still under a mandatory curfew [as of press time] in the county because about 70 percent still does not have power. Gas stations are limiting the amount of gas and will take cash only. School is out for this week, and we will know Friday about next week. Overall, we faired great. Nursery operations in Arcadia, Zolfo Springs and Wauchula are badly damaged or completely gone.”
Terri Cantwell, Bates Sons and Daughters, Lake Placid, Fla.

“You can imagine what it was like here last Thursday, and even on Friday morning, with folks doing all they could to secure Speedling for what was forecasted. When we left for our homes or safe places, we all knew that it would be a sad day on Saturday, if the storm had continued to track for Tampa Bay. I am afraid the news would have been the very worst. Fortunately, for us here, we came through without any damage. Amazingly, Friday's wind and rain wasn't even as bad as some of our regular summer thunderstorms through here.

However, it’s seeing the news reports and pictures of those poor folks south of us and the devastation such a storm brings. The only good news is that help began pouring in immediately and continues and the infrastructure for the aid/assistance improves with each passing day.”
Sue Musser, Speedling Incorporated, Sun City, Fla.

“First it was headed towards Naples and then it looked like it was going further north, and as the storm was approaching we thought it was coming right at us and gathering strength very rapidly. When it first started coming it was a category 1, and in a matter of eight hours it got to a category 4. It missed us; we had very minimal damage, though it could have been a lot worse if we didn’t do what we normally do in a hurricane. We went through and nailed down everything. There was not one loose item, except for the crop itself, everything was shrink wrapped, tied down, polylocked, everything is checked.

I took a picture of the farm the morning of the storm and a picture the day after and you could tell there was a storm except for the lost greenhouse roofs that blew off. Out of 400,000 mums, we lost one pot, we had to pick up about 150,000 of them that had blown over, but we grow on the ground, and one of the benefits of doing that is that the wind blows right over it, where if it was on benches it would have blown right off. We went though Andrew with 95-mph wind, and we had about a 5-percent crop loss and this time 80-90 maximum gusts, and we just lost one plant; we were very lucky. My partner Alex and I were just going to ride out the storm here at the farm, no matter what happened. We lost power but had a generator that kept things going.”
Jim Pugh, American Farms, Ltd., Naples Fla.

“We got 1 inch of rain; were minutes away from cutting the poly off of our greenhouses and it turned. Many people had cable shade houses — we have a lot of that in Florida— compared to wooden structures with shade cloth on top of them; the cable came though just fine in areas that were hit really hard, but the wood frame structures were just demolished. We went right before the storm to rent generators and couldn’t rent one because they were reserved my the municipalities, and each one I contacted said they were getting a lot more in, but they were all going to the municipalities. Basically, you cannot wait until the storm is coming before you get a generator.”
Rick Brown, Riverview Flower Farms, Riverview, Fla.

Disaster Relief

FNGLA is working with the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services in Tallahassee and the USDA to develop a comprehensive list of federal and state disaster relief-related programs to assist members in the devastating wake of the storm.
Many FNGLA members have been calling in to offer assistance to their fellow members who have suffered from Hurricane Charley.

Although communication has been limited, here’s what FNGLA has been able to arrange to help with in two of the hardest hit areas:

FINANCIAL DONATIONS:

FNGLA is accepting financial donations, which will be used to purchase items locally as needed in the next several weeks. Monies will also be used for general supplies to help members get their businesses up and running again.

Financial donations should be made out to FNGLA and sent to:

FNGLA

1533 Park Center Dr., Orlando, FL 32835.

Please indicate that the donation is for Hurricane Charley Relief

GENERAL SUPPLIES NEEDED (Non-cash):

  • Personal hygiene items, towels, bedding items, inflatable mattresses, work clothes, diapers, wipes (primarily for nursery workers).
  • Water, non-perishable foods, can openers, fruit juice drinks, grill, charcoal.
  • Trash bags, heavy black plastic (for make shift showers), flashlights, batteries, tents, insect repellent.
  • Chain saws, pruning tools, large and small generators.
  • Shade cloth, poly, tools and materials to related to rebuilding shade and poly houses. These are especially needed in Zolfo Springs and Wauchula area.

DELIVERY OF SUPPLIES:

Pine Island/Ft. Myers/Arcadia area local FNGLA members coordinating distributions of goods are Carolan Mahr, (239) 574-2214 and Paul Polomsky at (239) 353-7256. Labor crews are needed but should be coordinated through Carolan.

A number of green industry partners are helping with the supplies and supports efforts; just a few include King’s Foliage, Homestead, Fla.; BWI, Homestead, Fla.; Agri-Starts, Apopka, Fla.; Riverview Farms Apopka, Fla.; American Farms, Naples, Fla.; and many more. FNGLA is continuing to gather information on the needs of FNGLA members related to the storm and expect to be assisting in providing supplies and support for the next several weeks.

Grower After Effects

Due to the damage of the hurricane, a number of the big box stores are either damaged, have no power or are in an area that people can’t get through. Growers are now seeing problems getting their product to the stores. According to Pugh “1/3 of the stores that we sell to in our West Coast Districts are basically out of business temporally. They are all with no power or damage and at this point are unable to accept plant material. That affects our business. When you are sitting on a crop worth a million dollars thinking we may have to throw 1/3 of it away, it really makes you realize it is so far reaching. It has been tough for everybody, but I just count my blessings that we were not more damaged.”

“We had 15 Home Depots impacted here in Florida, and the Port Charlotte one is still closed; they have a store in north Ft. Meyers that was not open yet, and they are planning on opening it next week, not fully ready, to help the people who need the supplies,” said Brown. “The one in Lake Whales has extensive damage as well and will be closed for quite a while, and it just opened.”

As an industry we tend to be there when we are needed, and there is a lot of that going on right now in Florida. If you want more information about the support information in Florida or need information about the hurricane damage contact the FNGLA at (407) 295-7994 or visit the Web site at www.fnga.org for the most up-to-date information.

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