Floridians reflect on devastating trio of hurricanes 16 years later

Viewers share stories of loss, hope, survival

Sixteen years ago, three hurricanes -- Charley, Frances and Jeanne -- slammed Central Florida leaving Floridians with memories of survival they soon won’t forget. 

News 6 reached out to its audience on Facebook to hear how people were affected and got a huge response. Even all these years later, people still remember every detail of how they were impacted by the three hurricanes.

Adelle Urback said, “I was living in Florida for these three back-to-back hurricanes and was nine months pregnant with my middle son and had a toddler. Thru Charlie, I was so worried that my due date would come early. Then we found out Frances was coming and right during the eye of the hurricane my son Joshua decided it was a great time to arrive in this world. The drive to the hospital was the scariest. First there was a HUGE fallen tree on the one-way road we lived on. We had to drive through our neighbor’s lawn that was looked like a lake. I didn’t think we were going to get through without getting stuck, but we made it passed our road and hydroplaned the rest of the way to the hospital. It was very scary. But my beautiful boy was born 8 lbs. 8 oz. in an emergency C-section because of all of the stress but he was happy and healthy. Today he is an active 14 year old about to be 15 in September.

Fran Kuehling-Billerth shared, “Frances hit on my birthday and demolished our roof over the kitchen. Water seeped in all over the kitchen, going through my cabinets. My husband and I had to take turns sleeping so one of us could watch the buckets fill up and empty them. Not a fun time, we watched the shingles fly off our roof one by one, oh and by the way my name is Frances. lol What a birthday present!”

In 2004, three devastating hurricanes hit Central Florida.

Krista Hoeppner remembered, “I live on a small horse farm so all storms are stressful. During Charlie, 11 trees came down on our property and off went the power. Our power was for two weeks after the last hurricane that went through here. We have a great neighborhood and everyone got out their chainsaws and got busy helping each neighbor with tree issues. We shared generators, fence fixing and we even had a house concert. When the power guys from Montana finally got to our street we all celebrated with a barbeque. We were all thankful no one was hurt during all this chaos.”

Michael Kepler said, “I worked hurricane utility restoration duty for all three of those storms and went to the panhandle for Hurricanes Dennis and Ivan. I saw my own home for a total of one month between July and December that year.”

Heather Pegel shared, “I gave birth to my daughter the day Frances hit. We were stuck in the hospital for almost three days. We gave her the middle name Breeze because there was quite a breeze that day.”

Gretchen Pettigrew shared, “We lived in Oviedo on a horse farm. Charley’s eye passed right over and took out the entire lower barn, roof, and trees. We had no power, toilets or water for two weeks. We had to drive to areas where they had power to fill up big plastic bins with water for the horses and stock up on food and supplies. When Francis was coming just a couple weeks later, most of Oviedo was a sea of blue tarps on roofs that were badly damaged and our farm was so badly damaged that we decided to evacuate to a safe fairgrounds that had lodging for horses in Ocala. We got all 20 horses there at the last minute and the storm ended up hitting more in Ocala and we were stuck there with no power water or supplies. We decided we would never evacuate after that.”

Karen L. Browning remembered, “I was an ER nurse working in Winter Park Memorial Hospital at the time. The water main broke to the surrounding neighborhood and we had to use bottled water to bathe patients for almost a week.”

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Kristen Reale Cheek said, “I had my son during the second one and had a C-section. I was supposed to be in the hospital three days, but they let me out the next day saying they needed room for heart patients, etc. I went home with a newborn in middle of hurricane with no power for three weeks.”

Crystal Osborn shared, “Oh I remember that! It was right when I started college and I’ll never forget riding out Charley in my parent’s wood framed house. We were in the bathtub (my mom, dad, me and the dog) and the walls would move. Then a tree fell and slammed into the side of the house. It was so scary. We were stuck in our neighborhood for days until they cleared enough trees and power lines off the roads so we could leave. I remember having our power back for less than a week and then bam another storm, and then no power again until two days before the last storm. It was awful! Toward the end, we just hooked the generator up to our boat and slept in it so we had A/C. I never want to go thru that again!”

Candace Jackson Long said, “We had a tree that splint in half and went through our roof. It left us out of our house for 9 months.”

Lynn Covington Cullum shared, “My husband, granddaughter (then age 4), and I huddled in our hallway when things got bad. The noise was horrendous, and we could feel the hallway walls vibrating against our backs as we huddled together. The sounds of crashing could be heard. When it was finally over, we had no power, but I was relieved the roof had not flown away and us with it. My husband went outside with a flashlight to check for damage. Our entire pool enclosure was down and piled like Tinker Toys in the pool. We were without power for over a week, but our next door neighbor, on a different line, was not. We kept our refrigerator running with an extension cord he kindly allowed us to plug in at his house.”

Ricky Vazquez said, “Hurricane Charley changed my life for the better! That day was my first date with my future wife. Once the storm shifted, she could not make it back to her home. She came back to my place and we rode out the hurricane in my third-floor apartment ‘hunkered down’ as they say. Since then, we have spent every hurricane together and are happily married for 11 years. We like to say, ‘from natural disaster to happily ever after!’”

[RELATED: Hear tips from experts on how to prepare for hurricane season]

Michelle Saunders Smith said, “We live near Curry Ford and Conway Rd, the trees were hit hard in our neighborhood when Charlie came through. A huge, old oak went down in our backyard and took our power lines down. OUC would not turn our service on. They informed us we had to hire an electrician to replace the weather head on our pole before they could connect the power. By the time the electrician finished the work, several days later, the utility companies we’re backed up and could not get to us for a week. I got lucky though. I saw power crews from North Carolina hanging out on a lunch break in the Publix parking lot. I stopped to thank them for coming down and helping our city. When they found out that I was having to wait so long, they followed me home and turned on our service, 11 days post Charlie. I will never forget those men that left their families to come help our families in the City Beautiful. We also were blocked on our street for several days, since fallen oaks blocked both ends of the street.”

Jennifer Williams sadly remembers, “I had just bought a 20 acre horse farm in Ocala two weeks before Charlie. I was a single mother and had sold a property and invested every penny up there on that property and horses to sell. The hurricane wiped out my large barn and approximately 30 giant oak trees that fell onto my fences. Nobody wanted to buy horses after that, so I lost everything.”

Feel free to share your own story from those hurricanes in the comments below. 

About the Author:

Stacy is a Social Media Producer for ClickOrlando.com and has been with News 6 since 2018. She graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in advertising and a Masters in social media/mass communications.