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Despite warnings, people stayed

Wayne Sallade was among those who begged residents of Punta Gorda to flee.

BY PJ HELLER | PUNTA GORDA, Fla. | August 14, 2004

"When I hear a hurricane coming, from now on I will pack my stuff and leave."

—Dalila Eljaua

Wayne Sallade was among those who begged residents of Punta Gorda to flee before Hurricane Charley unleashed its fury on the small Gulf Coast community.

Those warnings, issued by Sallade, the emergency management director in Charlotte County, and others, went unheeded by many. Some of those who opted to remain didn’t survive the storm, he reported.

One of those who rode out the storm and survived was Anne Correia. She hid in the closet of her apartment for two hours as the winds howled and rains poured down.

“I could hear the nails coming out of the roof,” said the 45-year-old Correia. “The walls were shaking violently back and forth.

“It was just the most amazing and terrifying thing,” she said. “I just kept praying to God. I prayed with my whole heart.”

Correia eventually fled the building, which was destroyed by the storm.

Another resident of the building hid in a bathtub and was led from the building by Correia.

Dalila Eljaua locked herself in her bathroom with her two dogs as the storm roared outside.

“It’s true what they say: You never heard that sound. You just are praying that it goes away, and every time it would slow down, it comes right back up,” she said. “You’re thinking, ‘Oh God, when does this end?’”

Jim and Pat Morgan sought shelter at in a hangar where they keep their plane at the Charlotte County Airport. As they huddled with carpets wrapped around them, hurricane winds began to rip off the roof, sending everything from cups, bolts and screwdrivers flying through the air.

“It was literally going around like a blender,” Morgan said, describing the scene as one of “clanging and banging.”

“It sounded like a calypso band gone crazy,” he said.

“. . . It all started to come apart,” added his wife.

When the winds subsided, the Morgans decided to make a dash for their car. Jim Morgan had to pull a small plane off of the car before the couple could drive to the airport terminal, where others had taken shelter.

Sallade said residents in more than two dozen mobile home parks were given more than 24 hours notice to evacuate the area. He said many people did not believe the storm would hit the town of 15,000. Punta Gorda bore the brunt of Hurricane Charley.

Eljaua, who moved to Punta Gordo a month ago, said she’s now a believer in hurricane warnings.

“When I hear a hurricane coming, from now on I will pack my stuff and leave,” she promised. “I understand what those people who went through (Hurricane) Andrew said about never going through it again.”

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