FOLDED Contractor says community center and shelter that failed in Arcadia is repairable. (Photo courtesy of Forrest Meadows)

Clean-up crews working in the area ravaged by Hurricane Charley’s Aug. 13 rampage through Florida say the work is well under way and shifting from the response to the recovery phase. Some believe the volume of debris and ultimate cost of removal probably will be the largest in state history.

"It’s going to be massive," says Brian Thomason, a vice president and manager on the job for Grubbs Emergency Services Inc., Brooksville, Fla. "Andrew was around 13 million cu yd. We are going to pass that for sure," he says. Grubbs is one of three large firms involved. It has 1,000 trucks and 2,500 workers hauling, reducing and disposing of vegetation and building debris. It is using 11 collection and reduction sites ranging from 7 to 40 acres each, scattered across five counties.

The number of customers without power by Aug. 24 was down from 700,000 to about 66,000 in the hardest- hit areas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported on Aug. 23 that it has completed more than 43,000 housing inspections and approved $44 million in disaster aid to homeowners.

In hard-hit DeSoto County, one of the 40-acre debris sites Grubbs is using is on the grounds of the Turner Agri-Civic Center in Arcadia. The two-year-old, $7- million community center was built to double as a shelter in winds of up to 140 mph, but it failed at the height of the storm with 1,200 people in its 5,000-seat auditorium. The roof peeled back and the east wall buckled.


"We heard a couple of popping noises up near the ceiling down on the south end [of the building] toward the corner and everybody looked up," said John Lawhorne, a reporter for The DeSoto Sun-Arcadian, who was inside. "You could see a little sliver of daylight between the wall and ceiling. It seemed there was another pop or so, then [the fire department] began to move everybody out....It was beginning to be a bigger and bigger they moved us into the dressing rooms and tunnels and restrooms, foyer areas, out of the arena. From there...we just heard all kinds of noises."

"I have walked [the building], looked at it and it is obvious there was something pretty intense going on there," says Charles Evans, vice president of operations for the contractor, Dooley & Mack Constructors Inc., Sarasota, Fla. He says he hopes to find instrument data on the local winds, but thinks it may not exist. He believes the building can be repaired. The architects were Tish and Associates Architects Inc., Ft. Myers , he says.

DeSoto County spokesman Matt Holloman said the immediate focus for public officials is supplies and aid to the 17,000 displaced county residents.

Howard Holtzendorf, county attorney, says the county’s insurer has been contacted about the building. "We hopefully will have an independent inspection [Aug. 25] and we’ll go from there."

Click here for last week's coverage of Hurricane Charley>>