The resort used to have a chain fence that wasn’t holding up, said Ted Hadley, one of the owners of the resort off Poinciana Boulevard.
“We decided to replace it with an eight-foot brick wall,” he said. “We now have a nice pretty brick wall — which hopefully is hurricane-resistant.”
That’s a big issue for Cypress Cove and the rest of Poinciana, which was very hard hit on Aug. 13, 2004 when Hurricane Charlie stormed across the region, causing considerable damage.
Now Hadley and the rest of the region is watching carefully as Hurricane Irene approaches from the south, and is expected to grow into a Category 4 storm, tracking off Florida’s coast on Friday before hitting landfall at the Carolinas on Saturday.
Having gone through this exactly seven years ago, people like Hadley and Jeanette Coughenour, manager of Poinciana’s homeowners association, the Association of Poinciana Villages, know just how dangerous it is to be caught unprepared.
“I put a memo out to my department heads that we need to be prepared for this, and hopefully we won’t need to implement anything,” Coughenour said. “By Thursday we need to have some stuff in place if things pick up – and we need to be keeping that awareness up.”
Coughenour spent part of her day this afternoon on a conference call with Emergency Management officials in Osceola County – Poinciana, a community of more than 74,000 residents, is divided between Osecola and Polk counties – and she also put hurricane information on the community’s Internet site, the Poinciana Digital Village.
Coughenour noted that Charlie was the first hurricane she had ever experienced, and she has vivid memories of just how devastating it was.
“I’ll never forget 2004,” she said. “I will never not take these things seriously. At the time, I certainly had no idea it would be that devastating. The punch that Charlie packed was devastating for us.”
But Coughenour knows one thing: she won’t let her guard down this time.
“I’m reading and watching what they’re saying,” she said. “The impact is up to 200 miles from its center, and I’m saying that does affect us. You figure as the crow flies, we’re probably 60 miles off the coast.”
With the potential, at the very least, for strong winds and heavy rain, the APV is urging all Poinciana residents to be prepared for the worst.
“Make sure you have water,” she said.”You make sure you can sustain yourself for two days. Whatever you need to do, don’t count on anybody but what you’ve done to sustain yourself. Make sure you have adequate medications. If you don’t have a generator, have batteries for flashlights, and canned goods so that you can feed yourself.
“We as a homeowners association will do our best to communicate with the community, and both counties know it,” she said. “We’ll stand ready to assist with our manpower with whatever needs arise, whether it’s moving trees out of the way or helping with tractors and stuff like that. We’ll support any of that. We have our own call people ready to step up and help the counties.”
Hadley said he’s taking a similar view – cautious, but not ready to panic.
“If it stays on the current track, we probably won’t do anything too unusual,” he said. “Generally when we’ve got a storm coming in our direction, if it looks like it’s going to be heavy winds and all, there are a number of things we do – typical resort stuff like stacking the deck chairs on the pool deck, things like that. We have a large sun canopy over our children’s pool area. If it doesn’t blow away, it will tear pretty bad. In general, since the hurricanes (in 2004), we did learn some lessons there.”
In August and September 2004, three hurricanes – Charlie, Frances and Jeanne – struck Central Florida. Poinciana got hit each time.
“Unfortunately we got hit by three in a row, and there wasn’t time to solve any of these problems, but one of the biggest problems we faced was refrigeration,” Hadley said. “Three hurricanes in a row, and we lost power for multiple days. Our entire restaurant had to be given away or thrown out, and that was a large cost. Since then we’ve gotten backup generators for our refrigerator unit. When you’re running a hotel, it’s pretty hard to charge someone $100 a night when you’ve had no electricity for three days.”
This time, Hadley is hoping the worst they have to deal with is a messy cleanup.
“Even if the storm is not terrible, after any heavy storm we’re going to have a lot of branches down,” he said.
Anyone who didn’t live here in 2004, Coughenour said, can’t fully comprehend how scary it is – both before and after.
“It was a long summer,” she said. “I never want to have to feel that way again. There’s so many different emotions you feel. I remember how bad you feel for people, and trying to help our elderly who can’t help themselves, and it’s all so overwhelming. In the evening you go back home and you feel guilty. You know there was damage that was so much worse than you had.”
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