Ten years ago, the storm swept through Palm Beach County. Today, residents remember the storm and the damage it left behind.
Wilma, aftermath left three dead
Ten years ago this week, Hurricane Wilma brought Boynton Beach about $100 million in damage.
City officials estimated 100 percent of Boynton’s residents were without power. The storm tore roofs off homes and damaged 32 parks, plus the Little League park. It claimed the life of an 82-year-old woman.
Following the storm, the city picked up 241,000 cubic yards of storm-related debris and vegetation, which is about 6,000 truckloads.
Florida Power & Light Co. set up a staging area at the Boynton Beach Mall.
There was one reported death during the storm, and two others in the aftermath.
Katherine Pedell Kantor, 82, was killed during the storm when a sliding glass door flew off its track and struck her at her suburban Boynton home. On Oct. 27 Sue-Ellen Kelly, 65, drove through the Federal Highway and Martin Luther King Boulevard intersection where traffic lights were out and died after she struck a FedEx truck. On Nov. 1 Christopher Baker, 14, died after he touched a downed power line in front of the Seagate apartment complex.
Janet DeVries, a trustee and archivist with the Boynton Beach Historical Society, recalled her house near Seacrest Boulevard and Woolbright Road didn’t have power for more than 10 days.
“Cold showers were a way of life, but I was thankful to have a bed to lay my head and dry clothes to wear,” said DeVries, who was working for the city library at the time and served in the Emergency Operations Center and the Civic Center.
At her mother-in-law’s home in the Tropical Breeze Estates mobile home park, DeVries recalls walking through the neighborhood gathering doors and debris.
As horrible as Wilma was, DeVries expects more one day.
“From the historian’s standpoint, it is not a matter of if our region will be hit with another hurricane, it is a matter of when,” DeVries said. “With more homes built along the coast, when the next major hurricane sweeps ashore in this region, there will be more property damage than ever and more people than ever before are likely to be affected.”
- Alexandra Seltzer
'Your church is in the street.'
For Alycia Pryor, a ton of memories came flooding back the moment she saw that Hurricane Wilma flattened her beloved Sunday home, Our Savior Lutheran Church, ripping it to pieces like a child’s plastic Barbie Doll house.
A church member since 1946, Pryor was married there. Six of her eight grandchildren were baptized there. She was in the school’s first graduating class in 1960.
Memories like that don’t just go away, even when the building does.
“It’s almost impossible to put into words what you feel,” said Pryor, 68. “It was a blow.”
It looked like a bomb had gone off on the corner of Lake Avenue and A Street in Lake Worth where Our Savior stood since 1960.
The entire sanctuary roof — gone, blown off by the storm’s hostile, 100 mph winds. A huge beam was knocked over, reducing the church organ to a pile of rubble.
While driving to the church right after the storm passed, Pastor Stephen Wipperman, who just joined Our Savior two months earlier, got a call from the police.
“Your church,” he was told, “is in the street.”
Amazingly, at the north end of Our Savior, the baptismal font remained, undamaged.
“That was the one piece of furniture that survived,” Wipperman recalled.
But Wipperman had no time to grieve or lament what was lost. There was, after all, work to be done, a community to console and a Sunday service to be led in a mere six days.
Since Wilma leveled Our Savior on that Monday 10 years ago Saturday, services have been held in a gym on the same property, just steps away from the old church, now an empty, grassy area. The basketball hoops and scoreboard have been taken down. A more extensive remodel is planned for early next year to make the gym feel more like a sacred place, Wipperman said.
Still, right after Wilma, Wipperman was reminded by one of the church’s oldest members, now gone, that a church is way more than a building, way more than colorful glass windows, way more than an address.
“A church,” Wipperman said, “is the people.”
- Kevin D. Thompson
West Palm Beach:
The Bedrock Benefit
For Community Events Manager Mary Pinak, Hurricane Wilma was indeed “a special event.”
City staffers multi-purposed, re-tasked and stressed to the limit for storm prep and recovery. Clematis by Fright, a family-friendly Halloween event was replaced by a far less friendly one.
When the hurricane passed, around the city a boil-water order remained in force for days, for the parts of the city that had water. Garbage collection and other services were thrown off schedule.
At the Community Foundation, 700 S. Dixie Highway, a construction crane had toppled onto the building and caused a natural gas leak when it hit the ground. Uprooted trees all over the city sent firefighters on alert for broken gas and water lines, said Diana Matty, assistant chief of emergency management, who was a captain at the time.
About a month later, with the city still strained in recovery mode, Mayor Lois Frankel called on Pinak to orchestrate yet another event: a party for city workers.
“She came to us and said, ‘You know, the employees are wiped out.’ Every employee in the city was wiped out because if you weren’t cutting trees you were doing something else to help out. Lois said, ‘We have to throw a party.’
So they did.
“The Bedrock Benefit” took place in the Meyer Amphitheatre.
“We had T-shirts made that said something like Yabba Dabba Doo We Thank You on the front, and in the back, Frances, Jeanne and Wilma, R.I.P,” she said.
Food was served, a D.J. entertained the huddled masses. Pinak went as Betty. Another woman in the office went as Wilma and a guy from Human Resources went as Fred.
“It was a really tough time. It was exhausting but just like it brought communities together, it brought the city together, too, because you each have your individual roles and jobs to do but we were all together to help the community get back together.”
- Tony Doris
Park trees missing still
As Jim Barnes retreated to a village building during the worst Wellington hurricane in recent memory, winds ripped some tiles off his roof and knocked a tree into a screened area on his house.
The damage wasn’t too bad, but it was typical of what many residents experienced during Wilma in 2005. Wilma caused about $7 million in damages for the village — more than 2004’s Frances and Jeanne combined.
When the storm passed, village workers mobilized, keeping utilities functioning throughout and cleaning trees and downed power lines off the roads.
“With the staff we had, we were able to get everything passable in town in less than half a day,” said Barnes, the now-operations director, who headed the parks department at the time.
The biggest village structural damage occurred in the parks. After Francis and Jeanne, village officials were able to reopen the parks quickly, but not so with Wilma.
The storm badly damaged some lighting and fencing in several parks, and ripped trees out of the ground.
Ten years later, officials are still trying to replace all the trees. The village council has been working to budget money each year to plant some trees that can withstand a future storm.
Barnes said the village’s plan for future storms is strong, but officials did learn from Wilma. The biggest lesson was to stagger the debris-clearing shifts, giving them sustained efforts for longer hours rather than a quick burst before a break.
- Matt Morgan
Palm Beach Gardens:
'I will never go through that again.'
John and Joyce Christie remember the wind howling and their new house in Mirabella shaking when they waited out Hurricane Wilma on a visit from New Jersey 10 years ago.
The wind was so fierce that a strip of their hurricane shutters came loose, knocking against the house. The eye of the storm was exactly like it’s described — calm and beautiful — so John Christie went outside and set up the ladder. He tried to reattach the unfastened strip at the back of the house.
“All of a sudden, the eye passed by and the wind came from the opposite direction, like turning on a light switch…” he said.
Joyce Christie was waiting to open the front door for him. They had accordion shutters installed after that.
Ray and Agnes Elderd’s RV helped them endure Wilma. Ray drove the RV to the Cape Canaveral area to protect it from damage while Agnes stayed in their Mirabella home with her father, who had the start of Alzheimer’s disease.
Their house didn’t have any significant damage, but Ray Elderd recorded in his log a curfew and grocery stores closing at 6 p.m.
For Agnes, Wilma was just like the typhoons she experienced growing up in the Philippines. The electricity was out for a few days, so when Ray came back, he ran a long extension cord to the house from the RV with a generator. It kept the refrigerator working.
The Christies, however, will be evacuating if another hurricane is expected to hit the area.
“I will never, ever go through that experience again,” John Christie said. “That was my first and will be my last.”
- Sarah Peters
'What Wilma could have blown away was already blown away by Frances and Jeanne.'
Hurricane Wilma’s damage in north county was minor to buildings, as Frances and Jeanne the year before already destroyed the most vulnerable structures.
Most of the damage was to vegetation, leaving the streets clogged with branches and downed trees.
Wilma’s structural damage included:
• The 20-unit Almont Condominium, on Cypress Drive in Tequesta, was evacuated after an air conditioner was ripped from the roof causing water damage.
• Roof damage at the Tequesta Recreation Center on Seabrook Road caused the building to be closed.
• Three mobile homes were demolished in White Haven Mobile Home Park on Military Trail, about a half-mile south of Jupiter Town Hall. No evacuation was ordered.
• In Jupiter Farms, Wilma tore the roof off the former Burt Reynolds Ranch building that was used as a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s substation and meeting place for Boy Scouts, local horse organizations and Citizens On Patrol.
• At Riverbend Park, many slash pine, water hickory and cypress trees fell onto the 15 miles of walking trails and 5 miles of canoe and kayak trails in the 1-square-mile park.
• Several chickee huts, used for picnics and other events, were slightly damaged.
Overall, 14 Jupiter homes were declared unlivable. Eight were mobile homes that were destroyed. Total residential damage was estimated at $22 million. Damage to public property — parks, roads, utilities — was estimated at $2.7 million. Damage to commercial property was estimated at $350,000, according to Jupiter records.
Structural damage was limited in north county because last year’s storms destroyed the most vulnerable buildings, said Robert Lecky, Jupiter’s then-building official.
“What Wilma could have blown away was already blown away by Frances and Jeanne,” Lecky said.
- Bill DiPaolo