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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Continues Recovery Operations in Florida and South Carolina


August 19, 2004

Tom MacKenzie, (404) 679-7291, cell: (678) 296-6400
On-Site: Larry Richardson, 239-253-6805

NOTE: Recovery Photos available at:


Hurricane Charley not only hit Sanibel Island, Florida, home of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, it also passed directly over Cape Romain and Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuges in South Carolina. All employees at those stations escaped unhurt and only a few Service personnel had damage to their homes. Immediately following the hurricane, the Service dispatched recovery teams of more than 100 employees for recovery operations.

Status in Florida:

In Florida, the recovery team is using heavy equipment such as front-end loaders, dump trucks, backhoes, as well as many chain saw crews to help the local community recover by clearing miles of roads of the hundreds of trees which had been blown down across them at Sanibel, Fl., home of J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Service personnel worked closely with the communities of Sanibel and Captiva to open roads and secure power lines in order to ensure public safety, as the first priority. Now that the islands are open to the public, the Service will focus on refuge recovery.

Yesterday afternoon, Aug. 18, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chain saw operator, George Pelt, 36, of Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, was injured felling trees while clearing power line right of ways along Periwinkle Road at Sanibel Island, Fl. He was cutting down a 110 ft high Australian Pine (not including the top which had been blown off by Hurricane Charley), which had a 48 inch diameter, at chest height. While escaping the falling tree, he was pinned under it and was extricated by fellow service members who lifted limbs off of him. He was taken to Lee Memorial Hospital, Ft. Myers, Fl., where he was treated and released at 1:00 a.m. Aug. 19, suffering from bruises (contusions) and lacerations to his lower extremities and torso. He will be taken off the line and returned home to his station today for a 3-5 day rest period, with further medical monitoring. Photo of George Pelt, taken yesterday prior to the accident, can be found at:

Refuge law enforcement officers from around the region have been helping local police secure miles of shoreline against potential looters on a 24-hour basis on land and water. A Service airplane and helicopter have been used to help identify critical needs for the community and the refuge, as well as check on manatee enforcement speed-zone signs. Offices of Law Enforcement personnel have also been on the water checking to ensure that damaged manatee speed zone signs are not hazards to navigation. Many of the signs have been blown away, some snapped at water level. Crews have been dispatched to remove the damaged signs.

The specially trained and equipped Service employees are supporting recovery and providing security at Sanibel and “Ding” Darling from 18 refuges in Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Office of Law Enforcement in Florida and the Regional Office in Atlanta. Ding Darling has sustained damage to the administrative headquarters, the Tarpon Bay Concessionaire Facility, outbuildings and some gates and fences. Wildlife Drive is blocked by downed trees. The refuge remains closed to the public.

Initial wildlife losses are as yet undetermined, but damage to habitat is widespread throughout the islands in Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, including damage at Pine Island NWR and Island Bay NWR. The hurricane shredded trees and mangroves of leaves and branches in the islands of Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. FWS is working closely with USGS to determine the extent of the terrain changes.

In other parts of Florida, minor damage was reported at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, east of Daytona Beach, and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, near Cape Canaveral. These refuges were able to handle their own recovery efforts and still provide personnel for those harder hit at “Ding.” Both refuges are open to the public.

Status in South Carolina:

When the hurricane hit South Carolina, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Charleston, was in its crosshairs, followed by Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, halfway between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Winds had dropped to 80-plus miles-per-hour, so most of the damage was confined to downed trees across roads, but the Dominick House on Bull Island lost roof shingles and sustained some water damage. Waccamaw NWR has flooding, but damage is not expected to be great. Both refuges are open to the public. Several other refuges helped Cape Romain and Waccamaw NWR recover, including Savannah NWR, Carolina Sandhills NWR, ACE Basin NWR, as well as Regional Office employees from Atlanta.

Future Actions:

Current plans call for Service personnel to be rotated out after a week or so to insure continued safe operations. In Florida, with weather in the upper 90s, plus 90 percent humidity, a heat index of 113 degrees is common. Safe recovery operations are the top priority. In South Carolina, emergency response operations are expected completed next Wednesday, August 25.

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Atlanta, GA 30345
Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286

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