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SOS Volunteer vehicles
End of the day crew
First.... all the humans, 5 orangutans, 14 chimpanzees, and 6 dogs at the Center for Great Apes are safe and unharmed.
Our telephones have just come back on this afternoon, and a helpful friend has hooked our computer up to a generator. It's the first time I've been in touch with emails coming in since last week before the hurricane. Thank you for all the emails, calls, and prayers for the sanctuary.
We were slammed Friday evening at 6 p.m. by the eye of Hurricane Charley packing 145 mph winds. From the way the trees at one part of the property are twisted in different directions, it appears we were also hit by tornado or vortex winds.
We had begun preparations for the storm on Thursday when we first heard that it was heading towards Tampa. We expected some very heavy winds, but not more than 60 to 80 mph if it continued up the Gulf coast as predicted. Friday morning, we were still preparing and boarding up thinking we would certainly get some very strong winds... but not the full impact of the hurricane. Then, around 2 p.m. the radio reported that Charley had taken a turn to the east, was heading "dead on" towards Wauchula, and would be at least a Category 4 when it hit us... and possibly a Cat 5. I can't describe the sinking feeling and the near panic when we heard that, because suddenly no preparations seemed adequate.
Each of our staff and interns
bunkered down in one of the ape nighthouses at 5 p.m. with the apes, our
provisions, and our walkie-talkies. The brunt of the storm hit us at 6
p.m. and didn't let up until 8 or later. It was very frightening as we
were each alone in the different nighthouses, but having the walkie-talkies
helped us to stay calm knowing that each person and
When we emerged from the nighthouses, it was nearly dark and with 12' of debris in every direction, we were completely disoriented. But we found the arch of the chute system and walked underneath the chutes to get back to the human houses.
The ape facilities (indoor
and outdoor) appear to be intact, .... the human houses have only a few
holes in the roofs, (with huge trees still laying on top of the houses),
....front and back patios smashed....but for the most part, the buildings
are relatively undamaged. (Good ol' geodesic domes!) However, there are
many repairs to be made. The pump house was crushed
While we were euphoric to
have all the people and animals safe... and the facilities intact, it's
heartbreaking to see the devastation of our once beautiful tropical wooded
sanctuary. Many of our largest oak trees are toppled... some with root
systems sticking up in the air 15' high. It's hard to tell at this point
(because there is debris everywhere), but it appears that we lost about
50% of our trees...with many more trees looking like they're going over
soon. And, we've lost 100% of our shade-cover
We were told that our power
would take 2 to 4 weeks to restore... which means our water is out also.
It's been very difficult in this sweltering heat to provide care and fresh
produce to our 19 apes without power and refrigeration. But with the help
of some wonderful friends bringing us generators, we've been able to hook
up our water pump and our walk-in cooler. And lots of people have delivered
drinking water for the apes & volunteers.... gas for the generators...
and tools, food, and batteries to
We have months and months of work ahead to clear the property of trees and debris.... especially to limit the fire hazard in the dry season. Volunteers from Miami, Tampa, Sarasota, Orlando, Ft. Myers, and all over Florida have been coming daily to our aid to help with this back-breaking and sweltering work. We are so grateful for this help and such wonderful kindness!
And some GREAT NEWS today is that our power is expected to be back on by the end of this week.... much earlier than first predicted!!!
Volunteers have made a huge
dent in less than a week.... Last Saturday and Sunday, we couldn't even
find the paths or reach all the apes without climbing over trees. Today,
most of the paths are cleared and all the apes are finally able to go
outside into their habitats. (However, until we assess the damage to the
chute system, they cannot walk out in the chutes yet.) We still must remove
hundreds of dying trees...& thousands of dead limbs. Much of this
volunteers can do, but most of the heavy tree-removal
We can use help with this for many weeks and months to come..... so please call or email if you can trim trees, haul logs, or rake branches. If you do come, we won't need gas or water or batteries any more.... but we will need tools, gloves, protective goggles, etc.
I know this is way too long for an email... but since we've been unable to communicate to anyone this week... I have so many things to report!
MOST IMPORTANT.... I am very thankful for so many wonderful caring friends and supporters. This week has been very overwhelming... but your concern and help have bolstered us enormously.
Patti & staff
Center for Great Apes