Smyrna residents forever impacted by Hurricane Charley

By Anthony Fiorella, Studio M staff //

Hurricane Charley took a literal turn for the worse on Friday the 13th of August 2004 when it raced out of the Gulf of Mexico toward Florida’s west coast — right toward the home of Evette Yukich and her son, Cameron.

Evette Yukich and her son Cameron pose with a photo album of Hurricane Charley in their Smyrna, Tennessee, home on Jan. 28, 2018. (Photo by Anthony Fiorella)

Sitting in the warm glow of a bonfire on a mild winter night, the mother and son recall the storm and one of the worst times of their lives. The Yukiches now live in Smyrna, where they relocated after Charley’s havoc.

At the time of the storm, Evette was a nurse. She lived near her father, Larry, then an able-bodied 76-year World War II veteran and her mother, Yvonne, then 72. They helped out with watching Cameron, who was 9 at the time.

Although originally opposed to the idea, two days before the storm Larry installed Yvonne’s anniversary gift: hurricane shutters made of Kevlar.

Charley crept into Port Charlotte late in the day on Aug. 13, 2004. Evette, Cameron and her parents decided to ride out the storm. Soon, they questioned not evacuating.

“We were sitting in the living room, and we saw a lawnmower get picked up and fly down the street,” Cameron said. “My grandfather’s 60-foot royal palm tree was ripped out of the ground, smashing the Kevlar screen in the living room.”

Evette took control and decided to move the family into the closet. The four gathered up the storm radio and took refuge in the small interior bedroom closet. Cameron clutched his mother and grandmother while the torrential rain and 150 mile-per-hour sustained winds pelted the house.

“When we were huddled in the closet, we could hear the bedroom door opening and slamming shut,” Evette said. With the door pounding like a gavel, Evette and her father left the closet to investigate.

After they left the room, they saw the front door was about to blow off from the wind force.

“My fully capable father was completely beside himself,” Evette said. “I told him to quickly gather as many books as he could find.”

Sliding around on the marble floor, they were able to wedge the books and the kitchen table to hold the door shut.

“While all of that was going on, my grandmother left me in the closet to try to help them,” Cameron said.

Evette screamed for her mother to get back to the closet, knowing full well that if the roof had blown off the house she and her father would go with it, but at least her mother and son would be safe. Once the door was secured, the family was able to ride out the rest of the storm, clinging to each other and their storm radio for dear life.

Charley continued its way up the coastline in the late-night hours, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Both her parents’ house and her house withstood a few minor losses, but the emotional impact on Cameron still lingers with the now 22-year old.

“There is nothing that sounds like (a hurricane),” Cameron said. “People say a tornado sounds like a freight train. Hurricanes sound like 500 freight trains coming into your house. Even when I hear storms outside now, it still affects me.”

Another three hurricanes followed Charley in the months of August and September, and Evette and her parents made the decision to move to Smyrna in 2005.

“After the hurricane, there was a mass exodus (in Port Charlotte),” Evette said. “I had a few friends who had moved up to Tennessee, and we wanted to go somewhere that my father could keep United Healthcare in Tennessee. Rutherford County was perfect. It wasn’t a big city, but it wasn’t out in the country too much and it seemed like a good place for Cameron to grow up and make friends.”

Through all of the destruction, the two decided to hang on to the positives of the situation to this day.

“Since we didn’t have power, it got up to 100 degrees in our house,” Evette said. “At the time, we had a Himalayan cat. After trying for several days, I finally got a hold of a mobile groomer who didn’t shave cats nor had she ever shaved one before. I told her I don’t care what he looks like, just shave him bald. After she was done, I grabbed my checkbook, and she said, ‘Put it away. After all you’ve been through, I can’t charge you for this. Your cat could’ve died. I can’t take money from you.’”

“People don’t talk about all the good that happened during the storm,” Cameron said. “Even though I was young, I can remember people coming from as far as New York to help us. My dad drove down from Sarasota, which took four hours because of downed power lines and trees, and took care of me for a week. Things like that are what I’ll never forget.”

Anthony Fiorella is a junior majoring in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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