Amid the palm trees and the sunshine, most South Floridians can attest to experiencing at least one disastrous hurricane in their lifetime. One of the first major storms to hit Coral Springs was Hurricane Cleo in 1964, just one year after the city was incorporated. The only structures at that time were a real estate office on the corner of U.S. 441 and Wiles Road and a covered bridge. Although the storm wreaked havoc along the 25-mile strip between Miami and Pompano Beach, both buildings survived without damage. 

Storms in following years were tame until Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Homestead in August 1992. Coral Springs residents were quick to tape their windows and cover them with plywood. The worst local damage was the loss of 344 trees and several street signs. However, relief efforts were launched to help the victims to the south, where over 25,500 homes were demolished.  

Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne both just grazed the area in September 2004, but the calmness came to a hasty halt the following year.

When Hurricane Wilma barreled through the region on Oct. 24, 2005, it seemed mild at first. Although advised not to leave shelter during the lull when the eye wall passed, residents with dogs took a quick walk and noticed very little damage from the “strong” side of the storm. Yet the sound of the winds from the “weak” side of the storm became ferocious, likely spawning the tornado that destroyed one-third of the city’s tree canopy. 

“When driving, you would see that most roofs had blue tarps to cover the damages from the wind,” says Barbara Schwartz, who had lived in Coral Springs for a decade at the time. “There were so many tiles and shingles that were blown away.” 

The storm left the city in shambles, amassing nearly $33 million in
damage. Residents were left without power or access to ATMs or gas for nearly two weeks. Flashlights, cold showers and grills became the new normal. Battery-operated traffic lights at intersections became surprise hits as they helped to prevent further mayhem.

“We had no cellphones and had to ride bikes everywhere,” 26-year-old Steven Barnett recalls. 

A teenager at the time, he remembers going to North Community Park for food
and water provided by FEMA trucks and waiting hours at the gas station. 

While parents were scrambling to open canned goods and hooking up generators to keep their homes functioning, local youth saw the environmental massacre as an opportunity for an extended recess. Fond memories of today’s 20-somethings consist of riding bikes, powwowing on the grass and staring at the stars while taking full advantage of the two-week hiatus from school.

“My best friend moved in with me for two weeks and we played Xbox in our pajamas,” 23-year-old Brooke Holmes says. “I
was too young to understand anything dangerous was actually happening outside.”

The lack of functioning streetlights left the neighborhoods pitch black, making for a freakishly appropriate Halloween. “We only used candles, which made Halloween seem more eerie and spooky,” 23-year-old Haley Lytle says.

Wilma was one of 28 storms that developed during the 2005 season, one of the busiest in recorded history. The storm names went from Tropical Storm Arlene in June to Tropical Storm Zeta in late December. It was the first time forecasters ran out of names from the regular naming chart of tropical systems and had to use the Greek alphabet. 

The legendary catastrophes of Hurricane Wilma are ingrained in the minds of city residents. And although it was a time of darkness in a literal sense, the memories serve as a light to remind those that endured the storm to be prepared to protect their homes and their families. 

“Some of the memories from Wilma are hell, but our community came together,” 21-year-old Ralph Palazzo says. “We had a lot of friends that didn’t have power. We had them come to our house to shower and we fed them. You kind of know your neighbors, but that hurricane really got everyone out on the street and got people to help one another. It was a time of togetherness, kindness and just true love for our families and our fellow neighbors and friends.”