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Her name was Donna when she bar­reled into Florida’s west coast on Sept. 10, 1960. You may re­call Hur­ri­cane Charley in 2004, Hur­ri­cane Wilma blast­ing ashore the fol­low­ing year. But long be­fore these 21st-cen­tury storms came Cat­e­gory 4 Hur­ri­cane Donna, boast­ing her 92 mile-per-hour winds over Fort My­ers and gusts to 150 mph. The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter still refers to Donna as “one of the all-time great hur­ri­canes.”

It’s the time of year to again fo­cus on hur­ri­cane sea­son, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion web­site notes that 78 per­cent of trop­i­cal storm ac­tiv­ity comes from mid-Au­gust to mid-Oc­to­ber.

The ab­so­lute peak day of hur­ri­cane sea­son is, iron­i­cally, Sept. 10, the date when Hur­ri­cane Donna came roar­ing and scream­ing into Fort My­ers Beach, Bonita Springs, Fort My­ers and the rest of the area. Gusts were re­ported as high as 168 miles per hour in Naples.

This epic storm in­spired Ernie Stevens, then known as Fort My­ers’s poet lau­re­ate, to pen the fol­low­ing, which was pub­lished in The News-Press on Sept. 12, 1960: "There was a young lady named Donna To meet her I’m sure you don’t wanna She came from the West Full of vigor and zest And ru­ined our flora and fauna.” Donna did more than send squir­rels scam­per­ing or trees a-top­pling. It was one of the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­canes on record, the only one on its jour­ney to pro­duce hur­ri­cane-force winds in Florida, Mid-At­lantic states and into New Eng­land, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter.

Donna’s sta­tis­tics re­main im­pres­sive: • Be­came a hur­ri­cane on Sept. 1 and re­mained one un­til Sept. 13. • Reached Cat­e­gory 4 sta­tus on Sept. 2. • Wind speeds in the Keys were clocked at 150 mph.

On that late sum­mer Satur­day in 1960, Lee County’s pop­u­la­tion was only 83,000―it’s now more than 700,000. A cause­way to Sani­bel had not yet been built. The in­ter­state high­way sys­tem had not yet reached South­west Florida. Edi­son Mall, the re­gion’s first such re­tail cen­ter, was not yet built. Donna in her jour­ney killed 50, one trucker in Lee County, his truck dan­gling off the Edi­son Bridge an en­dur­ing im­age of Donna.

There wasn’t any­thing such as The Weather Chan­nel or the in­ter­net 57 years ago. Con­cerned or fright­ened cit­i­zens couldn’t fol­low the storm’s minute-by-minute path as it headed to­ward their homes and busi­nesses. All they could re­ally do was batten down and pray. As The News-Press re­ported the day af­ter the storm crashed ashore: “Bonita Beach yes­ter­day was a scene of dev­as­ta­tion as though a war had been fought along its length and breadth.” Fish were re­ported swim­ming in the streets of what is now called Ever­glades City but then was known sim­ply as Ever­glade.

That was Donna, who came “from the West, full of vigor and zest.” Glenn Miller is a free­lance writer and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

Radar an­i­ma­tion (above) in 1960 showed Donna's path­way. Charley ( right) 44 years later also pounded the Gulf Coast.

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