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Hurricane Charley

'Shell Woman' unhurt, unfazed by storm

In her tiny island home, Carol Sellars, 91, lets Charley blow past. "Nature is all around me, caressing me," she says.

Published August 20, 2004

[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Carol Sellars gets a hug from parks biologist Ken Alvarez at Cayo Costa, where Sellars waited out Charley. Her home had minimal damage. "Mother Nature has been good to me," she said.

CAYO COSTA - Mother Nature saved the Shell Woman.

Carol Sellars, a 91-year-old who lives alone on this remote island in the Gulf of Mexico, rode out Hurricane Charley in her tiny wooden home with her two cats.

While nearby Captiva and Sanibel islands in Lee County suffered damage to homes and trees, Sellars and the extensive shell collection she has amassed from the nearby white-sand beach were untouched by Charley's wrath.

"I didn't think the storm was all that terrible," said Sellars, one of a few year-round residents on Cayo Costa. About 90 percent of the island is a state park.

Although the storm struck down many palm trees, most of the grove remained intact, and along with a giant banyan tree, likely shielded Sellars' home from the 140 mph-plus winds that hit nearby Boca Grande.

Park rangers urged Sellars to leave, but she said she never has heeded a hurricane warning in nearly 30 years of living on the island - and probably never will.

"People shouldn't worry about me," said Sellars, who doesn't have any family. "I'm a nature lover. Nature is all around me, caressing me."

Sellars doesn't remember much about the storm - not the intense rain nor the howling wind that ripped apart a small shed next to her house.

At her age, Sellars doesn't remember much in the short-term. She recalls everything from long ago - her five husbands, her job teaching school in a one-room schoolhouse in Sanibel and her spell as a Red Cross worker in Hawaii during World War II.

"It was so fun, it almost didn't seem like we were at war," she said, her blue eyes twinkling. "I found one of my husbands down there."

Sellars admits she has a difficult time walking the mile-long dirt path to the beach, so she has mostly given up the one thing that she is famous for: combing the beach for shells.

"It's hard to find anything tremendously exciting on the beach now," she said. "There may be something out there waiting for me, though."

Now she prefers to sit on her porch in her blue and white bathing suit and listen to the barking frogs. Or wait for the alligators to walk up to her front steps.

"I look outside for my drama," she said. "I always find it."

Especially during a hurricane.

[Last modified August 20, 2004, 01:52:52]

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