IRMA: Key West escapes worst of storm

By Pru Sowers

Konk Life Staff Writer

Reports were still trickling out Monday morning as of Konk Life press time but it appears that the damage in Key West and Stock Island wasn’t as bad as predicted.

However, in Cudjoe Key – where Hurricane Irma made first landfall in the United States as a Category 4 behemoth – and Marathon, it is a different story, with reports of a storm surge between 10 and 14 feet, severe property damage and an unknown recovery period. Emergency crews were waiting for roads to be cleared to begin house to house searches in the middle Keys. Mortuary trucks were set to travel to the area, as well, in case of fatalities.

In Key West, scattered flooding, downed utility lines and tree limbs littering the streets were the norm. No fatalities were reported and property damage was limited to specific areas. The roof of one of the apartment buildings at West Isle, 3333 Duck Ave., was torn off by the 94-mile an hour wind gusts. Duck Avenue was flooded. Facebook postings described flooding on Duval between Caroline and Front streets, with the entirety of Front Street flooded. Duck Avenue was flooded. The Key West Bayside Inn & Suites at 3444 North Roosevelt Boulevard reportedly had a portion of its roof ripped off, landing on a neighbor’s home. Multiple Stock Island trailers were demolished. Parts of Flagler Avenue and Northside Drive were flooded. Multiple utility lines were down.

Cammy Clark, public information officer for Monroe County, said an airborne relief mission was on its way to the lower and middle keys on Monday morning, the day after the storm.

“Monroe County Emergency Management has coordinated an airborne relief mission that will bring emergency supplies and personnel to help in the recovery. The aid will come by military C-130 cargo planes and other air resources,” she said.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt said. “Help is on the way.”

“How bad are things in Key West? Not as bad as we feared – and not nearly as good as we hoped,“ wrote Linda Grist Cunningham on her Facebook page, “Key West Watch Media.” “Trees are stripped to trunks and nothing much is green anymore. There was lots of flooding in all the usual areas. Key West knows where those places are. If you flooded in Wilma, the chances are most excellent you flooded in Irma. In an X-flood zone? You were most likely OK. Key West took it on the chin… but the middle and upper Keys took it in the shorts. The surge was far worse up the Keys than on our island.”

Meteorologists had predicted a storm surge in Key West of up to 10 feet. The reality was a surge of approximately 2.5 feet, about a foot less than what hit Key West from both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Wilma.

“There are scientific reasons for the lower surge, not the least of which is that the storm hit Key West at low tide. We can be grateful for the moon today,” Grist Cunningham wrote.

Rachel Garreau, who recently moved to a sixth-floor apartment at the Santa Clara Condominiums, 3312 Northside Drive, was texting Konk Life as the storm hit at 8:30 am Sunday. She watched as palm trees bent under the 94-mile per hour gusts and rainwater began to collect in the parking lot of the apartment complex. Some roofing material on top of several houses next door began peeling off. Then she lost all water pressure in her apartment. Her last text before cell service went out in Key West was “water on 1st floor, submerge from stairway.”

Many people chose to stay in Key West and ride out the storm. Many others thought they were crazy. Former Key West City Commissioner Tony Yanitz summed up why he was not leaving.

“Some of us don’t leave. Maybe that’s hard for you to understand, but Conchs don’t leave. Afterwards it’s a bitch but historically we are used to hard times. We don’t abandon our homes. Everyone is entitled to make their own choice. As far as limited resources, that’s why we pay taxes. You leave, you may not be able to come back for a long time. That may be OK for you, but for many of us, we couldn’t bear the thought of six months in Miami.” he said.

Several people sheltered in the Studios of Key West. They and the Studios building emerged unscathed. And good news was posted on Facebook from the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory Monday morning.

“OMG!!! Conservatory is 100% untouched! Everything is in perfect condition. There are a couple puddles of water just inside the front door but all else is absolutely perfect. No glass damage, no severe water damage, no problems. Rhett and Scarlet are coming home,” the post read.

Rhett and Scarlet are the Conservatory’s two pink flamingos. They were removed from the building to a laundry room in a sturdy home in Key West before the storm.

“Massive” amounts of relief were set to begin pouring in the Florida Keys Monday morning. Key West International Airport and the Naval Air Station Key West military airport on Boca Chica were not damaged and relief supplies were expected to arrive there first. All bridges were set to be inspected before power crews could arrive and begin restoring electricity.

And the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority was set to begin repairing leaks to its water lines that caused the loss of pressure. A spokesman there said the leaks were not in the main water line but on side lines. As a precaution, the FKAA had ordered a boil water alert until further notice.

The fate of the boats moored or docked in Key West was unclear as of Monday morning. However, the waters are full of debris, causing boating hazards.

“There may be hundreds or even thousands of boats that have broken loose in nearshore waters,” said Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers. “Buoys, markers and other debris will make boating extremely dangerous. Unless you want to lose a prop, do not take a boat into the Keys until it is deemed safe.”