Sunday, October 25, 2020

Hurricane Irma, as Seen by One Who Stayed


The morning after: View of Goodland Drive E. and E. Palm Avenue.

The morning after: View of Goodland Drive E. and E. Palm Avenue.

If I have learned one thing from going through a Category 4 hurricane, it is this: What happens afterward is far worse than the storm itself. In the week before the storm, Marco Island (of which Goodland is a part) slowly emptied out. The gas lines grew longer; rationing set in, and by Friday, September 8, there was not a drop to be had, here or anywhere else. On this day, the last of the fleeing residents left town, the streets were bereft of traffic, and the island became a virtual ghost town. Ironically the day was bright and balmy.

Saturday, September 9th dawned grey with intermittent rain squalls, punctuated by breaks in the clouds and steady northeast winds. I noted that things were relatively calm. By 4 in the afternoon, the rain squalls were recurring with shorter intervals between them. If anything, the tide was abnormally low, being held back by the northeast wind.

Calm before the storm: Goodland Road looking west, deserted (September 9). Photos by Barry Gwinn

Calm before the storm: Goodland Road looking west, deserted (September 9). Photos by Barry Gwinn

Sunday, September 10th, the day of the storm, was notable for the extremely low tide in the morning. My vantage was of the Marco River (Jim and Donna Inglis gave us refuge in their residence on E. Coconut), and it seemed like the exposed mud at the edge of the mangroves extended out as much as 100 feet. At 9:42 AM, the northeast winds were easily blowing 60 or 70 mph, effectively holding the tide from rising, but there was not much rain. At 10 AM, the power went out (turned off by LCEC as a precaution) and the tide continued to fall to levels I had never seen. At this time, a gull and least tern were observed flying into the teeth of the wind trying to get to the mangroves. They were the last birds I saw until after the storm. At 11:30, all communications went out.

Waves from Marco River break against the back door. Incredibly this door kept water out, until it reached the level of the first cross molding.

Waves from Marco River break against the back door. Incredibly this door kept water out, until it reached the level of the first cross molding.

At noon, all hell broke loose. Tremendous gusts buffeted the house and hit with increasing frequency. It was then that the infamous rumbling sounds began. The wind was holding steady from the northeast (still holding the tide out), but the gusts, when they hit, were of tremendous velocity. I can only liken the sound to an 18 wheeler driving by on railroad ties. The air was filled with horizontal rains and salt spray and it grew dark.

The author’s ground level garage on Angler Drive mirrors what was left on virtually every street and inside every flooded home after the waters receded.

The author’s ground level garage on Angler Drive mirrors what was left on virtually every street and inside every flooded home after the waters receded.

At 2 PM, trees were starting to topple, at first resisting but finally succumbing to the relentless howling winds. (We also had a vantage of part of Goodland along the Marco River.) The river afforded an unimpeded stretch for the wind to reach maximum velocity before smashing into Goodland. Most of the coconut trees refused to give in, standing tall and straight in the face of relentless pressure. The mangroves were losing many of their leaves, but were otherwise weathering the storm.

Flooding at dusk (September 10) when water began to recede. A confluence of a spring tide at almost the moment the hurricane hit deluged Goodland with three to four feet of water and a layer of toxic mud.

Flooding at dusk (September 10) when water began to recede. A confluence of a spring tide at almost the moment the hurricane hit deluged Goodland with three to four feet of water and a layer of toxic mud.

Across Coconut Avenue, a double wide mobile home, with a reinforced roof, was having a rough time of it. The gusts were lifting the roof a little more each time they hit. At 3:15 PM, the roof began to lift, and then it was like someone had set bomb off inside. Within seconds, the home disintegrated and was blown into a pile behind its original foundation. A masonry two story house next door was not faring much better. Since 2 PM, Irma had been nibbling at its asbestos shingled roof, two or three shingles at a time. By 3 PM, a good part of the roof was gone, and some windows had blown out allowing the storm enter the home and toss furniture around like match sticks.

On the river, Irma was shearing off the tops of the waves and blowing the detritus into Goodland. The gusts appeared as icy fingers, like an outstretched hand, each finger whipped into a frenzy as it hurtled into Goodland. From my vantage point, many of these fingers were headed straight for Walker’s Coon Key Marina (which was later found to be all but destroyed). From that point on, Irma did not conform to what I had been led to expect.

A direct hit from the south was supposed to bring northeast winds, and after the eye passes over, the winds would come from the southwest. That is not exactly what happened here. Starting around noon, we got the northeast winds but from then on wind gradually shifted to the west. When it hit us at about 3:15 PM it was blowing straight out of the west. In the Gulf, the eye was acting as a gigantic mixmaster, stirring up the mud and releasing billions of gallons dirty gray-green-brown mud filled water. Coincidentally, the tide which had been held back was now pouring in unrestrained enroute to a higher than normal spring tide later in the afternoon. Now, the river was beginning to rise rapidly and rushed in with unimagined velocity. I thought that the Mississippi would look something like this at flood stage. Starting in midafternoon, the water was rising at an alarming rate, probably an inch every few minutes. By 4 PM dirty brown waves were crashing against the first floor of the house we were in. Water service was cut off.

At the same time, the eye of the storm was also passing over. The wind decreased to about 40 mph and the sun peaked through briefly. I went outside to have a look. My vantage point was at the eastern terminus of Coconut Ave. A torrent of mud and water was continuing to pour in on both sides of the house. It was joined by a mightier torrent coming down Coconut Avenue, sweeping everything before it. Among the debris, which included trees and personal items such as washers and dryers swept from underneath raised homes, was a large green ball shaped buoy, which I am told had come from Coon Key Marina. All the debris was half tumbling half floating down Coconut Avenue and then spreading through the village.

As I plodded through three inches of mud to get a better angle, I was hit by a gust that blew me across the road. Afraid that I would be blown into the river, I managed to grab some surviving foliage. The second half of the storm had begun. By 5:30, the rain stopped and the wind had calmed somewhat. The tidal surge continued full blown into the early evening but started to abate around 8 PM, when the tide finally started to ebb. The surge had poured into and through the bottom floor of the house where we were staying, leaving behind a cloying and smelly layer of mud.

On Monday, September 11, the dawn brought a rain squall, which was followed by clearing and winds of maybe 20 mph with 35 mph gusts. By 9 AM, the residents were out with their chain saws, clearing the debris from the streets and piling their ruined belongings in front of their flooded homes. No one talked of moving from Goodland.

2 responses to “Hurricane Irma, as Seen by One Who Stayed”

  1. J says:

    Well told about Irma..Sorry she was so fierce..But all will recover and we will rebound.

  2. Brenda Trzeciak says:

    Thanks for sharing your article can’t even imagine what that was like going through the hurricane. Happy your safe!

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