Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hurricane Ike Threatens the Keys and Key West

Possible tracks of Hurricane Ike 9/6/08

Back in 1972, as a brash youth working behind the desk of a motel in Marathon, Florida during the approach of Hurricane Agnes, I made the offhand remark, "I hope it hits here. I wanna see what it's like."

Old man Jones, a grizzled octogenarian who was known as "the unofficial mayor of Conch Key" was refilling a Miami Herald news rack nearby. He heard me and came over, shaking his fist in my face. "You son of a bitch!" he said. "It's WORSE THAN A WAR!"

Jonesy certainly had a point. He'd survived both Hurricane Donna and then Hurricane Betsy on that tiny piece of coral between Florida Bay and the Gulfstream. The storm surge flooded the land, and people were still talking about flying 2 x 4's imbedded in palm trees.

As it turned out, Agnes was bad in places, but the Keys were at the beginning of a thirty-some year period of minor threats, continued growth and development, and smug complacency. That complacency began to end with Hurricane Georges in 1998, and ended for certain with Hurricane Wilma in 2006 and the subsequent insurance crisis.

Volunteers preparing meals at Fifth Street Baptist Church
in Key West after Wilma. The same group is on standby for Ike.

Granted, we are always treated to a chorus of "Chicken Littles," especially by the mainland media, when the Keys are under a threat. But this time we might be well advised to batten the hatches and hunker down for the arrival of Ike.

Herewith some information lifted from the local paper, the scary part being the possibility of the 12 to 15 feet storm surge:

With the potential of Hurricane Ike developing into a dangerous Category 4 storm that hits the Florida Keys, Monroe County authorities are urging everyone to take it seriously and heed evacuation orders issued Friday.

"This is a serious storm," Key West Police Chief Donnie Lee said. "People need to leave."
Tourists must leave by 8 a.m. today and residents must evacuate on Sunday in phases: by 8 a.m. for Lower Keys residents, noon for the Middle Keys and 4 p.m. for the Upper Keys.

"It sounds like we are at ground zero right now," Marathon Mayor Pete Worthington said.
National Weather Service Key West office Chief Meteorologist Matt Strahan said people should not be fooled by any apparent weakening in the hurricane because that is expected to be temporary.

"Monroe County residents should not be lulled into a false sense of security," Strahan said, explaining that Ike's wind speeds could fluctuate -- on Friday it dropped from a Category 4 to a 3 and could drop to a 2 even -- but as Hanna pulls away, the hurricane could intensify into a Category 3 or 4 by Sunday.

"As a general rule, you could see your house not just flooded, but washed away if you're on the right side of the track," Strahan said. "If you are on the left side, the flooding could be as bad as Wilma. ... "It's a very dangerous storm track. It may look like its declining over the next few days, but it should pick back up."

The latest projections on Friday had the hurricane hitting Key West at about 2 p.m. Tuesday. Earlier in the day, when Marathon was the predicted strike zone, Strahan said the path was reminiscent of Hurricane Donna, a Category 4 storm packing 150 mph winds and 12 to 15 feet of storm surge, which hit Marathon in 1960.

"We had whole houses washed away, slabs blown clean," Strahan said.

After the water recedes: Bedding, furniture, and ruined appliances on Fogarty Avenue in New Town, Key West, after Wilma in 2006.

Monroe County's "Italian Forieign Legion" weighs in with their expertise:

County Administrator Roman Gastesi and County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro on Friday went to Miami for a meeting today with Gov. Charlie Crist and state and South Florida emergency management officials. They planned to discuss hurricane preparations and evacuation plans for South Florida, including which highways to use as main evacuation corridors and when and how to make them one way heading north, Di Gennaro said.

"I have a lot of concerns about this one," Di Gennaro said. "It's scary."

But what will the old timers and native Conchs do?

As many others, Karen Baso was doing what she always does: filling her car with gasoline at the Circle K station on North Roosevelt Boulevard, though she did not plan to evacuate.

"I've lived here all my life. I haven't left for one yet," she said. "But you never know what a storm will do so we always prepare. As long as I have my water and my peanut butter and crackers I'll be fine."

Good luck to all our friends in the Keys. Let's hope this is another "near miss." We're riding this one out in North Carolina, where the remnants of Hanna flooded our living room again last night. But that's another story. Stay dry, y'all.


Concerned Neighbor said...

Sunday 9/7/08 2 PM Update:
It looks as if the Keys are going to luck out again. Once again a potentially disastrous storm will be broken up my the mountains of Cuba. But let's not let complacency set in again, folks!
Keep the water, crackers and peanut butter dry!

Concerned Neighbor said...

More trivial information. Agnes passed to the west of the Keys, but there were at least four tornadoes associated with it. One came through the motel parking lot about 4 AM: we were watching a barometer which dropped about one inch in seconds. The plate glass windows in the lobby looked like they were about to cave in. Then I saw a U-Haul trailer pulling out, suddenly realizing it was one its own, followed by a boat on a trailer! That tornado tore up some roofs on Key Colony Beach. Another one tipped over some trailers on Little Conch Key. A third tore up a gas station on Big Coppitt Key, and a fourth one moved a house off its foundation on Solares Hill in Key West. Any other trivia questions?