Hurricane Wilma:  In Wilma's Wake

Within the hour the water level is approaching the top of the pier.  This is three feet higher than normal high tide!   Is this “the surge” that is routinely predicted to accompany  nearly every hurricane, but never has?  It looks like it.  Sea water covers the pier and continues to rise.  Now, with the wind nearly manageable, we have a new problem:  How high can our boats float over the pier before dock lines snap?  Already, up and down the pier we see cleats and boards afloat with lines still attached.  Dock boxes not sufficiently secured are floating away.

The water is up over the seawall and covers US Hwy 1.  This part of Key West, in fact over 50% of the island, becomes one huge lake.  My dock lines are taut.  These I can’t adjust from the deck.  I prepare to lower my wounded body into the water so that I can adjust my lines from the pier, now several feet under water.  But one of the neighbors calls over:  “Steve, the water level has not risen for several minutes.  Maybe the tide has peaked.”

I put my clothes back on.  I watch.  The water level was once flush with the top of my dock box.  Now I can see more of it.  Just in the nick of time.  Slowly, ever so slowly it recedes.  Then, the nearby streets become torrential rivers, cascading water over the seawall and back into the bay.  Maybe it is over.

I take a walk later in the afternoon, wading through streets that are now rivers, to check on a friend.  Although ordered to leave, the tourists did but most residents did not.  I note the damage.  Trees, tree limbs, signs, utility poles, are in the streets and across power lines.  Parts of buildings, rooftops and debris are everywhere.  Metal utility poles are bent horizontal to the ground.  Visually, not as bad as I have seen before.  However, we will learn later, most of the damage is caused by the tidal surge:  Damage to the landscape, streets, buildings, cars—a disaster.  Every car in the marina parking lot was lost or badly damaged by the water..

K-Mart, a company that builds cheap and sells cheap, lost 95% of its inventory.  The Sears Building will have to be rebuilt.  Office Max won’t reopen until December.  Aside from Home Depot, these are the three largest retailers in Key West.  Obviously, all the smaller stores suffered likewise.  The three supermarkets fared much better.

Back at the marina the damage is extensive.  The piers, the pilings and nearly every boat show some damage.  One floating home has toppled over on top of an adjacent luxury powerboat.  Out in the mooring field and the anchorages, the sight of wrecked, sunken or missing boats is exhaustive.  The Rejoyce and the Sirius II, both show signs of wear and tear, but otherwise are OK.

And that is how I feel, even though those 24 hours were perhaps the worst I have ever experienced. I’m alive.  My neighbors are alive and well.  My boats are intact. My appetite is back, perhaps not enough to eat much of the Red Cross  “relief kits” that are being distributed.  Within two days most of the utilities are restored.  My losses:  Several files and memorabilia stored in the dock boxes.  My moped left in the marina parking lot drowned.

Southern Florida took a stronger hit.  What saved Key West, and probably the rest of the Keys, is that nothing was prolonged.  The wind was strong, but not so strong that cars were being flipped over.  It lasted less than 12 hours.  The rain was torrential at times, but only through the night.  The flooding caused by the surge stopped about six inches shy of destroying this marina and covering nearly all the island.  And it receded quickly. 

We dodged the bullet, but subsequently people everywhere about town are talking about getting the hell out of Dodge.

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Wilma The Coup de Grace

Back to 2005: Hurricane Wilma by Steven Jones.
Copyright © 2005 Steven Jones. All Rights Reserved.