Whew….. What a difference 24 hours makes. Was that a cliche or what? Sorry. I am pretty much bushed, so you’re going to have to ignore the unedited writing. Before I call it a night, I wanted to capture the day’s highlights, what we know about Hurricane Irma in Key West — and what we don’t. For regular updates, you can follow the Facebook Page, Hurricane Irma Key West.
I’ll do it the way I did back in my editor days: What we know. What we don’t know. And, what we think we know.
What we know
Hurricane Irma struck Key West, FL, as a Category 4 storm, about 8:30 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. The National Weather Service recorded 130 mph winds as the storm crossed the island. Irma made landfall at 9:14 a.m., at Cudjoe Key, which is about 20 miles north east of Key West.
- Storm surge: Key West was spared the worst of the predicted storm surge. At final measure, surge was about 2.5 feet, almost a foot lower than in Hurricane Wilma in 2005 — and well below the predicted surge of 5-10 feet. 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.
- Communications: You can’t get information from folks on-island. As of 11:13 p.m., Sunday, cell service to/from Key West is down. There is no internet service. Landlines — remember those old tech things? — are working. I’ve shared three calls with my Olivia Street neighbor across the street. Richard Matson and his landline have been a godsend today. Without him, I wouldn’t know much about post-storm damage. I received the last cell data text from my husband, Ed, at 8:30 a.m., just as Irma roared overhead. He was able to send one quick video before losing service. It may be days (heaven forbid, weeks) until cell towers are restored. We won’t have internet connection until we get electricity restored and networks sorted out.
- No electricity. Repairs will begin Monday, but as with communication services, it may take days or weeks to restore residential and commercial service. (That’s why you keep a solar battery charger with you. At least you can charge your phone to take pictures.) Priority restoration will be for emergency services, first responders, medical. Our home air conditioners will wait. Ditto the ice maker.
- Sketchy water: Water is an issue and there’s a boil order in effect as a precaution. Here’s the details from the Monroe County emergency management folks earlier Sunday evening: “Aqueduct is aware of the problem and will send crews out Monday to repair leaks, but need to have emergency medical services available first. Crews are being sent out to check and clear US 1 up as far as MM 34 (where it is known there is a significant pole across the road) and another reported washout at MM 29. There appear to be several leaks in the system. According to FKAA they do not appear to be leaks in the main line, but rather in lines that branch off from the main line. This will allow these lines to be shut off while water continues to flow through the system. But, it will take some time to repair.”
- Can I come home: No. Period. No. What part of no do I not understand? The county will give the go-ahead when we can start coming back. That’s not anytime soon. And, if you try to sneak down the Keys? They’re setting up roadblocks and you’ll end up camping in Homestead or somewhere equally unpleasant.
- How bad are things in Key West? Not as bad as we feared — and not nearly as good as we hoped. Although reports from on-island remain very limited, we do know a few things. Trees are down everywhere. At least a couple roofs are gone and one house on WIlliam (I think) got clobbered by a couple trees. So, yeah, regular monster hurricane damage. Surge was not as bad as predicted (see above.) 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. I know for certain that the 1300 block of Olivia, where my house is, did not flood, not even a drop and it appears nothing around that area did.
- How’s my house? I have no idea. I know about two houses: mine and Matson’s across the street. He says mine is still standing and the roof is still on it. But for all I know tonight, the whole back side could be gone, though, really, that’s hyperbole. Lots of folks are asking me via my Facebook Page Hurricane Irma Key West if I know how their homes made it through the storm. I wish I could tell them, but it will be at least Monday and more likely later in the week before we get much news. I’m relieved about the 1300 block of Olivia and I’m willing to bet most of the Meadows and Old Town residential can feel the same. But I just don’t know for sure.
- Help is on the way. Emergency everything is headed to the Keys and specifically to Key West. Utility crews, medical assistance, emergency supplies. They’ll fly the stuff in first, then bring it down the Overseas Highway — after they check the bridges, of course. In the meantime, Key West folks who stayed on-island will figure out how to conserve water, eat sparingly, make do and help each other. Because there’ll be no going to new OR old Publix for a while, and certainly no delivery from Sandy’s (although who wants to bet against me that Sandy’s will be the first to open? No takers? Yeah, figured.)
What we don’t know
Crikey, this list could go on for pages. Some of the don’t knows I included above, and I’m not alert enough at the moment to list everything we don’t know. So, let’s leave it at this: If it’s not in the “what we know list,” then we don’t know. Those of us aggregating news and information from every source we can suss out will keep going over the next few days. We know you’re craving answers; we are, too. We’ll do our best.
What we think we know
Key West took it on the chin (another cliche, if you’re counting), but the middle and upper Keys took it in the shorts. The surge was far worse up the Keys than on our island. How bad? We don’t know yet.
The bridges connecting our island “seem” to be OK, but I wouldn’t want to get out on them until they get a thorough going over, which will happen over the next few days.
Picture and information spam: Oh, dear heavens, if you see a picture showing a shark swimming around the Conch Train Depot, do not post it. You know that’s going to happen, right. If Rob O’Neal’s name is not on the pix, it isn’t real. And, yes, there are going to be stories that are posted — and then news takes a different turn. That’s not fake; it’s watching news develop in real time. Like that Shark Creek Bridge story. The first reports, and they were from solid sources, said the bridge was out. Turns out, that once inspected, it was OK. Just watch the timestamps on everything you read. If the timestamp is older than a couple hours, on breaking news, then it’s probably been updated, corrected, changed. Be a smart information consumer.
And, one more: See “what we know” and “what we don’t know” because right now it’s darn dangerous to be saying things like “I think I know” or “I heard someone say.”
And, couple of personal updates
The Facebook Page: As of 12:11 a.m., Monday, Sept. 11, (wow, there’s that date again) there are 5,000 people following our Facebook Page, 4,500 who have “liked” it; we’ve reach 320,000 people with our posts and there have been more than 33,000 video views. Dear digital heavens, said Facebook earlier this evening, that’s got to be SPAM — and they promptly shut down the page. Took like what seemed forever to convince them I as real, my account had not been hacked and, pretty please, get us back up.
That page wouldn’t have the content it does without three amazing Key West residents: John Teets, Mike Freas and Jamie Mattingly. I’m pretty sure they don’t know each other, but they’re folks who share my passion for news and information, who love Key West as I do — and who have enough friends all over the place to be able to collect the information we need. Oh, and they’re digital.
Aggregating the news and information from every credible source I could find has been a joy — and major therapy. A joy because I have made hundreds of new “friends” around the world, translated posts and messages from English to Spanish and back again (thank you Google translator), shared tears with strangers and shared your lives. A therapy because the page demands pretty much all of my brain, which means I don’t have time to worry about things like the Cat 5s or my on-island husband.
I know my house is OK because my neighbor has a landline and he updated me at noon Sunday. That should mean the Cat 5s are OK. Ed had to leave them in the house Saturday night. Their food, water, litter et al is set for four or five days — and it’s all up high in case there were any flooding. So, I suspect that the five cats will simply think we’re out shopping and pretty much ignore the fact they were left behind. Cats are most wonderful that way. They really don’t give a hairball as long as you feed them and offer an occasional scratch. But, I miss them. Yeah. we are goofy cat people. Just don’t send me cat mugs or sweatshirts.
I think I know my husband is OK. I haven’t heard from him since 8:30 Sunday morning. And, while my brain knows why, my heart? Well, my heart kinda hurts. Just as does the collective Key West heart. Not knowing how your family and friends made it through the hurricane is pretty much the pits. (Another cliche. Sorry, but it’s after midnight on Monday and I getting silly.) If I don’t hear from him in the next 24-36 hours, I’ll see if I can get someone to go check on where he was staying. I know he, Sheila and David were in one of the safest places ever, and I know they wouldn’t do something stupid like walking in water with electrical wires down, but, yeah, it’s frustrating not to know. But as I told my mother this evening, I am blessed because I know my house is OK, I think I know my Cat 5s are OK. I can’t be greedy about getting number three.
And, with that, I am out. Done for tonight. Need some sleep. You do, too. Good night, my friends. Godspeed. See you in the morning.
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media. She is in Virginia on a family errand with her mom. She was scheduled to return to Key West on Sept. 6. Clearly that did not happen. Her husband Ed and the Cat 5s are on the island — somewhere.