Hurricane Ian made landfall with 150 mile-per-hour winds near Fort Myers on Wednesday, with forecasters and emergency managers fearing a catastrophe because of the storm’s punishing winds and mammoth storm surge of up to 18 feet. Torrential rain threatened to overload rivers and drainage systems, and more than 1 million were without power.
While the storm is now expected to weaken, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said it was big and powerful: it may still be near hurricane strength when it re-emerges over the Florida East coast tomorrow. At 5 p.m., sustained winds were still 140 miles-per-hour and the forward speed of the storm had slowed to 8 mph, prolonging the pounding.
In contrast, Key Biscayne got off easy with a just a few lingering power outages from the storm. Several blocks remained without power late Wednesday afternoon, including the island’s community center. Police and Fire Departments operated on backup generators, said Fire Chief Eric Lang.
Work crews from Florida Power and Light were on the job, but were delayed by the need to trim dense tree limbs away from de-energized power lines. About 3,760 customers lost power overnight, with about 1,200 restored by mid-morning. By afternoon, some 260 customers were still without electricity, Lang said.
Village leaders were hoping to have all power issues resolved so they could open government offices and the Community Center Thursday. Public schools and most private schools will remain closed Thursday, but St. Agnes Academy will have regular schedules and activities.
Lang said officials encountered a few challenges, the most severe being an electrical transformer that caught fire at the LePhare Condominium. On village streets, there were branches, twigs, and other vegetation debris shook loose by Ian’s tropical-storm force winds.
A weather station at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School recorded gusts regularly over 50 mph for much of the day. About five inches of rain fell since the start of the storm, but almost all of that came Tuesday; just three-tenths of an inch had fallen on Wednesday.
Attention on the Key shifted to the unfolding tragedy on the state’s west coast.
Federal and state officials say they’ve marshaled forces to assist, but with a slow movement, it will be hours before it’s safe for emergency workers and power restoration crews to respond. Gov. Ron DeSantis said 42,000 utility workers, fleets of high water vehicles, and 7,000 National Guardsmen were ready. “This is going to be a nasty, nasty day,” De Santis said.
At the White House, President Joe Biden said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had pre-staged fuel, generators, and millions of meals and gallons of water in Alabama for shipment south.
Locally, Lang said that state officials had activated search and rescue teams and that Key Biscayne staff were ready to assist, but there are no plans to deploy currently. “I’m grateful we didn’t have to face the monster storm,” he said. “I’m feeling for people on the coast.”
The Key Biscayne Community Foundation partnered with The Miami Foundation and the Coral Gables Community Foundation to set up a Disaster Resilience Fund.
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Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.