Adonai remains! An account of Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys
14 September 2017
Its the sound of generators filling your ears and the smell of low tide mixed in with seaweed rotting in the hot Florida sun. Hurricane Irma has made herself known in the Florida Keys. Law enforcement is out patrolling the Upper Keys, while a mobile pizza oven on Plantation Key is feeding those who weathered out the storm. I have the sense of being home as I step out of the airplane on to the soggy grass strip. A surreal peace fills the quiet air. As I look around I feel like this is something on a movie screen showing a dramatic scene of the aftermath of a storm.
Sept 13 , 2017 I was fortunate to return to the Florida Keys by air. Flying in over the everglades at sunset a vast ocean of green before my eyes is created by the green mangroves below. I was expecting to see miles and miles of brown. The water is milky, stirred and shaken by the passing storm. The air is still. Ripples are barely visible on the water surface. Its a ghost ocean, no boats below only two helicopters flying low and us, N 293SM.
Coming over Venetian Shores houses are standing strong with secured boats along the docks still floating. Flying up the shore line to Tavernier the docks below are all gone, only pilings remain. Roofs and houses look well. The trees are another story along with weaker outer structures and small boats. Plainly it is a gargantuan mess. In the midst of all of this Adonai remains at the dock unharmed!
Sept. 14 , 2017 Helicopters above, sirens passing by, lights flashing first responders and men are starting the hard work clearing the once beautiful canvas of the Florida Keys. Rebuilding homes and communities is a momentous task ahead. Its hot, dirty and life is disarrayed. Still so much more stands than what has fallen. God has blessed the Florida Keys with good structures and many helping hands from all over the country.
The farther south we drive the more I witness the evidence of violent Irma. Debris is stacked high forming boundaries along US one. I see the efforts of the many who have been clearing the path south. The sky is blue filled with clouds and the water calm. Peace is present despite the storm. We just passed a sign "looters will be killed" a very clear, direct statement. The ocean side has suffered the most damage, docks are tossed into neighbors yards like litter on the highway. Fences are down and trees uprooted now form the landscape. Most structures are fine in the Upper Keys, minor structural damage. Water hook up and electrical entry lines to some of the waterfront homes are torn to pieces.
Sea Oats beach has now moved across US 1. The sight of the first house down is here. Most houses with stood the storm well. A sunken boat and containers are in the harbor. The road is blocked with a security check point.
Many supplies are coming in. A water tanker truck passes by escorted by the police heading south. A trailer of high power lights continues through the road block where we are waiting for clearance to resume heading south. It is a serious situation, law enforcement is keeping travelers out of harms way. Many want to return home and retrieve belongings and move on with their lives understandable so. The impact of the storm has hurt our infrastructure and the basics of food and water presents an issue. First responders are diligently working to reinstate the Keys as quickly and safely as possible. We must all be patient and grateful.
Receiving clearance we move on. A sweet pelican is on the bridge looking below. Passing Long Keys State Park the area for a moment is more green than Plantation Key.The park is in poor conditions the fence is trashed and the mangroves are turning back to hurricane brown. Lobster traps, picnic tables, sand, and pool toys are mixed together as vegetables in a blender which then are strewn along the roadway. The sand looks like snow, washed in by the storm leaving a dust on the abandoned car windshield. Another house on the ocean edge is blown out but the rest are fine.
I see the first person out boating today . I wonder if it is for pleasure. Seaweed has washed in filling the bay with large islands spotted with lobster balls, and birds. An upside down boat sunken from the storm sits quietly partial exposed. Trailers, trash cans billboards, and signs are all displaced like millions of people and animals. Many trees will never give shade again. Its appears endless. Still so many more trees remain!
The yellow line in US 1 leads to home for many. Coconuts scattered on Grassy Key show how the palms have suffered. Many having their hearts ripped out and their fronds flustered in the winds of Irma. Sheds are washed out on the highway, a large piece of roofing metal is hanging over the power line. Iguanas continuously are crossing the highway, not all are surviving.
Entering Marathon I see the first light pole down on US 1. More roof damage is apparent down here . National guards and the army is setting up at Marathon Airport. It feels like a war zone with choppers constantly over head. I keep hearing the sound of Mash in the 70's and 80's. A tent city is being set up at the hospital. Along with the Coast Guard station these many outposts have supplies and are housing the first responders who are serving our area. What is suffering most is the trailer parks. Marathon has taken a beating but has faired better than I imagined. Tiki roofs are attached which is amazing. Many miracles standing. We are crossing 7 mile bridge and the islands are brown again. It takes a good year to come back. Looking below is Pigeon Key. The solar panels are untouched and historic structures of Pigeon Key have a slight more tilt than usual. An Austrian pine is still rooted on the old bridge standing tall. Some strong palms remain on the stripped mangrove island which is now exposed down to its sand base. Structures once tucked away in a mass of trees looks like a fishing camp on one of small island off the bridge. Things you never knew existed are appearing. It is quite interesting the pearls that are being revealed. I do not want to diminish anyones loss, but when I look beyond there is so much blessing that remains. God is good even in the storm he is present.
On Bahia Honda the road guard railing has become a net along the bike trail lined with stick after stick of stripped mangroves and buttonwoods. The old rail road bridge remains , a helicopter is flying over, a camper top strewn over the Key Deer fence, whats left of it. The back street of Big Pine are suffering. We are here checking security of Keys Energy Substation. Florida Fence's fence work is standing strong! Big Pine Key bayside has a few roofs which are peeled up with facia pulling off. Homes are deserted waiting for their owners to return for the mass clean up. Cars and boats are now littering the highways. On Ram Rod Key some tiki's remain fine while others are down . We pass through Summer Land and Sugar Loaf Key.
I feel my first pang of emotion here on Cud Joe Key while we are looking at the substation checking more security fencing. Coral Gables Fire Rescue truck is entering the neighborhood touching my heart deeply.Thank you to those who have come to help our Florida Keys. The police truck is filled with cases of water and the helicopters continue to fly over. I feel the magnitude of what has happened here. We have a giant mess but many are assisting.
Rescue vehicles with lights continue by, brown downed trees, things flipped and destroyed placed in precarious places is becoming the norm it is exasperating.
On Sugar Loaf Key I see signs for food and water. The wind damage has shifted direction here coming from the north opposed to the South East. Low lying mangroves are green. I assume from being submerged. Power trucks, and tan humvees are heading north.
I checked on a friends house located oceanside on Summerland Key and this area is the worst I have seen along with Blimp Road on Cud Joe Key. Its truly mind boggling. Everything is starting to look the same one big blur, a jaw dropping mess.
Over Boca Chica a large supply aircraft is coming in. Numerous mono haul sail boats are heeled over in the shallow waters of the Lower Keys while others are faring well but with tatters sails.
A duck is checking his feathers on Stock Island and herrings are roosting in the mangroves. Passing the Community College and hospital is the jail .The sheriffs department has an animal farm out here I imagine to be an effort to rehabilitate prisoners. A funny sight is a very large pig sunning him self in the mucky pond, an unusual sight for the Florida Keys. Temporary cell towers have been established here, kin many areas there is no cell service. This area looks like no flooding occurred. The sailboats in the harbor here are in good condition.
In the North Rosevelt area of Key West a few boats are up against the sea wall and one hotel's roof will no longer keep you dry. People are lined up for water and food in the shopping market parking lot. Fuel lines extend around the corner. Traffic lights are working! Where do you begin? I can see the concern on a business owners face who is assessing damage. Local 10 is present. More lines of law enforcement are coming in like an army. I see a few very sunny Key West old time residents milling about and the bar is open filled with smiling faces.
Boca Chica Road has many lines down. Mangled and tangled scrap metal roofing scattered about. It looks like in one area where a few trailers are very torn apart a possibly twister may have touched down. Cyclone fences remain! A palm tree has fallen over a boat. Its rough back here. More lines are down, mainly communications lines. Mud covers parts of the road. We are checking the fence at Boca Chia naval station back here. Off in the distance a navy ship is sitting out to the south.
Here I stand on the shore wondering. I am able to hear the gentle lapping of water. Looking up and out the beauty of the Key's emerald green clear water is returning after the storm. God's beauty remains and always will.