Hurricane Irma Hits Fort Myers Beach

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On Sunday, September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma roared ashore at Marco Island, forty miles south of Fort Myers Beach, as a Category 4 storm. Hurricane force winds engulfed Estero and San Carlos Islands, with one report of 130 mph gusts at the south end. By the time it reached Fort Myers Beach on Sunday evening, the storm was a Category 2 hurricane after interacting with land as it moved north. The National Hurricane Center had predicted a possible storm surge of 10-15 feet, which would have washed over the entire island, leading many residents to evacuate when mandatory evacuation orders were issued by the Lee County Emergency Operations Center on Friday, September 8th. Fortunately the storm veered east and the storm surge was not a major factor on Fort Myers Beach, though water did rise about 3 feet over seawalls in some areas. All of Lee County did experience hurricane force winds.

Islanders spent Sunday night in the dark, listening to the howl and roar of hurricane force winds, with the occasional crash as trees came down and debris blew into homes. Those wishing for a chance to see the eye of the hurricane were disappointed as the eye began to fall apart at about Bonita Springs and went east of the island. But we still got eye wall winds.

The evacuation orders were lifted on Monday and Islanders with Town-issued Re-Entry passes were welcomed back at noon, with Town officials and staff manning the bridges. Re-entry went smoothly with no major delays. The next day the bridges were opened to all. During the storm, all of Lee County was placed under an 8pm – 7 am curfew, which was lifted for Fort Myers Beach and most of the county on Wednesday, September 13th. The Village of Estero, Bonita Springs and the Lehigh Acres Fire District remained under curfew at press time Thursday.

Post hurricane, the entire island was without power, though by the end of this week, the majority of neighborhoods had their power restored. Structural damage was limited with some roof damage and some pool cage damage. Trees were the most common victim of Hurricane Irma as both large and small trees were blown over all across the island, blocking roads, bringing power lines down and generally giving the island a lot of very visible reminders that it had just weathered a hurricane.

For a few days, the hum of generators and the whine of chain saws combined with the sound of helicopters overhead giving the island a classic post-storm sound track. Gas shortages fueled by a dip in production after Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area just 2 weeks before, combined with the huge numbers of evacuees traveling long distances plus the use of generators led to gas shortages in Fort Myers Beach and throughout the state. As of late this week, lines could still be seen at island gas stations, when they had gas supplies. Ice was also in short supply as stores ran through their stocks quickly.

Lee County Schools closed before the storm on Thursday September 7 and planned to stay closed the week following the storm. They planned to open on Monday, September 18th. For more information on schools visit leeschools.net.

Florida Light & Power crews, supplemented by crews from around the U.S. began work to restore power to the beach and the rest of Lee County, where over 90% of the county lost power due to the storm. Similar outages stretched across the state from top to bottom and coast-to-coast. A national outpouring of power crews set a record for pre-storm staging and rapid response to power outages, yet much of the state remained without power 5 days after the storm.

As Fort Myers Beach cleans up after Irma, signs of progress can be seen daily with more power restored and more trees cleared. Town Hall has reopened, more lights are seen nightly along Estero Blvd. Businesses are cleaning up and re-opening. An unofficial street survey late Wednesday night showed about 70% of the island with power.

The Island Sand Paper has been using their Facebook page to keep Islanders near and far current on beach conditions. Like our page ‘Island Sand Paper’ and follow us at FortMyersBeach.com to connect with Fort Myers Beach hurricane recovery.

Bars & Restaurants Open

Very importantly, most of the Island’s restaurants and bars are either open or will be in the next day or so. As they open they have become gathering spots for Islanders to grab a cold beverage (with ice) and some hot food, maybe sit in some air conditioning and share their Hurricane Irma stories.

Boil Water Order

A water line break on Fort Myers Beach triggered a Boil Water Order on Wednesday, September 13th. Residents were urged to boil any water to be used for consumption. Under a boil water notice, water used for consumption (drinking, cooking, teeth brushing, washing foods or ice making) should be either 1) bottled water, 2) boiled for a full minute or 3) disinfected by using 8 drops per gallon of water. Tap water may be used for bathing, shaving and washing. For more information contact FMB Water at 239-274-2200.

LeeTran Buses

LeeTran began limited service Thursday from 8am-6pm, using limited service routes similar to their Sunday service. Passport is accepting reservations. Future service levels will be determined based on route conditions. 239-533-8726

Housing

The Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and Century 21 have coordinated an effort to place the families of first responders whose homes do not have power or are not yet livable in accommodations on Fort Myers Beach. Trish Hickey with Century 21 said that the response has been amazing with many businesses and individuals offering places to stay. She’s had such a great response that she wanted Islanders to know that if any Islander is in need of a place to stay for a few days, they should call her at 239-826-0353.

Food & Ice

As of Thursday, both Publix and Topps grocery stores on the island are now open. When they have ice the Town will stop dispensing ice at Bay Oaks. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt volunteered his own personal generator at Bay Oaks to run the ice machine there so that Islanders without power would have ice available beginning at 10am Thursday, Sept 14th.

Free Hot Meals

Beach Baptist Church is offering free hot meals from 12:30-5:30 pm. Beach Baptist is located at the corner of Estero Blvd. and Connecticut St.

Trash Pick Up

Advanced Disposal has resumed trash pick up in areas accessible to their trucks. They are working to overcome a shortage of collection trucks after theirs were flooded during Hurricane Irma, after moving them further from the beach. Household trash should be bagged and placed at the curb.

They will collect household trash this week. Regular pick up will resume next week. Do not mix hurricane debris with regular trash. Also keep landscape debris separate from construction related storm debris like drywall and appliances. Collection of storm debris will be announced later.

Generator Safety

Division Chief Ron Martin of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District asks that anyone using a generator be aware of the following:

  1. It is never safe to operate a generator in your home.
  2. Never attempt to fuel a hot generator, heat from the generator can easily ignite flammable vapors from fuel. 3
  3. Place your generator and make connections in a dry area.

As always if you need emergency assistance call 911. For all other needs or services please visit a Fire station. Fire Stations are located at 3043 Estero Blvd, 121 Lenell Rd and 17891 San Carlos Blvd.

 Fort Myers Beach is recovering from Hurricane Irma and is expected to be back in shape to entertain visitors to our Island within weeks, possibly earlier. The pace of recovery once full power is restored will be fast. Visitors are asked to check with their hotels by phone, text or online. Phone service on the island is intermittent but improving each day.

Our Island and its people survived Hurricane Irma and look forward to returning to our regular life in paradise soon.

 

Missy Layfield