Preparedness & Recovery

Hermine's Revenge: Piles of Debris Everywhere in Cedar Key

All of the damage was from the bad timing of a bad storm surge: Hermine hit the island early Sept. 2 as high tide peaked about 3 a.m.

by Cindy Swirko, The Gainesville Sun, Fla. / September 9, 2016
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(TNS) - On Sept. 1, as Hurricane Hermine was bearing down on the region, someone spray-painted “Bring it on Hermine” on the plywood boards protecting the Big Deck Raw Bar on Dock Street in Cedar Key.

Well, Hermine brought it all right, and by Wednesday, Big Deck owner Bryan Skarupski and manager Buck Rogers were dealing with the mess. And neither would cop to taunting Mother Nature.

“Somebody who put the boards up did it to be funny. It’s not too funny now,” Rogers said.

Added Skarupski: “It pretty much wiped us out. It gave it to us good.”

Hermine gave it to Cedar Key all over the island. Piles of storm-destroyed debris were everywhere. Mattresses, televisions, computers, refrigerators, gas barbecue grills, drywall, curtains, carpeting — heaps of waste lined State Road 24, side streets, the marina parking lot and the fronts of homes and businesses.

All of the damage was from the bad timing of a bad storm surge: Hermine hit the island early Sept. 2 as high tide peaked about 3 a.m. Water pushed from the Gulf of Mexico into restaurants, hotels, homes, streets, the police department, city hall and other buildings.

But Police Chief Virgil Sandlin said no one was hurt and so far the island has been peaceful, the biggest problem being people trying to pick through the trash heaps for anything of use.

“I am very thankful that there were no injuries and as best we can, we have everything under control,” Sandlin said. “The biggest issue is folks getting stuff out of the junk piles. We’re stopping them and telling them that’s not allowed at this moment.”

No estimates were available yet on the number of buildings damaged or on the cost of the damage. Many businesses and houses, particularly on Dock Street and the low-lying areas between it and Whiddon Avenue near the city’s school, were hit. Drywall, flooring and furniture were soaked. Walls were ripped away, decks blasted from moorings, appliances and electronics ruined.

A mound of computers and communications equipment was stacked outside the police department. Records stored on the equipment were lost, including the hours worked by officers needed for their pay.

Residents whose houses are uninhabitable are staying with friends, relatives or in hotels, so hard-hit neighborhoods seem strangely deserted. A Salvation Army truck was parked across from the fire department to dispense meals. Other charitable groups also were providing food and meals.

“It was pretty devastating, and then we didn’t have time to worry about it — we have to clean it up. It’s very, very hard. It hit everybody,” said Cedar Key City Commissioner Sue Colson. “Employment is our big worry, making sure all of our people get back to work. A lot of people don’t have the cash flow to do much right now. We have older people on fixed incomes who need help.”

The city’s goal, Colson said, is to get the town functioning again as a destination.

At 83 West, a restaurant and bar on Dock Street, owners Shannon Sykes and Jordan Keeton were starting repairs on the bottom floor, which was washed away — and with it, the $400,000 they had pumped into remodeling the building to open in May.

Sykes said they stayed on the upper floor through the storm and watched via a first-floor security camera as the water destroyed their gulfside deck, crashed through doors and large glass windows and rushed into the building.

The business wasn't insured — it was too expensive, they said.

“We lost the whole bottom floor of our business. We lost 3,000 square feet of decking, we lost our emergency entrance, we lost our hot water heater, we lost our gas tanks, we lost our fire alarm panel, we lost our elevator,” Sykes said. “It was horrifying ... I watched it on our security prevention. I watched it all night long.”

Cedar Key regularly has some flooding during minor storms and residents tend to brush off warnings.

If Hurricane Hermine served any good purpose, Sandlin said, it will be to prod residents to take storms more seriously. He added that some who did not evacuate but later wanted help off the island as the water rose had to stay.

During the storm, Sandlin checked two poles that measure water levels. One got up to 9 feet and one was at 8 feet.

“About 9 o’clock I said, ‘This is going to be bad,’ ” Sandlin said. “I think this was an eye-opening experience for a lot of folks here. It takes an event like this to make us realize how vulnerable we are. Now, I hope that when we say this is a mandatory evacuation, they will understand why.”

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