Sandy Cove Condominiums in Lower Matecumbe remains a heap of rubble going into this year’s hurricane season. The three story condo building collapsed during Hurricane Irma. GABRIEL SANCHEZ/Keys Weekly

Following Hurricane Irma, Department of Transportation workers, Monroe County Public Works and fire rescue crews scrambled to inspect and clear all the bridges and roadways along US-1. 

Repairs were made to sections of the highway that were washed out by the storm near mile marker 74. But since then, permanent repairs haven’t been made by FDOT and the road remains uneven on that portion of highway. The portion of Lower Matecumbe that sits next to Sea Oats Beach is a long way from being “storm ready.”

Nearby residents believe that even worse damage is likely to happen when the next storm arrives.

Don Kelly was forced out of his Windley Key residence by Irma and was put up by FEMA across the street from the section of the highway that washed out.

“There’s not much they can do; years ago they did raise it,” said Kelly of mitigating flooding in the area. “I think the rip rap boulders would help; it would look nice and serve a purpose – anything to break that tidal surge.”

The rushing water from Irma created a 4-foot ditch along the building he now resides in. In the 40 years he’s lived in the Keys, Kelly said he’s never seen a hurricane do this amount of damage.

Down the street, the collapsed Sandy Cove condominiums remain a heap of rubble. A flimsy orange barrier has been installed around the site. Scattered pipes and pieces of air units protrude from the building and standing water has pooled up in front. Cars are believed to be buried underneath, adding to the hazardous mess below. The distance between the orange barrier and U.S.1 is only 100 feet.

Robert Moser, president of the Lower Matecumbe Beach Property Owners Association, says both government and homeowners need to be responsible and better prepared for the next storm.

“While we are still recovering from Irma nine months later, and our canals are significantly impaired, our Lower Matecumbe community is in danger of being swept over by the mound of sand and pile of construction debris adjacent to U.S.1. We are concerned for her safety. The amount of destruction is just a matter of which direction the wind blows while we wait for government and homeowners to fix their homes.”

Why the condominiums’ owner hasn’t taken more definitive steps to clear the debris is unclear. What is clear is that the collapsed building has created another hazard for residents nearby, and also the highway. In a swirling tidal surge, portions of the compromised building could lift and become extremely destructive, potentially washing out more chunks of roads than last time.

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