HURRICANE IAN’S STORM SURGE BRINGS FLOODING DAYS AFTER INITIAL WAVES IN UPPER KEYS, FLORIDA

The end of Woods Avenue in Tavernier is filled with water from storm surge. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Upper Keys communities sustained minor to no damage as Hurricane Ian moved past the island chain to the west, landing at Cayo Costa at Category 4 strength and devastating Florida’s southwestern coast on Sept. 28.

Storm surge from Ian, however, caused problems for a number of Key Largo and Islamorada neighborhoods in the days after Ian’s passing away from the Keys. 

Emilie Caldwell Stewart is a Stillwright Point resident who watched the waters rise from the second story of her home on North Blackwater Lane in Key Largo beginning Wednesday through Thursday. 

“Hellishly flooded this morning,” Caldwell Stewart said. “People have water in their ground levels. My neighbor across the street has 4 inches inside.”

National Weather Service forecasts of storm surge of 1 to 3 feet above high tide proved accurate. And while water started to recede in portions of the Lower and Middle Keys, streets and neighborhoods in the Upper Keys remained inundated on Thursday. 

Jon Rizzo, forecast warning meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Blackwater Sound peaked at 2.5 feet above normal high tide late night on Sept. 28. Rizzo said Upper Keys neighborhoods can expect water to remain until Saturday. 

Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District asked customers to minimize toilet flushing and other water use, as the system was under a “great deal of stress due to flooding.” 

“Our crews are working around the clock to keep the system operational,” the KLWTD said in a statement. “It is very important that customers minimize toilet flushing, and using other water which enters the sewer system.  This situation will continue through mid Saturday, Oct. 1.

Those with questions are asked to call the KLWTD at 305-451-4019.

Residents inside Stillwright Point were cautioned to stay away from a flooded North Blackwater Lane due to the sighting of at least two crocodiles.

“Be careful if you’re walking or bike riding the streets while the water is up,” read a message from a Stillwright Point resident to Caldwell Stewart’s phone. “

A crocodile was spotted earlier in the week at Stillwright Point. EMILIE CALDWELL STEWART/Contributed

Inundated roads inside Stillwright Point due to king tides have become all too familiar to residents in recent years. In fall 2019, streets inside Stillwright Point were under water for 94 days due to king tide flooding. Saltwater on roads left many residents like Caldwell Stewart trapped in their homes. Similar issues were witnessed in 2020 when king tide flooding lasted some 70 days. Flooding was also seen last year, but it didn’t last as long compared to the prior two years. 

As of Thursday morning, Caldwell Stewart said it would be impossible for a normal truck to travel into Stillwright Point. 

“Even an ambulance wouldn’t make it here right now,” she said. 

Islamorada resident Jim Doran traveled from his home to Lake Surprise to check on his friend’s home. When he arrived at the front gate, he quickly realized driving his truck through the water wouldn’t be a good idea. 

A van drives through a portion of flooded road at Lake Surprise. JIM DORAN/Contributed

“There was a lot of water,” he said. It was up to people’s knees.”

Doran said his friend’s house only appeared to have water in the yard. 

Normal spots in Islamorada were flooded, including the end of Woods Avenue. Otherwise, everything was looking pretty good as of Thursday, according to Fire Chief Terry Abel. 

Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.