While Key West remained just out of reach of Hurricane Ian’s Category 4 ferocity, the island city was pummeled Tuesday afternoon and night by tropical storm winds that gusted occasionally to hurricane strength.
Relentless rain, unusually high tides and then the storm surge flooded streets, neighborhoods and homes Tuesday and Wednesday.
More than 100 Key West homes were inundated with water ranging from a few inches to a few feet, enough to cover the hoods of several cars — and far higher than most residents’ knee-high rubber boots.
Trees fell, streets were impassable and pets wondered what the hell was happening. Nearly 10,000 Keys Energy Services customers lost power Tuesday evening. But by Wednesday evening, crews had restored all but 400 of them.
Nearly all flood waters had receded by Thursday afternoon, leaving behind piles of sand, silt, leaves, seaweed and detritus.
Schools were closed Wednesday and Thursday, but hospitals remained open and no evacuations were ordered.
Key West’s fire department was in overdrive Tuesday night, battling a behemoth fire on Flagler Avenue that was emboldened by 50 mph winds.
Firefighters worked throughout the night Tuesday and all day Wednesday to knock down the fire, then tend to any stubborn hotspots. The fire destroyed 14 apartments and the first-floor businesses below.
Monroe County School District officials on Tuesday made Key West High School available as a storm shelter, particularly for liveaboard residents who had been told not to stay on their boats for the storm, and for the island’s homeless population.
Cleanup and recovery was well underway by Thursday morning, with piles of tree limbs, palm fronds, some flooded furniture and other storm remnants filling curbs and residential garbage cans.
Once again, Key West picked itself up, dried itself off and started making plans to help those who fared the worst, both locally and on the west coast of Florida, where Hurricane Ian unleashed its unimaginable fury.
Hurricane Ian passed well to the west of the Southernmost City, but was close enough to flood several parts of the island, topple trees and cut the power.
Photos by Mark Hedden, Larry Blackburn and Mandy Miles