STORM UPDATE: SURGES SLOW TO RECEDE ON GULF SIDE; SCHOOLS CLOSED THURSDAY

Waters rise at the corner of Front and Duval Streets in Key West. LARRY BLACKBURN/Contributed

The majority of Monroe County’s emergency management coordination call at 3 p.m. Wednesday focused on the remaining storm surge and resulting flooding on the gulf side of the Florida Keys as Hurricane Ian continues its northeasterly trek. At the time of this update’s writing, Ian was making landfall in the Fort Myers area, specifically Cayo Costa, on Florida’s west coast while just shy of Category 5 strength. 

National Weather Service forecast warning meteorologist Jon Rizzo reiterated that waters throughout the Florida Keys’ gulf side will likely continue to rise until the late afternoon and early evening hours for Key West and the Lower and Middle Keys. With winds originating from the southeast pushing water towards the constricted area of Florida Bay where the Upper Keys connect to mainland Florida, waters on the gulf side of the Upper Keys could continue to rise until early to midday Thursday. 

Though some flooding may be enough to move water from the gulf side to the ocean side in low-lying areas, the flooding experienced Tuesday night in the Keys’ oceanside neighborhoods is expected to be the worst of the storm.

Storm surge flooding of 2 to 4 feet above normal high tide levels is expected in Key West, while 1 to 3 feet is estimated for the Middle and Upper Keys.

According to Rizzo, the combination of tides and incoming surge waters likely means that high water levels will subside very slowly until the early morning hours on Thursday for the Lower and Middle Keys. He predicts that flood impacts will continue through late Friday for the Upper Keys and that water levels will subside Friday night.

Monroe County superintendent Theresa Axford said schools will remain closed on Thursday, citing concerns with the logistics of returning students to school through flooded or obstructed streets and bringing Homestead-based staff back into the Keys.

While no power outages are reported for Florida Keys Electric Cooperative customers, Keys Energy Services’ Lynne Tejeda reported that about 1,500 of the company’s customers are still without power from Key West to Big Pine Key. Keys Energy anticipates services will be restored for all customers by the end of the day on Thursday.

With over 100 homes flooded in Key West and at least 15 boats confirmed adrift, Key West’s city hall will remain closed on Thursday. The city is suspending bus services but looks to keep its shelter at Key West High School open for displaced residents. 

Monroe County offices will remain closed on Thursday.

City halls in Marathon and Key Colony Beach will open for business on Thursday, with no major flooding concerns or blocked roadways. Islamorada will similarly open its Village Hall, parks and marinas on Thursday.

Monroe County Fire Chief Steven Hudson announced that Monroe County Fire Rescue has established a hotline for residents in unincorporated Monroe County who need assistance moving storm debris, removing damaged appliances, or other post-storm needs. Those in need of help can call Mary Moeller at 305-304-0707.

The next county-wide coordination call is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Thursday morning.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.