Earlier I blogged about Key West before the storm hit our town. I used photos to show how Key West prepared to meet what Chad Myers on CNN predicted as a 'catastrophic' hurricane. He warned of a tidal surge of ten to fifteen feet and winds that would wipe out all the old wood houses in Key West. In my earlier blog I detailed why I elected to stay in the newly constructed building located behind the soon to open Marquesa 4-1-4 Hotel on Simonton Street. The new building was constructed to withstand winds of 200 MPH. I have stayed in all other hurricanes except one since I moved to Key West 24 years ago. I wasn't worried about the winds as I know our old houses were built to withstand the winds despite what Mr. Myers thinks. His non-stop warning about the ten foot tidal surge scared so many locals that they ended up fleeing on the Thursday and Friday before the storm. My second floor room was beyond reach of a surge if one were to occur.
We lost power around 8:00 PM the night before the storm. Key West. I took a sleeping pill and went to sleep rather than fret about what might happen. I woke up the next morning to brisk blowing winds, but I experienced worse during Hurricane Wilma which were accompanied by driving rain. I looked out and found lots of tree limbs had snapped including ancient mahoganies on Simonton Street. In my opinion Key West stood up strongly to a powerful category 4 hurricane - perhaps a once in a century kind of event. We incurred major tree damage across the island, but we did not suffer building losses and flooding predicted by CNN and others. The storm was massive in size and took several hours to pass by Key West. Around 3:00 PM I left my hotel room to survey what had happened.
Mahogany trees on Simonton Street snapped. A large mahogany in the 300 block of Simonton had toppled. I knew this was not good. Was it an omen of other losses? I walked over to Duval Street. I could see standing water down toward the Pier House and decided not to go there. Instead I walked east on Caroline Street where I found another majestic tree toppled at the entry to the Curry Mansion.
As I head east on Eaton Street noticed the totally exposed renovation going on at 704 Eaton Street (mentioned in my earlier blog about construction projects in Key West). The back end of the house was removed as part of the renovation. This house withstood the winds of our Category 4 hurricane. That is something you did not see on CNN. It does not fit the scare tactics CNN and other networks use to hype hurricanes. Readers need to understand that TV networks get viewers by making events seem worse than they are. Irma devastated the Lower Keys but it did not devastate Key West.
I walked east along Eaton Street another fifty feet or so and spotted another huge tree at the corner of William Street. As I got close I could see the huge old banyan tree next to the Eaton Street Seafood Market had totally uprooted. Note the propane tank hanging midair. It took about four days to clear the street from this monster tree. I stopped to talk to a multi-generation Conch who told me to go over to the 600 block of William where three large banyans had fallen. On my way I noticed several banyans at the Harris School on Southard Street at Margaret had also fallen.
I could not believe my eyes when I got to the 600 block of William . I saw one huge banyan toppled into the street. I looked south and saw another that had fallen against the late Shel Silvertein's former house - about 75 feet up the street. As I walked closer I could see that two separate trees had uprooted and fallen into the house. I went back the next day to take more photos as the pics I took on Sunday were all obscured by the haze and moisture in the air. I took the photo immediately above in February 2017 which shows the north banyan tree which uprooted and fell into Shel Silverstein's house.
I then walked one block south to the end of William Street. I turned right to walk up Windsor Lane when I notice two more large trees had fallen into the lane. I recognized the house as I sold it a few years ago. It was the former home of writer John Hersey. Even though the trees uprooted on either side of this cottage, it did not appear to have been damaged in the process.
The day after the storm I walked up and down Duval Street and Whitehead Street to see if either had sustained any significant damage. I can report the buildings stood up strong to wind. Margaritaville and the other icons were not damaged. There were individual businesses that tree damage which may alter the way they appear and function. The buildings were not damaged from what I saw. There is one house located at the far end of Fleming Street which I wrote about a couple of years ago. Two giant banyans stood sentry at the front of the lot obscuring the house from view. Maybe that house will now sell since the banyans are no more. Key West lost a lot of trees - Mahogany, Royal Poinciana, Gumbo Limbo, Sapadillo, and Banyans. But there are many that were not damages or only slightly damaged. Palm trees that were lost can be replaced. They thrive.
CLICK HERE to view more photos some of which do not appear in either blog. Readers may freely use any of these photos. Readers are encouraged to visit Key West again or to come for the first time. We endured a major Category 4 hurricane. Our homes and businesses withstood the winds. I have not been outside of Key West yet. I know there is major damage in the Lower Keys but have been told by people who seen the damage that the homes impacted were built prior to the strict building codes adopted by Florida after Hurricane Andrew and subsequent. The use of modern building materials does save property and lives. Old Town is bouncing back and is already open for business.