wait a moment

Surviving Irma

By Roger Drouin

 As Hurricane Irma continued to move north, on Monday morning, Sept. 11, many Siesta residents and business owners surveyed the damage left in the wake of the storm. Although the Key and surrounding areas escaped a direct hit, the powerful storm left significant damage, including large downed trees, and left some without power for weeks. 

But Siesta residents and business owners agree: The Key fared much better than expected, and as more than one resident put it: the area missed the brunt of it. Siesta Sand looks at what some folks did to prepare, how they’ve cleaned up the mess left in the wake of the storm, and some lessons learned.

"When we first became aware of Irma we assumed like other recent storms we would not experience a direct hit. Just as a precaution, I reserved a room at Comfort Suites at Honore & SR72.  As I was packing a small suitcase for a three day stay, I tuned into our local channel 7 Weather.  Bob Harrigan gave the news that we could indeed get a direct hit. That began a cascade of emotions and thoughts of what I needed to pack up in the event our home might be gone. I evaluated items in my home and closet that I would surely miss and proceeded to pack them up. In order to prepare for the possibility of being without power, I cooked food from the freezer then froze again with the thought that they could be thawed and eaten at room temp. (a hint from Judy Gallagher Ch. 7 dining) We packed up a few meals that could be heated in the microwave at the hotel and enjoyed with a glass of wine.
Sunday evening our hotel lost power. We then relied on the battery-operated radio from our hurricane survival box. Hearing that Irma made landfall in Naples we felt relief for ourselves but so sorry for our neighbors to the south.

Monday morning we got a text from Mike Cosentino with a photo of a huge tree blocking access to our street.  By the time we got there Mike was cutting up a 40 ft. cedar tree. Mike stayed on the key through the storm checking on friends homes and clearing access for their return.

 We are so grateful for the blessing of returning to our home that sustained no damage other than fallen branches. Never lost power, TV or internet.

… We discovered that Crescent Beach Grocery lost power and unfortunately lost all of their perishable food and had to throw out two commercial dumpsters with spoiled food. Nancy Connelly and her crew worked tirelessly to get restocked, sterilize the store, and are ready to serve the needs of our Siesta Key community. We are so happy to see they reopened.”

— Rosemary Cannon: Siesta resident and co-owner (husband) Coconuts of Siesta Key.

“I stayed at a friend’s condo down at the Excelsior at the Gulf. Their building was hit by the tornado in 2016, and their unit didn’t suffer any damage [during that storm]. We had power through the whole thing [during Irma]. I think that was a matter of luck.

I stocked up on some water bottles I bottled at home. I had food, but maybe not enough; had it been worse, say a Category 4, I would have been woefully unprepared for that one.

I brought myself a book and the water and some food, and I tried to just ride it out like it was a weekend at a cabin or something.  I couldn’t ask for a better bomb shelter there. It was category one, had it been worse than that I probably should have gotten out of town. I live here on the island I have a business on the island, and I wanted to be close by to survey the damage. Power returned by Tuesday at the business; we had to toss some things out; and we opened on Wednesday. But at my home on the Key power was out until Friday.”

— Zach Peavler, owner of the Local Bean.

The Village: “We really didn’t have any significant damage in the Village, other than fallen fronds and some street lamps that aren’t working and some map kiosks that aren’t lit. On at least two of the decorative lamp posts, the globe is gone from the posts. One of the globes was laying on the side of the road, and I grabbed it. I notified the county that I have it, and the county’s transportation operations will eventually repair it. The other one is missing.

In the scheme of things these are minor issues. At the last minute, it [Irma] shifted east, and we are very, very lucky. Thank God. I know many businesses were up and running.

There are some very big trees throughout the Key down, but in the Village I didn’t see any large trees down.”

— Michael Shay, maintenance manager for the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. [Siesta Key Improvement District]

“I decided to leave on Tuesday [Sept. 5] when I saw the cone of uncertainty was the entire peninsula, because I live on the Key and knew there would be a mandatory evacuation. I knew we were going to have to leave. I took my inventory of skincare products and expensive machine to do facials with and brought them home and put it all as high as I could in the loft. I got tickets to Bruce Springsteen on Broadway for October and took those tickets and put them in a plastic bag in my purse so they would be with me.

Most places north and west were all booked up, and I was lucky to find an air bnb that was an old mansion in Marianna, Florida, this small, historic town near Alabama. We had a huge suite with two rooms and they said I could take the dogs because it was an evacuation. It was not that easy getting there and worse coming home. It was very surreal there, because every one else was an evacuee. But the manager of the air bnb was a massage therapist and she gave me a massage. The worse part was on Sunday watching on CNN the mayor of Tampa telling everyone this worst kind of hell that will happen to us. That was when they were expecting a direct hit … that was the most awful, scary part of it for me. I had to come to terms with everything I worked for, for 20 years, my home and my office could be destroyed. I cried for a little bit, and had to come to terms with that maybe it would be time for a new start.

… I opened the business as soon as I could, after I returned, but nobody was around when I came back — the girls working for me were out of town or taking care of their properties. I had one lady come in and she was so thankful, she wrote me a handwritten, beautiful card. She was so astounded I opened the day after I came back from an evacuation, and she needed a massage so badly. It made me feel good to get some semblance of normalcy. Now, we have some people with post traumatic stress coming in, they just want to sleep. Everyone is sore and tired from moving debris and emotionally drained. Locals are coming in as they try to get over it and some people who booked vacations are still coming in. We were lucky, obviously, but the sentiment has been it was like Russian roulette, with the anticipatory stress and then relief."

— Connie Lewis, Siesta resident since 1994 and longtime owner of Massage Experience Siesta Key, located in the Village.

“Right at the peak, I drove down to the pier and stood on the beach. It was awesome. It was just a really cool sort of display of nature’s power.

It was safe, actually, because the wind was blowing straight onshore so there was no debris; what would have been more unsafe is standing in your front yard. And I never lost cable or power, so I was watching the coverage, so I knew at that point the eye of the storm was just south of Arcadia and inland … If my power had went out, and it was still a Category 4, that would have been a different situation.

I was working boarding up people’s homes, and I spent Saturday boarding up my house. Between that, I was going to see my friends’ houses and businesses and just making sure I didn’t see anything off, any signs of looting. I didn’t see anything [here].”

… I have a big truck and chains, and on Monday was out just driving around the Key clearing trees out of roads.”

— Mike Cosentino, longtime Siesta resident and president of Reopen Beach Road.

“In advance of Irma, the Chamber gathered and shared local resource information for County and emergency services, weather reports, shelters, evacuation, etc. Our volunteers did an excellent job fielding numerous phone calls, emails, and walk-in visitors. Some visitors had evacuated from Miami or South Florida, to Siesta Key, and now were looking for yet another place to relocate to.   

“In the office, we secured the back door as best we could; unplugged and covered all computers, printers, etc., and took a box of important papers and contacts, the laptop computer, and an external hard drive with us when we left. With office phones out on Monday, September 10, calls were transferred to my cell phone – which rang off the hook!

Everyone I spoke to was very appreciative to hear a real voice and relieved that Siesta Key was alive and well. 

The Chamber is very proud of our community and the way everyone has come together to help and support one another.

… “A transformer blew Friday (Sept. 15) evening which caused a power outage to some businesses, including the Chamber office, located in the Davidson Plaza in the Village.  Power came back on that Saturday evening – so we are all good. The Chamber Office was closed Saturday, September 9th due to impending evacuation of Siesta Key, and Saturday, September 16, due to the temporary power outage.”

– Ann Frescura, Siesta Key Chamber Executive Director

“We bought all the food we could and a ton of ice, then we went to the Hibiscus Suites Inn just off the Key on Stickney Point Road. We were worried about the surge. We came back after the storm to check our house and my parents house on the Key and now we are staying at a friend’s house here. We are very fortunate we have somewhere to stay. We were going to try to suck it up and stay at our home, but it is like a hot box. [As of Sept. 18,] we still did not have power. I check the FPL website everyday.

            A large tree almost hit the building we own [housing the real estate company] behind the Sun Trust on Siesta Key. It just missed the front porch. We drove up, and I was like “Oh my God.”

            We are looking into getting a generator. We really lost all our food. We are from New Jersey, and Sandy had hit us before we moved here. But we lost power for a week, only about five days then. A friend saw five or six trucks coming over the north bridge, so we thought we would have power soon, but nope….”

– Ali Mammana, Siesta resident and co-owner of Judith Guzzi and Associates Real Estate in Siesta Village.

"We live near Cattleman and Bee Ridge Road area in Center Gate, and we stayed at Brookside Middle School shelter. There was a ton of dogs and no dogs were fighting. It was almost like they knew.

By the time I got down to the Key after the storm, the power was on there. There was no damage at all to Gidget’s. Even our flower boxes out front were fine. That building was built recently, so it is one of the few hurricane resistant buildings on the Key. But we worried about friends and neighbors. We closed early this Thursday but just because not a lot of people were around and we had employees that were coming back from out of town. I am sure they needed some rest. It is our slowest time of year anyway.

There was a big two-foot wide tree that fell on Ocean just before the curve into the Village and I know a condo lost its carport. But the Indian Mound saved us again. We missed the brunt of it.

– Brian Wigglesworth, co owner of Gidget’s Coastal Provisions in the Village and founder of the Crystal Classic Sand Sculpting.