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The Longbeach Village neighborhood saw flooding in the streets beginning Sunday. Photos by Mallory Gnaegy.
Longboat Key Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 5 years ago

Year in review: June 2012, 'Debby Downer'

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

Tropical Storm Debby flooded Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub once on Sunday, twice on Monday and again Tuesday morning.

She was like an unruly guest who just kept coming back. In her fury she even destroyed wine-and-beer coolers and tore about 20 boards from the restaurant’s dock.

“We had about a foot of water in the restaurant,” said Anthony Cucci, manager of Mar Vista. “We had water, seaweed, fish.”

Cucci said Tuesday afternoon that he hoped to re-open for dinner that night.

In terms of her wrath, Debby has been lenient.

She brought tropical-storm strength winds but most of her damages were fairly mild.

According to Town Manager David Bullock, high tide was a major issue because it hit at the same time that flooding peaked.

But the slow-moving Debby still wasn’t done with the Key on Tuesday afternoon.

At press time, a National Weather Service tropical storm warning and flood warning remained in effect. Forecasts called for a 70% chance of rain Wednesday, which would make for the fifth consecutive day of showers.

More than 100 FPL customers on the Key were without power on Tuesday. Many streets in the Village and other low-lying areas remained flooded, with waters receding slowly.

And residents, business people and town officials were left with the hope that Debby would, finally, leave them alone.

Emergency response
Debby made her presence known on the Key Saturday, bringing rain, wind, sand loss and the first floods.
By 2 a.m. Sunday, Public Works utility crews were on-scene responding to power outages. That afternoon, the department’s street crews were clearing debris from the roadway.

They’ve been working nonstop ever since, with some crew members pulling 24-hour shifts.

“They’re very tired,” said Public Works Director Juan Florensa. “Obviously, it’s stressful, getting through the water, and it’s dangerous, but they’re doing a great job.”

Debby’s waters flooded multiple homes, many of which were in the Village, although town officials couldn’t estimate the number.

Longboat Key Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi said Monday afternoon that firefighter/paramedics were driving around areas that were flooded, such as the Gulfshore and Twin Shores mobile-home communities but hadn’t had any major emergencies — most calls were minor cases, such as fire alarms going off.

On Sunday evening, firefighters transported a family, who was staying in the Longbeach Village and was concerned about flooding, to the north fire station so that other family members could take them off of the island.

Although some residents chose to leave the island, officials didn’t order evacuations.

On Tuesday morning, Acting Police Chief Pete Cumming said that the department had gotten a spike in calls over the past few days, but most incidents were minor, such as false burglar alarms.

Police also responded Sunday night to a string of about a dozen break-ins, almost all involving unlocked cars, in the Longbeach Village, in which cash was stolen. On Monday night, police added an extra patrol on the north end and found no indication of related incidents.

“When the standing water gets to a point where ordinary vehicles can’t access neighborhoods and you have people walking in and blocked into homes, it increases the opportunity,” Cumming said of crimes.

Disruptive force
Although Debby wasn’t especially destructive, she sure was disruptive.

Pattigeorge’s dining room flooded Sunday, forcing the restaurant to close for the evening. But after multiple go-arounds with a dry vacuum, Manager Sandy Wooten reported Monday night that the restaurant would be open for dinner.

Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant remained closed Tuesday afternoon. A message at the restaurant said that owners hoped to re-open Wednesday.

Sandra Rios, director of communications at the Longboat Key Club and Resort, said that the rain had flooded both golf courses, sending more guests to the resort’s fitness center.

Otherwise, resort operations were generally not impacted.

“I would say it’s business as usual,” Rios said. “But it’s a little wetter than usual.”

At Casa del Mar, General Manager D.M. Williams estimated that between eight and 10 families checked out early because of the weather. Williams didn’t seem too worried. As long as the weather clears up by June 29, bookings will stay strong for the Fourth of July, he said.

The real storm shocker for Williams came in the form of as many as five cabbage palms that completely blew over, along with other plants in the resort that were ripped out by forceful winds.

“I’ve never lost a cabbage palm or even had one blow over,” he said.

Debby’s wrath also means that Casa del Mar’s 32-foot plant that holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the world’s largest cotton plant is probably a “goner,” according to Williams, because of massive salt spray. But, he isn’t worried about someone else taking the title. He’s never been challenged and doubts that anyone can beat 32 feet.

Debby even made her presence known at the shuttered Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, where the last guests checked out in August 2010. Winds blew away the words “The Colony” from the resort’s historic sign. Speaking to the Longboat Observer Monday from what he dubbed “Lake Colony,” longtime owner, Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber said that he planned to paint over the sign with its signature green color, for now, leaving only the “1620” — i.e., its address on Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Debby also took with her an unknown number of turtle nests and a black skimmer colony of birds, along with the last remaining sand from a $4 million emergency beach project deposited last year at the north end.
According to Florensa, it’s impossible to assess Debby’s impact on the shoreline until after storm surges recede. But, he said that the sand was intended as “sacrificial sand,” put in place to do just what it did — erode, protecting nearby structures, as a result.

Debby will be more like a dress rehearsal for the town, according to Bullock. Town department heads will meet later this week to determine what went smoothly and what could have been done better.

“This was a little bit of a practice run for a more severe storm,” Bullock said.

Update: Tropical Storm Debby blew away an estimated 150,000 cubic yards of sand from the Key’s north end beach and destroyed approximately 950 turtle nests on the island.
Debby was the Key’s only major storm during the 2012 hurricane season.


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