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Top Story - September: Longboat Key reopens to residents after Irma

Catch up on the top news stories of 2017 with the Observer's Digital Year in Review.

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  • | 12:10 p.m. December 29, 2017
Cars waited in line to re-enter the island.
Cars waited in line to re-enter the island.
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Longboat Key reopened to residents on Sept. 11, less than 24 hours after Hurricane Irma passed by the island. 

With predictions that the hurricane could cause crippling damage to Longboat Key as a Category 4 storm, residents left the island not sure if they would return home to the same property they left behind. Fortunately for Longboat, Hurricane Irma made landfall as a somewhat weaker storm in Naples. As it approached the Sarasota-Bradenton area around 11 p.m. Sept. 10, its intensity weakened to a Category 2 hurricane.

An email from Susan Phillips, assistant to the town manager, in the immediate aftermath of the storm detailed the challenges the town would face as it recovered from damage sustained from Irma.

Downed power lines were the biggest problem as Longboat prepared for residents to return following the mandatory evacuation, but Florida Power and Light was on the island the following day and would restore lines without any significant issues.

Trees block the entrance to Bay Isles Beach Club on Longboat Key.
Trees block the entrance to Bay Isles Beach Club on Longboat Key.

Several roads were blocked as re-entry began, including Bayview Drive, where a downed tree delayed residents from returning. Other downed trees blocked the entrance to Bay Isles Beach Club on Longboat Key.

In The Centre Shops, a large tree toppled over near The Lazy Lobster and signs blew off storefronts, including the sign for Tyler’s Ice Cream. At least three palm trees collapsed in the newly renovated Bayfront Park and two trees uprooted and collapsed in Longboat Island Chapel’s Friendship Garden. The sign for the Plaza at 6510 Gulf of Mexico drive was knocked down.

Water service was restored to the island the day after Irma, but Longboat would remain under a mandatory boil water notice until later in the week.

“It won’t be perfect, but you will be able to come home,” Phillips wrote.

As part of its preparations ahead of the storm, town officials implemented a tiered re-entry plan, prioritizing first responder and other essential personnel. Residents, the last wave of entry, had to provide proof of residency in order to get back on the island. 

Phillips, along with the town's elected officials and emergency personnel monitored the storm from the emergency operation center in Sarasota. Within hours after Irma passed, first responder were on Longboat working to secure the island.

As others evacuated Florida or watched from afar, first responders and government officials across the state, including on Longboat Key, worked around the clock to assure safe conditions for residents in Irma's wake. In the days following the storm, others continued to assist town residents

Though several businesses were damaged and large trees downed, the island emerged relatively unscathed. After the boil water advisory was rescinded and electricity restored, the biggest problem was debris, which led to weeks of cluttered streets. Facing a debris collector contractor shortage, Longboat still was able to conclude its debris pickup by October.

In the ensuing months, the first hurricane to affect the island in more than a decade reinvigorated the town government's preparation efforts for a future storm. Irma, and the resulting power outage, reaffirmed the town's commitment to the island-wide utility undergrounding project. The storm also inspired the purchase of a grappling truck.


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