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Longboaters ordered to evacuate

Hurricane Ian's threat to the island prompts the order to head to the mainland.

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  • | 5:00 p.m. September 26, 2022
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With a calm and orderly sense of purpose earned from multiple tangles with tropical weather over the years, Longboat Key residents went about their business on Monday preparing for Hurricane Ian, perhaps the most-threatening weather forecast to reach town in decades.

Forecasters said Ian would blast up the coast with torrential rain, dangerous saltwater storm surge and damaging winds on its way to a landfall on Friday north of Tampa while passing perilously close to Longboat’s coast days earlier.

Whether they were filling sandbags for themselves (or others) or working around their homes, residents prepared without panic hours before Sarasota and Manatee counties both ordered evacuations on Monday.

Read more: Hurricane Ian updates, news in Sarasota and Manatee counties

While the rest of Cutter Lane was pretty quiet, James Keller was busy doing what he could do. 

Chris Galanopoulos and James Keller use a wheelbarrow to move any loose items in the yard and on the pool deck into the garage. (Photo by Lesley Dwyer)
Chris Galanopoulos and James Keller use a wheelbarrow to move any loose items in the yard and on the pool deck into the garage. (Photo by Lesley Dwyer)

“I’m a Manatee County first-responder, that’s why I’m working so hard today because as of tomorrow, I’ll probably be gone and not back for a few days,” he said. “Otherwise, I’d wait and see what it’s going to do because I can do it all in 24 hours, but I don’t have that luxury.”

Keller’s fiance, Debbie Adams, planned to head inland Tuesday to stay at either a friend’s house in Sarasota or at Keller’s mother’s house in Bradenton. If it starts to look like Ian could make a direct hit to this area, Adams will head towards the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. 

On Monday, though all hands were on deck getting the house and property storm ready.

“Anything that will blow around out here, we’re just trying to get it into an enclosed area,” Chris Galanopoulos said. 

Marti Wood and Starr Shafer work together to fill sandbags ahead of hurricane. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)
Marti Wood and Starr Shafer work together to fill sandbags ahead of hurricane. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)

Galanopoulos is Adams' son-in-law. He and his family are visiting from North Carolina. They planned on staying until the end of the month, but are leaving a week early because of Ian. 

The house is being remodeled, so Keller said he had some loose ends to tie up. He also tied their boat to the boat lift so it can’t bang into any pilings.

Town officials dropped three truckloads at the sandbag-loading station for residents. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)
Town officials dropped three truckloads at the sandbag-loading station for residents. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)

“Somebody said on the Weather Channel last night that it’s the guys that have been through it that are complacent,” Keller said. “That’s what will get you right there.”

Dozens of residents gathered at the Broadway Street Beach Access to fill sandbags, hoping to build a barrier against Ian’s waters.

Public Works Department Streets, Facilities, Parks and Recreation Manager Mark Richardson said one resident brought enough of their own bags to fill between 30 and 40 bags, though a limit of 10 town-supplied bags was in force. 

“Every storm has its potential dangers,” he said of his and the department’s level of concern with Hurricane Ian. “Hurricanes are unpredictable and can always change.”

The mound of sand, which is the only one available to residents, had been replenished with trucks full of sand three times by 11 a.m., Richardson said.

Brock Patterson, accompanied by his friend Sparky Pashkow, were filling bags for Longboat Island Chapel where Patterson works as the pastor.

The pair were also filling bags to help protect Lord’s Warehouse, a thrift shop operated by the church.

Patterson has only lived on the Key for about two years and recalled his first week on the island also filling bags for a storm threatening the area at the time.

Sarasota County leaders said they hoped to have everyone who is heading to emergency shelters arrive by 8 p.m Tuesday, when the first of Hurricane Ian's winds are expected to arrive. 

Residents fill sandbags on Sunday. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)
Residents fill sandbags on Sunday. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)

Urging the town to take seriously the threats of Hurricane Ian, Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi told about 100 residents, building managers and resort operators on a conference call to plan on being off the island by 4 p.m. Tuesday. He added it might be days before they return.

 Dezzi said the goal was to launch an evacuation during daylight hours, with the first hints of tropical storm force winds of 39 mph or greater expected by Tuesday afternoon.

Water service to Longboat Key could be cut as a precaution, a move by Manatee County intended to protect the system from damage. Dezzi said the shutdown could also have an added effect.

“That will sometimes cause residents not to want to stay,’’ Dezzi said. “Once the water is shut off, you must understand, you can’t take showers, you can’t flush toilets.’’

Dezzi also reminded residents of tall buildings that they are not immune from storms and they should also leave the island, reminding them first responders are the last to leave and would not respond to 911 while they waited out the storm on the mainland.

Allen Parsons, the town’s director of Planning, Zoning and Building, said the tower crane operating at the construction site of the Residences at the St. Regis Resort Longboat Key is being lowered by two sections to comply with its design standards for a Category 4 storm. The crane portion will be allowed to swivel with the wind, as designed, he said, and smaller cranes at the site will be secured and set on their sides.

Contractors all around the island, Parsons said, have also been advised since last week to storm-proof their sites and remove or secure items that can fly in the wind.

Mayra Schmidt holds open a bag for her husband John to fill with sand. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)
Mayra Schmidt holds open a bag for her husband John to fill with sand. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)

Hurricane Ian could bring 7-10 inches of rain and a storm surge of up to 10 feet, forecasters said.

Hillsborough County on Monday ordered evacuations in anticipation of Ian’s winds driving a dangerous storm surge up Tampa Bay, long considered one of the most serious contingencies.

Dezzi said the town’s police will work with other law enforcement personnel to ensure a smooth evacuation and re-entry based on the town’s three-tiered system that calls for first responders to return first, then operators of key businesses, then residents with identification.

Dezzi said in a worst-case scenario, it could be days before residents can return. He pointed to the restarting procedures for the water system, which would require time to regain safe levels of sanitizing chemicals.

Sarasota will likely close the Ringling Bridge before the storm and won’t likely reopen it until after the winds have subsided.

“Once we know it’s safe to return to the island, it might not be safe to live on the island,’’ Dezzi said, adding that first responders will not open up the town to returning residents until safety can be confirmed.


Hurricanes and storms of the past

2004: Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne

Synopsis: Four hurricanes threatened the island over the course of August and September. Charley posed the biggest peril but curved inland to strike at Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, not as originally forecast much closer to Longboat Key.

Evacuations: Yes (for Charley).

Effects on the island: Charley’s passage was largely damage free; Frances brought heavy rains and pulled the roof of a home on Gulf of Mexico Drive; Ivan turned away from the island; Jeanne brought 70-mph winds to the Key, tearing off a roof, wrecking a car port and blowing away clay surfaces from the Public Tennis Center.


2017: Hurricane Irma

Synopsis: Probably the biggest threat the island has faced in the last five years, Irma’s potential for a coast-scraping disaster didn’t materialize as the storm moved up the middle of the Florida peninsula instead. Where it did strike, near Naples and throughout Central Florida, Irma did significant damage. By the time Irma reached latitudes equal to Sarasota-Manatee, the storm had fallen from Category 4 to Category 2, with its strongest winds well inland.

Evacuations: Yes.

Effects on the island: Irma’s effects were largely wind driven. Signs toppled, trees were uprooted. “A 10 foot-surge wouldn’t have been cute,” one resident told us.


2020: Tropical Storm Eta

Synopsis: Although no evacuations were ordered, the November storm created serious seawater flooding issues on the northern half of the island. Water rushed through the streets of Longbeach Village, swamping homes, yards and swimming pools. High tides combined with storm surge to form a potent mixture.

Evacuations: No, though several people were rescued and taken to shelter during the storm’s flooding.

Effects on the island: About 200 homes experienced some level of flood waters, though flood depths were as high as fire hydrants in portions of Longbeach Village; no wind damage was reported, though sustained speeds of 45-50 were recorded, and between 5 and nearly 9 inches of rain fell on Longboat Key. Storm surge was estimated at 3 feet above normal high tide.


2021: Hurricane Elsa

Synopsis: Most of the July storm’s worst weather remained offshore.

Evacuations: No.

Effects on the island: Some beach erosion took place, which flooded or washed away a few dozen sea turtle nests, though significant damage was not reported islandwide. The next morning, town residents arose to find palm fronds and branches down, along with some ponding of water. As Fred Kagi of Longbeach Village said in comparison to the damage done less than a year earlier by Eta, “It’s not even the same storm. Not even close.”


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