Longboat, Lido and St. Armands keys suffered only minor damages during Hurricane Irma.
As Hurricane Irma approached the Sarasota area, local barrier islands were ordered to evacuate. On Sept. 11, residents and visitors began returning to the islands. As The Observer surveyed the minor damages left to Longboat, St. Armands, Lido and Bird keys, those residents and visitors shared their hurricane stories with us.
One would never know that Julius and Oliver Petereit had spent a night without power in a house standing up to winds close to 100 mph.
As the two walked down Gulf of Mexico Drive in their swimsuits, they shared that they had just spent two hours at the beach.
Unlike most Longboat Key residents, the Petereits chose not to evacuate Longboat Key despite the Sept. 8 order.
“I’ve been here 29 years and I’ve lived through four or five major hurricanes now, and this was advertised as the biggest one ever — but it’s a little overdone I think,” Oliver Petereit said. “I understand the reasoning behind it, they want everybody to be safe.”
Petereit said he was never worried during the storm, just annoyed that the water was turned off.
“It’s tough to find that middle ground to make sure that people leave,” he said. “Scare them a little bit, but on the other hand, it’s a little overdone.”
The Petereits weren’t the only ones who stayed. Fred Lugano, along with Carol Miller and Rudy Schippers, who evacuated their boat in Ruskin to stay with Lugano, enjoyed a dip in the Gulf of Mexico on Sept. 11 before evacuated residents made their way back. The three rode out Hurricane Irma on the island.
“This is the safest place in Florida,” Lugano said.
Still, most did follow the order and made their way back to Longboat about 48 hours later.
Residents were allowed back on the island at 4 p.m., following a safety sweep and initial cleanup by the Longboat Key Fire and Rescue and Police departments and the Longboat Key Public Works Department.
At 4:05 p.m., Gulf of Mexico Drive was back to normal. Traffic-wise, at least.
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.
Some uprooted trees and branches lined Gulf of Mexico Drive and occasional spots on the north end had some flooding. However, nothing blocked the roads as residents made their way home.
Despite all the businesses being closed, including CVS Pharmacy and Publix, most residents were in high spirits.
With predictions that Hurricane Irma could cause a lot of 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. However, on Sunday night, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Naples. As it approached the Sarasota-Bradenton area on Sunday night at about 11 p.m., its intensity weakened to a Category 2 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“We’re very blessed,” Pat Crincoli, a Bay Isles resident, said. “We thought we were going to lose our entire property.”
Barbara Ehlers, another Bay Isles resident, said Longboat was lucky this time.
“A 10 foot-surge wouldn’t have been cute,” she said.
Ehlers evacuated to stay with friends in Venice. She said evacuating there was Plan C. Plan A was to stay home, but when her and her husband heard the mandatory evacuation order, they planned to go to a hotel, which was Plan B. But their hotel choice also fell in the evacuation zone.
Ehlers said a lot of the effects from Hurricane Irma happened to be where you were and where the wind gusts hit.
“You’re sorry to say that you’re happy for yourself, but you think about what other people went through, and you kind of feel guilty. We were lucky this time.”
St. Armands Key
It was a much quieter evening than usual on St. Armands Circle Sept. 11. All of the businesses were closed, and only a handful of curious residents walked past the boarded and sandbagged storefronts to take in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Serah Gonzalez and Alex Dehetre were two such residents who said they decided to go for a walk to see the damage done by the storm.
However, all they found were a few puddles of grassy water in the St. Armands Circle Park, along with scattered tree limbs and occasional building debris.
“It was underwhelming,” Dehetre said.
The pair decided to check out Lido Key Beach and the Circle because they thought the damage would be worse on the barrier islands, Gonzalez said.
But the only storm souvenirs the Circle had to offer besides standing water and damaged trees were a broken porch fan outside Taste of Italy and several handwritten “Closed for Irma” signs — one of which, on the window of Dream Weaver Collection, read “Irma Spared Us! Open Tuesday.”
Gonzalez said the storm was nothing like she expected. She stayed with Dehetre and his parents in their condo in Sarasota because she didn’t want to be alone at her place, and she was surprised that they didn’t lose power.
They’ve both been through three or four hurricanes, but Dehetre said none have made a serious impact — probably because Sarasota always seems to dodge a direct hit.
“It could have been a lot worse, but it fell apart,” Gonzalez said of the storm.
Unlike the Circle, Lido Key Beach was buzzing with activity Monday evening.
Loyal Dodd and a group of friends drank beer and blasted music after deciding to continue their hurricane party into the next day.
“I’m very glad it’s not bad,” he said of the conditions. “We got lucky.”
Farther down the beach, Sarasota residents Izzy and Aimee Carmona played on the shore with their kids, 4-year-old Samantha and 9-year-old Alex, both of whom slept through the worst of the storm Sunday night.
The family of four chose to stay in their home, about 10 miles inland from Lido Key, and stocked their walk-in closet with games and snacks to create a safe room.
“They had fun,” Aimee Carmona said of the kids’ first hurricane experience. “They weren’t scared.”
Their home was not damaged, but a tree fell on one of their neighbors’ homes.
The four came to the beach to see the rough waves and how high the tide was, but Aimee Carmona said she was somewhat disappointed by the lack of shells that she’s accustomed to seeing wash up after a bad storm.
Bradenton resident Todd Test came to Lido Key Beach because he was sick of staying inside for so long during the storm. When asked how he prepared, he smiled.
“We just winged it,” he said.
A few blocks from the beach along Boulevard of the Presidents, the grassy median became an oval-shaped pond after the Sunday night storm. A tree lay uprooted across the street at the intersection of Boulevard of the Presidents and Garfield Street, and down the road at South Lido County Park, several overturned picnic tables were pinned down by fallen trees and tree limbs.
Bird Key and Coon Key
It was much of the same on Bird Key and Coon Key Monday night.
Tree branches scattered the yards of several Bird Key residents, and one large tree lay on its side along the edge of the Bird Key Yacht Club parking lot. The Club itself was unharmed.
Larger debris appeared to have been pushed to the side of the John Ringling Causeway leading to St. Armands, but one large tree that cracked a small roofed structure near Plymouth Harbor was the most impressive damage on Coon Key.