Monday, September 11, 2017

Die-Hards Hang On in the Florida Keys

From Molly Hennessy-Fiske‏, at LAT, "The incredible stories of the die-hards who looked Irma in the face — and stayed":
As Hurricane Irma barreled into Key West, Peter Borch stood atop the oldest guesthouse in the city, a converted Victorian mansion built in 1880, to film the unfolding mayhem.

Storm gusts bent nearby palm trees nearly in half, stripping and scattering fronds down empty streets. The horizon was nearly obscured by a white wall of surf roaring in.

“The eyewall is about to hit here in Key West. No power. Trees down. No flooding,” Borch, 31, shouted to be heard over the wind.

Then he shifted focus to a porch below, where an older man sat, shirtless, sipping coffee from a mug, oblivious to the onslaught.

From initial reports Sunday, it appeared that the Florida Keys had taken a pounding but dodged the sort of catastrophic disaster that had been widely expected as Irma roared north out of the Caribbean. But there were reports of missing people, and fears for what might be found in the light of day on Monday.

Keys residents are a hardy, proudly eccentric bunch, accustomed to surviving storms. Many refused to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, including residents at the tip of the island chain in Key West known as conchs. The keeper of Ernest Hemingway’s historic home stayed put to care for his brood of six-toed cats. Watering holes like the Blue Macaw stayed open, offering a drink special called the “Bloody Irma” (five shots of Tito’s vodka). But as the storm descended Sunday, some denizens reconsidered and headed for shelters of last resort like a school on Sugarloaf Key. Others hunkered down, set up live feeds and promised to stay in touch.

One holdout filmed himself nearly getting washed away by storm surf striking the red and yellow buoy at the southernmost point of U.S. Route 1. Florida snowbirds and other island regulars posted queries online: How were the federally protected Key deer faring? Key West’s roaming roosters? Initial reports were good.

Then the power went out, cell service ceased and with it, the live feeds. Only those with satellite phones and land lines could stay in touch with the outside world.

Those at the Sugarloaf School were among the lucky few with a satellite phone, and used it to report that those sheltering there had survived the storm unscathed. Volunteer rescuers used an app on their cellphones called Zello to report what else they were seeing.

“I’m in Key West and we’re all right down here. I never do run from a storm,” said a man who identified himself as P.J.

Judy Cox searched online for signs of her friend, Borch, one of several Key West neighbors who decided to weather the storm.

She last heard from him at 9 a.m., about an hour after he posted his last video. She said he told her “it was windy and not a lot of flooding. Some trees down and no power since last night.”

Now, she was worried.

She had trouble reaching another friend, a boat captain, who was weathering the storm by Schooner Wharf, she said.

“Last I heard he was on his boat,” Cox said...