Key Largo cleans up after Eta

Twigs and leaves line the streets in Key Largo after the ETA tropical storm. TIFFANY DUONG / Keys Weekly

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Ropian Storm Eta crashed into the Upper Keys on the evening of November 8th as winds above 60 miles per hour plunged large limbs onto streets and homes. Brush covered streets when residents woke up to assess the consequences and start cleaning up the next morning.

Water flooded some streets, including Stillwright Point and parking lots like Pink Plaza. The supply teams were out all day to restore power to various Upper Keys communities.

A tent in the Key Largo Caves due to the winds of Tropical Storm Eta. TIFFANY DUONG / Keys Weekly

Eta’s bad wind caused several trees to fall on houses. The Key Largo Fire Department responded to calls for major structural damage caused by a falling tree near MM 103 on Sunday evening. Captain Chris Jones said a person was rushed to the hospital with a minor injury.

The fire department helped Monroe County Public Works, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative clear the streets on Monday.

“There were several calls (on the night of November 8th) but due to the strong winds and bad weather we were not allowed to answer, just like most other agencies did not respond to something that was not considered critical. We went to any upcoming calls (the next) morning that were about cut lines and trees across the street, ”Jones said.

According to FKEC, power service from the County Line to the Seven Mile Bridge was cut overnight because Eta mainly devastated the Upper Keys. Around 20 failures were observed, affecting around 1,000 FKEC meters.

Virgil Valdes is tidying his apartment on Monday on the corner of Biscayne Drive and Bonita Avenue in Key Largo. TIFFANY DUONG / Keys Weekly

Large gumbo limbs and other debris had portions of Bonita Avenue and Biscayne Road that were impassable to vehicular traffic all morning. A gumbo limb fell off Corey and Peg Bryan’s property on the corner of Biscayne Drive and Bonita Avenue, while other limbs fell across the street. The cleanup began at 6 a.m. when the two who work for the sheriff’s office received help from other crews, MPs and neighbors.

“The whole street was closed. It was crazy, ”Corey said.

Peg said other fallen trees across the street were stuck in trees on their property.

“I don’t even know how we’re going to get them out,” she said. “Look at that gumbo levitation, you can see where it cracked. If it hadn’t gotten stuck in that other tree, it would have fallen into our power line. We’re pretty lucky. “

Virgil Valdes lives across from the Bryans on the other corner of Biscayne Road and Bonita Avenue. At 6:30 a.m., chainsaw in hand, Valdes began chopping down fallen trees and clearing his apartment. He remembered the moment he heard the crack of gumbo limbs from the Bryan property.

“We heard a noise and I came out thinking something had landed on the car. When I came out and looked (across the street) everything collapsed, ”he said.

Valdes said that limbs and debris fell on his house all night.

“Crazy,” he said.

Resident Lauren Jenkins said a large branch crashed into her vehicle.

“It fell right on the driver’s window,” she said.

Lauren Katz picks up debris from Largo Cargo’s property in Key Largo. TIFFANY DUONG / Keys Weekly

A large billboard crashed onto adjacent property near Ballyhoos Restaurant in Key Largo. It also brought down a live wire. The Francis Fresh Produce tent collapsed, fruit and vegetables remained on the table and were largely unscathed. Trees in the median US 1 were overturned while debris filled the entrance to John Pennekamp State Park. The gates reopened to the public for daily use on November 10, but the campsite has been repaired.

Further north, the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Botanical Park remained closed to the public as rangers worked to check the trails.

At Stillwright Point in Key Largo, public work teams were spotted pumping water that completely covered Sexton Way and part of North Blackwater Lane. Roman Gastesi, Monroe County Councilor, and Kevin Wilson, Deputy County Administrative Administrator, were out to investigate the scene and assess the damage to Eta. Gastesi said he was concerned about the lower-lying areas where flooding continues.

“We have special meetings that will take place later this month. We have a district commission meeting on the 17th that we will talk about. Then we have another meeting on the 18th to talk about it too. “

A large billboard crashes near the Ballyhoos restaurant in Key Largo. TIFFANY DUONG / Keys Weekly

Many Stillwright Point residents parked their cars on a higher level near US 1 to avoid having to drive their cars through the flood waters. Resident Emilie Caldwell Stewart said Eta was feeling as bad as Hurricane Wilma.

“My house moved with the gusts of wind,” she said.

Regarding flooding, Caldwell Stewart said she expected worse than what has been seen. But they don’t know how high the water will reach today between tidal floods that continue to plague the community and more possible rain.

“Many people who live here have moved their cars towards US1 because of the anticipated flooding,” she said. “It was the right thing, but not for us to use … everyone is scared that their cars will be ruined.”

A Florida Keys Electric Cooperative employee removes cones after restoring power in Key Largo. TIFFANY DUONG / Keys Weekly

One point that was a little worrying for FKEC was the Florida City to Tavernier transmission line, which left November 8th at around 10:30 p.m. and went down the next morning. Officials say there was a bad isolator on the Florida Power and Light side of the transmission system near the Aerojet canal.

FKEC relied on the other main transmission line to deliver power from the mainland to the Florida Keys. A failure between Florida City and Tavernier on the remaining circuit would likely result in a failure affecting all of the keys. FPL informed FKEC that high voltage repairs would require special heavy equipment.

Aside from debris in the street, Islamorada was unaffected by major incidents. A cable wire dangled from the Whale Harbor Bridge required the attention of the US Coast Guard. Supply teams were on site to solve the problem.

“We did very well,” said Terry Abel, fire chief at Islamorada.

Islamorada Fire Rescue completed a pass through the village the next morning, identifying only minor areas of debris and algae that needed to be cleared. No village damage assessments were identified. The public works workers were out to clear the rights of way.

Village officials say the sewer system has withstood well with no water ingress affecting the operation of the system, as it did in recent heavy rain events. Village workers returned during normal meetinghouse hours, and the marina and Founders Park reopened.

Monroe County Solid Waste workers swept the Upper Keys area with a clam cart for debris that did not fit into the normal garden waste collection, such as trees, large branches, mangled garden furniture or sheds.

Waste that does not fit in bins or cannot be bundled was picked up during regular collection. Dirt that does not fit into the regular garbage disposal can be separated from other garbage waste (metals, roofs, etc.). Items in the upper keys must be placed on the curb by the end of the day on Friday November 13th.

A Monroe County Public Works truck drives down a flooded Sexton Way at Stillwright Point in Key Largo. TIFFANY DUONG / Keys Weekly

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