Deadly Category 4 Hurricane Ian clobbers neighbors to the south, while Siesta Key avoids major issues once again
By John Morton
Significant, life-altering damage occurred as nearby as Venice, but Siesta Key remained mostly unscathed during the terrifying six hours of Sept. 28’s massive Hurricane Ian.
And to think the evening before the storm hit, Sarasota was projected as the spot for landfall of a Category 4 storm that resulted in more than 100 deaths in Florida. Winds were sustained in some areas at 150 mph with gusts reaching 195 mph. Storm surge reached levels as high as 12 feet.
In Sarasota County, three deaths were attributed to the storm. Property damage in the county has been estimated at more than $100 million.
Regarding rainfall, Nokomis saw the county’s highest amount at 14.2 inches.
The near miss by Ian keeps alive Siesta Key’s incredibly good fortune of never having received a direct hurricane hit in recorded history.
Locally on the island, a few cases of structural damage were reported. The most notable was probably the downed awning at the Beach Club in the Village, considering its high-profile location.
Downed trees and fences were the most common scenario. Large piles of vegetation debris dotted the island every few hundred feet, with county clean-up efforts commencing Oct. 6. No specific date has been established as to when Siesta Key would see removal begin, but it’s projected that it could take as many as six months to clear the county’s streets.
Areas in the south part of Sarasota County were not so lucky, as North Port and Englewood were hit hard. Many businesses in the Village quickly established donation efforts to help aid those in need.
“How heartbreaking it is to see our community grapple with the challenges of flooding, lack of power, lack of food and so much more,” Alan Maio, chairman of the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners said. “There are parts of Sarasota County that are difficult to identify following Hurricane Ian.”
A few cancellations and/or postponements on Siesta Key followed, including the volleyball event that was slated for Oct. 8 and 9 on Siesta Beach.
By Monday, Oct. 3, most of Siesta Key had power and water restored. At one point, about half of the county’s residents were without power.
The north end of the Key was the first to regain power as early as Friday night, Sept. 30. The south end was mostly in the black for the entire weekend.
By Tuesday, Oct. 4, most Siesta Key businesses had reopened.
“We all feel very fortunate that Siesta Key did not sustain severe damage and happy to report that the Key is open for business,” said Ann Frescura, executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, on Oct. 7. “We admire and appreciate the community spirit, teamwork and generosity demonstrated by residents and businesses alike in support of neighboring communities to the south.
“The chamber is here to serve our members and our community. Please do not hesitate to reach out if we can be of assistance.”
Here’s a general timeline of events that impacted the island:
Monday, Sept. 26:
Late in the afternoon, a mandatory evacuation of Zone A on Sarasota County’s map is issued, home to all barrier islands. The order also includes those living along the Intracoastal Waterway, on boats, and in mobile homes. The county also advises Siesta Key residents that day that water service would be shut off starting between 5 and 7 p.m. the following day as a means to limit the risk of contaminating the system in case of flooding.
Those who choose to stay put are warned of the risk that emergency personnel may not be able to reach them if winds reach 45 mph — the threshold where they halt lifesaving operations.
The county also announces that the Turtle Beach campground would be closed and unavailable effective immediately through Sept. 30. The county’s specialty parks, recreation centers, nature centers, and park restroom facilities are also closed.
Tuesday, Sept. 27:
The evacuation order in the early afternoon is expanded to include Zone B, which encompassed most property along U.S. 41 and slightly inland from there.
Beginning at 11 a.m., Siesta Beach becomes a transportation rally center where residents can be bussed to evacuation shelters.
At about 8 p.m., law enforcement closes Siesta Key’s two access bridges.
Wednesday, Sept. 28:
At about 2 p.m., Sarasota County notifies residents that winds have reached 45 mph and rescue services are suspended. Those staying are encouraged to now “shelter in place.”
Around the same time, the storm surge from the hurricane’s southern rotation slams Naples and then destroys Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva, and Pine Island. Landfall officially takes place at Cayo Costa State Park, near Captiva, at 3:15 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 29:
Around 2 a.m., county emergency personnel resume response activities.
In mid-morning, Siesta’s bridges are reopened to only residents and business owners. By 1 p.m., they are open to all.
However, traffic lights at U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road are out, as are those on the Key.
Water service is re-established in the area – although many here would not have it working for days – with a boil advisory issued through 1 p.m. Saturday.