There was a period of time where Marco Island was right in the center of would be the most historically cataclysmic hurricane on record- Hurricane Irma.
As Miami residents sighed a breath of relief, residents along the Gulf Coast threw up their hands in exasperation. This was going to be the big one – until it wasn’t, exactly. The island wasn’t totally spared but it wasn’t hit as hard as most anticipated.
There was certainly a brief period of time where people were not sure the island would even make it. After Irma’s prolonged curve along the edge of the Southwest of Florida, Marco Island and the surrounding areas of Tampa were target number one.
Media professionals speculated a hit on the Florida coast anywhere between Category 3 to 5, making it possibly the largest storm to ever hit the gulf region in upwards of 100 years.
CNN reported that Irma provided 120 mph winds on Marco Island. On Sunday, the storm crossed the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 3, and hit the very edge of the coast as a 3. It was quickly relegated to a category 2, making it significantly less dangerous but still life-threatening as it impacted many of the coastlines of Florida’s gulf coast.
Early predictions in local Marco Island news placed the storm surge at about 15 feet for the island and surrounding regions. This would have been more than crippling; it had the very potential to decimate the island and result in a multi-year recovery process.
CBS News covered Florida governor Rick Scott when he famously stated, in response to what to do in evacuated areas, “Get out now.”
The Symbolism of the Bald Eagle and Marco Island
For the record, Marco Island is still on the map. Not only is the island still present, it is arguably thriving. Many vacation rentals on Marco Island are going strong and many of the visible damage in the weeks following the storm are more than accounted for and cleaned up.
Perhaps most telling through this challenging time was the bald eagle. Naples Daily News covered a lovely detail following Irma. A bald eagle nest, atop a tree roughly 60 feet above ground, was left unscathed through the storm. Upon returning to their homes, residents noticed two eagles sitting in their nest. The bald eagles have become a sort of symbol of the island’s durability and determination through some very testing times.
The eagles could have also represented something else – luck. The expectations for Hurricane Irma were so massive that many citizens did not expect to see their home standing upon return. Yet, the damage was marginal. The aforementioned CNN report stated that the actual storm surge for Marco Island was only about a fifth of predicted numbers, about 3 feet total.
This resulted in some neighborhood street flooding at most, and some unnerving images of residents kayaking down the street. But, the majority of Marco Island homes were undamaged in the storm. Many Marco Island vacation rental properties were untouched, and some returned back to official business about a week following the storm.
The Real Results of Irma
Residents expected something a lot worse, and this was not necessarily unjustified. Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief, Mike Murphy, said “This hurricane we’re dealing with is Hurricane Andrew on steroids. If there is a place for you to go off island, out of the flood zone area, you need to do so now.”
The report was circulated by Marco News, and it suggested a memory back to one of the largest and most devastating storms on record. The intensity and aftereffects similar to Andrew did not come to fruition. Some damage did occur, such as the downing of trees and power lines. But, the scale of property damage was overall quite reserved.
Category 3 winds and storm surge were certainly intimidating and damaging to an extent. But, Marco Island residents are thankful that luck was on their side this time.
Hurricane Irma caused damage, notably along the very coast, including the Marco Island Fish House. But, the damage predicted was hardly the damage that occurred, and the disparity between these two things resulted in the majority of residents being extremely prepared.
Although some natural attractions and rural areas continue to require restoration efforts, both Naples and Marco Island bounced back quite rapidly.
The local government is determining how they can better prepare for future hurricanes, improve building codes, and make other efforts to improve communications and cleanup efficiency. They are working with national and other state agencies to accelerate the recovery and assist residents as needed.
Despite the direct hurricane hit, vacation rentals on Marco Island are back to booking again, and this scenic bit of paradise is getting back to business as usual, with some unique opportunities to enjoy the outdoor recreation and attractions the island is known for in the calm after the storm.