Three days ago Marco Island was silent, dark and residents needed a kayak or canoe to travel down some of the streets. Now, the sound of chainsaws echoes across the island, lights are starting to flicker on and cars can be seen driving all around the city or lined up to get gas. In other words, Marco Island is recovering. Lisa Conley/Naples Daily News
Marco Island is going to be wiped off the map. Obliterated. Annihilated. Gone.
That’s the thought many islanders and Southwest Florida residents had when Hurricane Irma came barreling toward the island as a massive Category 5 storm; however, much to everyone’s relief, Irma weakened to a Category 3 before making landfall on the island at 3:35 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10.
Not only was the city not destroyed, but now, just six weeks after the storm, it’s nearly impossible to tell that the hurricane ever passed over the island.
In fact, life is all but back to normal on Marco; hotels are slowly starting to fill with tourists, restaurants and shops are bustling and the beaches are as busy as ever. Piles of debris are the only reminder of Irma’s wrath, and even then, many sections of the island have already been cleared.
Residents are saying it’s a miracle that the city has recovered so quickly because even though the damage was not as extensive as many feared, Marco Island still suffered a major blow.
Sunday night the southern part of the island was under 1 to 2 feet of standing water, which shocked even the most seasoned islanders.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve been doing this for 30 years now and this was the worst storm I’ve worked on,” Emilio Rodriguez, Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) officer, said. “I’ve never seen that amount of water here on Marco, ever. That really surprised me.”
The following morning uprooted trees, downed power lines and debris were everywhere the eye could see, and MIPD was restricting access to the island while its officers completed a full damage assessment.
According to Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy, approximately 15 homes lost roofs; the rest suffered only minimal damage. Gil Polanco, Marco Island's interim city manager, said that's a sign of the city's strength.
"Marco Island has shown the world that we were well prepared and that the integrity of our homes and structures are sound," he wrote in a letter to the public.
Even the island's older homes weathered the storm well, according to Marco Island City Council Chairman Larry Honig.
"There is surprisingly little major structural damage on the island. Even older homes took a beating and came out well," he wrote in a guest commentary. "Having said that, it would be rare to find any home or business without some damage. In the residential neighborhoods, virtually every house lost a few roof tiles, bushes or trees, attic soffit guards, and even pool cages.”
Council voted to waive the permit requirements and fees for some projects in order to In order to expedite the repair process for citizens and further the recovery effort. The city is also making an effort to learn from Irma.
“What I’m hopeful to get are ideas that your staff has for improving the building code,” said lobbyist Ronald Book, who is assisting the city with the priorities for the Collier County State Legislative Delegation. “What worked (and) what didn’t work? Here’s what we know didn’t work; we know there are issues out there related to debris. Why are there issues? What has happened?”
The city is in the process of scheduling an official after-action review, which it will use to update its Emergency Management Plan.