Hurricane Irma: How Marco Island weathered the storm

Lisa Conley
Marco Eagle
Damage from Hurricane Irma can be seen on Marco Island on Sept. 13, 2017, three days after the hurricane made landfall.

Editor's note: The building which housed the Marco Eagle for nearly five decades sustained major damage from Irma. But the Eagle is much more than a building, and the entire team is still working hard to get you the latest news; especially in these times. In fact, in addition to constant updates at marconews.com before, during and after the storm, the Eagle was also in print the Tuesday following Irma; and we haven't missed an issue. We understand you may have been busy with other priorities, so reporter Lisa Conley created some highlights of our reporting.. You can view the issues as they appeared in print by going to marconews.com, select "E-Edition" from the left side menu. The latest issue will automatically appear, but you can select previous dates by selecting "editions" from the right side menu; then clicking on the issue you'd like to view.    

Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center began monitoring Tropical Storm Irma on Aug. 30, 2017. The next day Irma became a rapidly intensifying hurricane with winds increasing from 70 mph to 115 mph in just 12 hours. Irma further strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane after moving into more favorable conditions on Sept. 4, and by Sept. 5, it was a catastrophic Category 5 with its sights set on Florida.

Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017

Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy

Irma strengthened into a Category 5 storm and Marco Island issued a voluntary evacuation notice mid-afternoon, with city officials citing concerns about life-threatening storm surges.

"A Category 1 hurricane can produce storm surge at a high tide that would inundate large portions of the city, causing major flooding in both residential and commercial areas," Interim City Manager Gil Polanco said during that evening’s City Council meeting. "As you know, we're expecting a Category 5."

Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy warned residents about the severity of Irma.

"This hurricane we're dealing with is Hurricane Andrew on steroids," Murphy said. "If there is a place for you to go off island, out of the flood zone area, you need to do so now."

A panoramic photo of cars lined up down the street to get gas at the Marathon on Marco Island on Wed. Sept. 6, 2017 before Hurricane Irma hits. The entire island ran out gas around 7:30 a.m. but received additional shipments shortly before 10 a.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017

Hurricane supplies were becoming scare as residents rushed to make preparations to evacuate or ride out the storm.

By 7:30 a.m., the Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) reported no fuel available on the island. At 9:47 a.m., several gas stations on the island reportedly had fuel, but levels were low. 

Fuel was just as scare off island; the Naples Daily News spoke with five gas stations in the county Wednesday morning. Of those, only Marathon gas stations in East Naples and Ochopee still had gas, and they were running low on supply levels as well. 

Meanwhile, stores throughout the county were running out of water and other essential supplies.

Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017

Forecasters were still unsure about Irma’s track and whether the eastern or western side of the state would bear the brunt of the storm, so Marco Island emergency personnel began planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

"No one really knows with absolute certainty what a storm is going to bring," MIPD Capt. Dave Baer said. He referenced 2004’s Hurricane Charley, which was initially expected to make landfall near Tampa, but took a sudden turn and slammed the southwestern part of the state.

"We plan for the worst."

Friday, Sept. 8, 2017

Hurricane Irma’s forecasted track shifted westward, putting Marco Island and all of Southwest Florida in harm’s way. Collier County implemented a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and the City of Marco Island implemented a mandatory evacuation.

Baer said many residents had left earlier in the week, which helped keep the Jolley Bridge, one of only two ways off the island, from getting congested during the mandatory evacuation. He also urged islanders to go to one of the county’s shelters.

“It might be too late to book a flight to Georgia,” he said, “but it’s not too late to go to a shelter.”

Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017

Despite the mandatory evacuation, the severity of the storm and stern warnings from officials, some islanders chose to remain in their homes.

“I’m on the third floor so I knew I would be okay here,” said Wayne Ploghoft, 61. He resides at Angler's Cove condos off Bald Eagle Drive, where he said approximately eight of his neighbors also stayed to weather the storm.

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017

Hurricane Irma made landfall on Marco Island as a Category 3 hurricane at 3:35 p.m. For most of the day the island was battered by sheets of rain and wind measuring up to 130 mph.

Then for about 45 minutes, the island was calm — eerily calm. That’s when Shelli Connelly and her husband, Charlie, knew they were in the eye of Hurricane Irma.

“It was crazy,” Shelli Connelly, 55, said. “We went out and could see all of the damage that’s been done so far."

The Connellys have lived on Marco Island for more than two decades, and said they never expected to be directly hit by a storm like Irma.

“In the 21 years that we’ve lived here, I just never thought that we’d experience this because so many times we’ve been close, but it’s never directly hit us,” Shelli Connelly said.

Emergency personnel and city officials began assessing the damage as soon as the storm passed.

"We do not know the extent of physical damage, but it appears large, especially on the south end of the island," Marco Island City Council Chairman Larry Honig said that night. "We have serious flooding, presumably caused by the storm surge, and many streets are covered up to the mailboxes (or) blocked with downed trees and road signs."

Baer confirmed that there were parts of the island, like South Barfield Drive, with 1 to 2 feet of standing water. Rescue operations began immediately.

"We are now sending crews out to rescue people who elected not to evacuate," Honig said. "Today we rescued many of them. For example, seven persons were rescued from a house on Lamplighter Drive," which is straddled by canals.

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017

The entire city had no water or electricity in the morning, and a major electrical transmission was down, according to the MIPD.

Murphy estimated the island was hit with 3 to 4 ft. storm surges. Although a far cry from the predicted 15 ft. storm surges, it was still enough to create a dangerous situation for residents, and MIPD officers were restricting access to the island while they conducted a full damage assessment.

“The city is exceptionally concerned for the well-being and safety of its citizens, and as such is restricting access to the island until a full damage assessment sweep has occurred,” a news release stated. “Rest assured we are trying to keep this restriction to the minimum time frame necessary.”

MIPD lifted the restricted access order mid-morning, and water was restored later in the day with an island-wide boil water notice.

Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017

City Hall, which has exterior walls composed almost entirely of glass, was unscathed by Hurricane Irma, although there were several large uprooted trees in the parking lot.

Marco Island began to put the pieces back together.

Blue skies and bright sunshine replaced Hurricane Irma's whipping winds and rain, casting a clearer light on the condition of some of the island's landmarks.

City Hall, which has exterior walls composed almost entirely of glass, was unscathed, although there were several large uprooted trees in the parking lot.

Like City Hall, Mackle Park and its new community center had no apparent structural damage – just downed trees and areas of standing water.

Both the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and the Marco Island Hilton Beach Resort and Spa also appeared to have escaped the worst of the storm.

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017

Sixty percent of the island had power by early afternoon, and the city's roads were mostly dry, save for a few puddles.

"All roads are now fully passable and dry," Honig wrote in a guest commentary. "The surge effects, which late Sunday inundated a portion of the island’s southeast quadrant, subsided quickly."

City officials continued to assess damage around the island; according to Murphy, approximately 15 homes lost roofs while rest suffered only minimal damage.

A pair of bald eagles sit in its nest on Sept. 14, 2017. The nest survived Hurricane Irma, which made landfall on Marco Island on Sept. 10, 2017.

Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017

Marco Islanders received good news: the bald eagle nest on Tigertail Court survived the storm.

Many called it a miracle.

“For me this is a huge sign of hope, unity and strength,” Lynn Roscioli said. “That's why this majestic bird represents our country and this island.”

Like the rest of the island, the birds were busy rebuilding their lives after Irma.

“The day after the hurricane the eagles were already putting their nest back together,” Carl Way, founder and chairman of the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation, said. “They’re rebuilding, and it gives us hope that we’ll have another successful nesting season.”

Friday, Sept. 15, 2017

Many grocery stores and restaurants were open for business, and 70 percent of the island had power.

Trash pickup resumed normal operations.

Monday, Sept. 18, 2017

The boil water notice was lifted for most of the island.

Collier County's 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was also lifted, and MIPD reported that there were no verified cases of looting on Marco Island.

Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017

The boil water notice was lifted for the entire island, and 85 percent of the city had power.


City officials, residents and business owners are continuing the recovery process.

"As I asked when we initially began to prepare for the hurricane, I again please to you as we take the necessary steps to fully recover: be safe," Polanco wrote in a letter to the public. "We ask for your patience so that we don't put anyone in harm's way as we resume to a sense of normalcy, (and) we give thanks to the Almighty for protecting this everlasting magical island and its people."