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Marco Island, Naples take a punch

People come out to assess the damage: flooding, downed trees and battered buildings.

Published October 24, 2005

MARCO ISLAND - Hurricane Wilma bruised two of Florida's wealthiest communities today, flooding streets, slicing away storefronts and shredding thousands of palm trees and other tropical foliage that give Southwest Florida a resort feel.

Downtown Naples and much of Marco Island looked like mulch piles on Monday afternoon. Many streets were flooded with several feet of water. Many trees, some snapped in half like twigs, littered the streets.

"It was quite a punch," said Philip J. McCabe, owner of the Inn on Fifth Avenue, one of of the most posh hotels in Naples. The hotel lost power and water had seeped through the roof. Now, McCabe looked out on a street littered with downed tree limbs.

The warm climate of Florida's Southwest Coast has spurred the region's rapid growth over the past 20 years. People come here to admire the palm trees and relax on the beach. But on Monday, the roads were littered, and often flooded near the beach.

"It's going to take years before it comes back to what it was," said Jim Phill, 52, an estate manager who lives in a condo a half-mile from the beach. He gestured at the downed trees and thigh-deep water. "Just look at this!"

To head south on County Road 951 into Marco Island is to pass a landscape of collapsed trees and downed power lines. The top half of a welcome sign at the entrance to the island has been sliced away.

Driving through Marco Island's streets is like stumbling through an obstacle course: swerving around downed power lines, wading through several flooded ditches and sidestepping tree trunks. At times, it seems that someone had lifted the pretty pastel homes and transplanted them into a bog.

Mike Murphy, the fire chief for Marco Island Fire-Rescue, said it was fortunate that 90 percent of the island's 16,000 residents had evacuated. He said 20 to 30 percent of the homes had suffered some type of structural damage - often wrecked pool rooms or lost roof tiles. He also added there was "major, major damage to the landscape."

"It's pretty awful," said Suzanne Garbinski, 36, as she looked out over the downed trees and shredded lanais on her street in Marco. "We lost all our trees."

Many businesses on the island also got scuffed up by Wilma. The front of a boarded-up CVS Pharmacy was peeled away. And Wilma's winds tore the coverings from top two towers of a large Progressive Auto facility.

[Last modified October 24, 2005, 17:43:01]

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