tampabay.com

Much of Key West flooded

By TAMARA LUSH
Published October 24, 2005


KEY WEST - Nearly three quarters of this island city was under water on Monday morning, but that didn't stop the curious from wandering around and gawking at the flooding.

Duval Street, the city's party strip, was one of the only semi-dry streets, although it was submerged at both ends: Mallory Square was flooded, as was the Southernmost Point, which is 90 miles from Cuba.

Also surrounded by water: the city's fire department and Emergency Operations Center.

Monroe County Sheriff's officials said that at least a half-dozen of their police cruisers were under water at the agency's headquarters in Key West.

At 11 a.m., the water was expected to go higher because the tide was coming in. This was an especially serious problem in the smaller islands north of Key West, where houses line U.S. 1 and Florida Bay and the Florida Straits are separated only by a few hundred feet.

The water was creeping into cars and buildings in Marathon, officials said.

"We're sitting at the EOC in Marathon and watching the water rising in the parking lot," said Lt. Cindy Peryam. "We anticipate major problems."

Grassy Key was flooded, she said, and fire crews struggled to respond to two fires on Big Pine Key.

Although the winds calmed down in the mid-morning on Key West, it was impossible to leave or enter the island - the U.S. 1 entrance was flooded, as was the main road in and out of the historic district. Most of the activity in the downtown area centered around the La Concha Hotel, where armies of television reporters broadcasted live during the storm.

On the streets outside of Sloppy Joe's, the famous bar where writer Ernest Hemingway drank, a person paddled past in a canoe. Hemingway's home a few blocks away suffered no damage, and it appeared that President Truman's home was unscathed as well.

One police officer who was asking people not to drive down Duval Street near Mallory Square said that he was unable to reach his police station because of high flood waters. The city's fire department was also nearly impossible to reach.

Officials said they rescued a few people after water rose two or three feet inside their homes.

Wind damage to homes appeared minimal, with only a few fences and aluminum strips littering the streets. In some historic neighborhoods, trees were down and limbs littered the sidewalks.

Key West was battered by 120-mph winds for several hours, starting at about midnight. Electrical power disappeared at 12:30, and cellular phone service was spotty.