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Florida Keys brace for storm surge flooding from Ian

National Hurricane Center's forecast cone for Hurricane Ian as of 11 a.m. on Sept 26th
National Hurricane Center
National Hurricane Center's forecast cone for Hurricane Ian as of 11 a.m. on Sept 26th

The lower Keys and other parts of Monroe County are preparing for widespread flooding from storm surge as Hurricane Ian passes by, emergency officials said in a Monday morning briefing.

High tides are about a foot higher than usual, meaning flooding could reach two feet above a normal high tide, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Rizzo. That could make some streets impassable to normal vehicles, stranding some residents in their homes.

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“We’re already about a foot higher than where we should be,” he said.

Emergency officials expect the worst of the surge to occur after the storm passes Tuesday night, and will likely be deepest on the bay side.

“It’s possible there will be impassable streets through Friday,” Rizzo said. “Residents up there may not have access to the highway.”

The county is urging all RVs and campers to evacuate areas under a tropical storm warning, from the Seven Mile Bridge west to Key West. People in live-aboard boats and campgrounds should find shelter with friends or family, they say. Shelters are on standby, but none have been opened, said EOC director Shannon Weiner.

The decision to keep schools open or close them Tuesday will be made this afternoon, said county administrator Roman Gastesi. The Bahia Honda campground was closed Monday.

While rain is forecast to be between four and six inches, Rizzo said the bigger concern is the impact the rain will have on prolonging storm surge flooding. Low-lying neighbors along the bayside, but also areas prone to flooding in Key Largo, including Stillwright Point, could be impassable for several days, he said.

Jenny Staletovich has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years.