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Hurricane Ian's impact on South Florida

Boat owners assess damages at the City of Fort Myers Yacht Basin
Tara Calligan
WGCU Public Media
Boat owners assess damages at the City of Fort Myers Yacht Basin.

Before Hurricane Ian strengthened into a Category 4 — and almost a Category 5 — storm and slammed into Florida’s southwest coast, it impacted the Florida Keys.

Former Herald and incoming WLRN Keys reporter Gwen Filosa rode out the hurricane in Key West. She told the South Florida Roundup that after the storm had passed, the scene in the city center there was drastically different to elsewhere.

“It’s almost as if Key West residents were living in different worlds,” she said. “The very next day Duval street was open with bars and even some t-shirt shops were open … And just a couple of blocks away, more than 125 homes in Bahama Village, the historic neighborhood, took on three-and-a-half, almost four feet of water.”

Those homes are flooded, a lot of them being public housing apartments where residents experienced different degrees of loss.

Filosa lives in New Town and received a few inches of rain in her apartment. She stayed in the Old Town for the hurricane and said it feels like nothing happened at all.

“We have maybe 150, couple of hundred people dealing with loss and water damage and losing all their stuff, then you have a lot of the other city - it’s as if it didn’t happen," she said

Even though Hurricane Ian’s center was well west of the Keys, the storm’s surge across Key West was the third highest in more than 100 years, according to the National Weather Service.

As Ian approached, it appeared as if all of Florida was going to be affected. It was a massive storm, hundreds of miles in diameter according to Megan Borowski, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (FPREN).

“As Ian weakened overnight Wednesday into Thursday, the wind-field expanded … a text from the National Hurricane Center said that tropical storm force winds spread out 400 miles from the center," she told host Danny Rivero.

Hurricane Ian's winds were so intense that they caused tornadoes in parts of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County, leaving behind considerable damage and even sending some people to hospital. According to Borowski, it's typical for the outer bands of a hurricane to spawn tornadoes.

"Typically we will see those tornadoes spinning up far from the center of the storm, and that's because of the rotation of the tropical cyclone," she said." Ian's track moved generally from south-southwest to northeast. It seems like that is favorable for tornado genesis in these outer bands."

Filosa says that she doesn't know whether or not the Keys are prepared for the next major hurricane, given how fragile the area already is. But she knows that people are doing their best in anticipation of a storm in the future.

"I do know people who have installed windows that can take a beating — [and] doors and such. But it's such a fragile area anyway," she said. "I would say people are more prepared. But the city down here hasn't really seen anything like this in many years. It's almost like Ian kind of made up for the lost time.”

On the South Florida Roundup, we also spoke about rescue and aid efforts in Southwest Florida. South Florida is being used as a staging area for the regions hit hard by Hurricane Ian. We spoke to Paco Velez, CEO of Feeding South Florida and Ray Jadallah, Fire Chief of Miami-Dade County.

We also spoke to Jenny Staletovich, WLRN’s environmental editor, about how these hurricane cycles have helped us get better at keeping people safe, but have also put more people at risk.

Listen to the full episode above.

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Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.
Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.