Hurricane Eta moves north
Eta now a tropical storm after passing through Lee County
Hurricane Eta passed through Fort Myers Beach swiftly this past Wednesday, bringing sporadic flooding and waves high enough to rush over the Fort Myers Beach Pier and temporarily close the Matanzas Pass Bridge entrance onto the island.
The town felt the worst of the hurricane for an approximately two-hour period that quieted down by 1 p.m, when it was downgraded to a tropical storm, according to the National Weather Service.
“You’re getting the worst of it now,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Nicole Carlisle at 11 a.m. Wind gusts of 40 to 50 miles per hour were expected to hit the town, Carlisle said.
Shortly before noon, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office blocked off the entrance to the Matanzas Pass Bridge on Fort Myers Beach though the access was reopened after a short time. Lee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Nestor Montoya said the San Carlos Bridge and Matlacha Bridge were temporarily closed. All town roads and bridges were back open by 12:30 p.m.
The Sanibel Causeway was briefly closed as well.
Sections of Main Street and Fisherman’s Wharf on Fort Myers Beach were flooded.
The Pierside Grill and Famous Blowfish Bar experienced waves from the Gulf of Mexico high enough to splash water inside the restaurant and onto its roof. “Big winds pushed the furniture out all over the place,” said restaurant partner Martin York. Aside from some water and sand to be cleaned out, York said the restaurant was ready to be opened on Thursday.
“We’ll be ready to open at 10:30 a.m.,” York said. The restaurant was back in business just as predicted.
Lorna Littrell, a local professional photographer, took pictures of the waves as they splashed off the Gulf of Mexico and over the pier and into the restaurant on Wednesday.
She said she and her husband drove downtown to see the beach. They saw Crescent Street was flooded and went down to the pier.
When they got to the pier and saw how high the waves were, Littrell said “the wind got so strong on the pier, we couldn’t stand it.”
By mid-afternoon on Wednesday, the storm had eased up though it was still carrying persistent rain and high winds, though nothing like earlier.
At the Pink Shell Resort, owner Robert Boykin said the impact was “worse than we kind of expected because it was high tide when the surge came in.”
Boykin said there was some minor damage to landscaping, the dune walkovers and some umbrellas getting bent.
“We were speared the worst of it,” he said.
There was flooding on Estero Boulevard in front of the hotel which canceled a luncheon he was expecting to attend at the hotel. “The storm sewers couldn’t handle all the rain,” Boykin said.
On the other side of the street, Boykin said renovations made to the marina several years ago proved key in protecting the floating docks from the storm’s impact. Boykin said the resort paid extra to add extra piling height which he believes saved the dock’s from being damaged.
Town of Fort Myers Beach Manager Roger Hernstadt said the storm and high tide affected people most living near the bay. Some residents with homes near the bay saw their yards experience flooding and had some property damage, he said.
There have been some reports of minor debris blown by the wind that were being picked up by town staff, Hernstadt said.
Hernstadt said there were no reports of any major destruction caused by the storm.
Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Executive Assistant Chief Ron Martin said most of the department’s response was to mobile homes on San Carlos Island, particularly off Main Street.
There was some flooding and structure fire incidents related to electrical wiring arcing though there were no reports of significant structural damage reported, Martin said.
“There was a lot of flooding on San Carlos Island,” he said. “There was a steady stream of community needs we were addressing” during the storm surge, Martin said. He called it a “day of challenges.”
Martin said the department canvassed the mobile home parks street by street to check and see if anybody needed help evacuating from the area. The department worked with the Estero Fire Rescue and the Southwest Florida Urban Search and Rescue Team to move specialized high water equipment and vehicles into the community.
One person near the back bay was taken to higher ground during the storm, Martin said.