The Scene In The Florida Keys
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The Florida Keys are now feeling the full force of Hurricane Irma. The eye of the storm has just hit the lower islands. These are low-lying barrier islands that are especially vulnerable to the storm's high winds and storm surge. Authorities told people to evacuate in advance of the storm. But a few have stayed behind. We're joined now by Nancy Klingener of member station WLRN who is in Key West. Thank you so much for joining us.
NANCY KLINGENER, BYLINE: You're welcome.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us what's happening right now. What are you seeing? What are you hearing?
KLINGENER: We're not seeing much because we're staying away from the windows, as advised. And we're hearing the winds buffeting this building. Fortunately, I'm in a three-story concrete building that was built as a Masonic Lodge. And it seems to be very solid so far. But for, I'd say, the last 10 to 15 minutes, we're starting to feel dust that shakes the building a little bit.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why is there so much concern about a hurricane hitting the Keys? What is the problem that the Keys particularly face?
KLINGENER: The problem is that the Keys are a very low-lying chain of islands. So there's nowhere that's truly safe from a devastating storm surge. Plus, there's only one road out of the Keys. So evacuating takes a while. It's 125 miles from the mainland to Key West. So in the Keys, anything stronger than a Category 1 storm - they really want to get everybody out.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That will probably complicate any relief efforts after the storm, I'm imagining.
KLINGENER: Yeah. And the true concern for recovery and aftermath is if we lose a bridge or more than one bridge, and there's also a water pipeline that runs along those bridges, that's our only supply of fresh water. That comes from the mainland. So if we were to lose either or both of those, it would be a huge, huge problem for the Keys.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, despite mandatory evacuation orders, some people have decided to ride out the storm there. For those of us who know the people of Key West in particular, they pride themselves on their independence, on their homes, on their long history. Why are they taking the risk, though?
KLINGENER: For one thing, storms move. A lot of times, when you're in the direct path five days out, then you're not five days later. So people were betting on that. People were very concerned about the evacuation process - not just our evacuations but the mainland evacuations, which were gigantic for Irma.
There were fuel shortages here and all over the state. And a lot of people say they want to be here immediately to deal with the aftermath. They don't want to be stuck on the mainland, unable to return.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if you did stay, what is the advice that authorities are giving the people there?
KLINGENER: Shelter in place. Stay away from windows. Maybe get in a reinforced room like a bathroom, something with no windows. The building I'm in - we're retreating to the inner corridors right now. And there's a stairwell inside that - we have some kids with us. We're putting the kids in there. We're putting pets in crates in bathrooms - just to get to the safest part of the building you're in. Stay away from the windows. And wait for the winds to go down.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just to give us a little bit of context, you know, how have the Keys weathered major storms in the past? Is - how does this hurricane fit into the history of Key West and its exposure to storms?
KLINGENER: Yet to be seen. But to me, it looks like the most serious one since the 1935 Labor Day hurricane, which was a Category 5. It went across Islamorada. In the upper Keys, it took out the overseas railway, and it killed more than 400 people. So Key West has seen other impacts since then. Wilma, in 2005, sent about a 5, 6-foot storm surge over the islands - and not just U.S., a lot of the Keys. So that was a pretty serious impact. But nothing like this - not a Category 4.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nancy Klingener of member station WLRN. We'll be checking in with you, we hope. Please stay safe.
KLINGENER: Thank you.
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