Storm turned killer, inundates AMI roads, sinks boats, washes out beaches

thumb image
Left Photo: A large bouy is removed from the beach Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Jim Price. Right Photo: A sailboat is lodged under the Cortez Bridge Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Chrisann Allen
A large buoy is removed from the beach Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Jim Price
A sailboat is lodged under the Cortez Bridge Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Chrisann Allen
A sailboat is lodged under the Cortez Bridge Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Chrisann Allen

Tropical Storm Eta taught islanders to expect the unexpected.

Eta made a second Florida landfall early Nov. 12 near Cedar Key, about 100 miles north of Tampa Bay, after slamming the Florida Keys Nov. 8. The Manatee County coastline saw about 8 inches of rain Nov. 11-12, as well as recorded winds up to 60 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm coincided with high tide near midnight Nov. 11-12, which caused a 3-foot surge, leading to flooding and standing water in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach.

The county issued a voluntary evacuation notice Nov. 11 for people on Anna Maria Island and in other low-lying areas of the county.

Evacuation shelters were opened Nov. 11 at Virgil Mills Elementary School in Palmetto and Manatee High School in Bradenton. Thirty county residents sought shelter at Manatee High, but none arrived at Mills Elementary.

“Most of the impacts we know were in south county and on the island,” Nicholas Azzara, county information outreach manager, said Nov. 12 during a teleconferenced press update on Eta. “But it looks like damages were pretty limited.”

The county reported flooded roadways, downed power lines and “cosmetic” damage to aluminum sheds and similar structures.

The county Nov. 12 also reported significant erosion on the beach due to the storm, but officials stressed that renourishment projects, which have been underway since July from north Holmes Beach to Longboat Pass, are intended to build sand on the shoreline to protect communities in storm events.

“The primary purpose of our beaches is for coastal protection, to dissipate the energy of the storms,” Charlie Hunsicker, the Manatee County parks and natural resources director, said Nov. 12. “So, in this circumstance, we are quite pleased that the erosion losses we saw were a measured benefit of having the beach in place for storms just like this one.”

County beaches were closed Nov. 10-12 due to riptides.

Concerns about the new Anna Maria City Pier, 100 N. Bay Blvd., were assuaged Nov. 12, as no damage was reported to the structure that was built to replace the historic pier, which was demolished after it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“I have to say I was worried, like a father worries about his daughter on a first date,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said. “But I am really pleased it fared so well. No issues.”

Murphy said floodwater on city roads was draining but was being hastened with pumps. He said most of the roads in the city would be cleared by Nov. 13.

An errant buoy that washed up on the Anna Maria shoreline was removed with heavy equipment by the beach renourishment crew.

The county also reported Nov. 12 that the area near the intersection of North Shore Drive and Coconut Avenue had been closed due to a live power line.

The storm sent a handful of vessels from the Bradenton Beach anchorage crashing into the nearby Historic Bridge Street Pier and its floating dock, which city staff spent Nov. 12 attempting to remove. A vessel also crashed into the underside of the Cortez Bridge.

The Florida Department of Transportation Nov. 12 was evaluating coastal bridges, including the Cortez Bridge, spokesman Brian Rick told The Islander.

“We are still in the process of bridge inspections but do not have any reports of damage so far,” he said.

Eta also resulted in the Nov. 11 death of Mark Mixon, who was electrocuted in standing water at his rental property at 211 Bay Drive N., Bradenton Beach.

Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz told The Islander that Mixon entered his laundry room, where there were around 3 inches of standing water due to the storm and was electrocuted by his dryer, which was plugged into a low outlet.

Diaz said Mixon’s friend tried to help but quickly realized the water was electrified and called 911.

Emergency responders shut off the local power grid after around 30 minutes, at which point Mixon was recovered and declared deceased.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said Nov. 12 limited damages were reported in the city. He said problems mostly were with people driving through floodwaters and getting stuck.

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, a lifelong island resident, said the storm was no worse than she previously had seen, but the conjunction of high tide and rain increased flooding.

The “city center,” near the intersection of Gulf and Marina drives, is prone to severe flooding, but is slated for drainage improvements in 2021-22, she said.

Titsworth also said the storm provided the city with an opportunity to identify areas where drainage could be improved, including adding tidal valves near Sixth Avenue, Clark Drive, 79th Street and Palm Drive.

“Although the water has receded by now, we need to see what we can do to make it even quicker,” she said. “I’m looking at maintenance funds to see what we can do to get improvements to those areas.”

Eta spared Anna Maria Elementary damage and flooding, leaving “just tree debris to pick up,” principal Jackie Featherston wrote Nov. 12 in an email to The Islander.

“After assessing, cleaning and evaluating all district facilities, it has been determined that the school district is ready for brick and mortar, hybrid and elearning instruction to resume, as usual, Nov. 13,” Michael Barber, district director of communications, family and community engagement, wrote in a Connect-Ed email message sent Nov. 12 to parents and employees.

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said Nov. 12 that she lost power for a few hours in the evening and her yard “looked like a bomb hit it.” She also said her neighbor lost a section of his dock in the storm.

She said the water rose over most of the docks on her street and neighbors reported standing water in ground-level garages and homes.

“I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes,” Vosburgh said. “But this was pretty hairy.”

During the Nov. 12 county storm update, Steve Litschauer, Manatee County emergency management chief, cautioned people about storms late in the year.

“The big key is don’t underestimate the storm. Be prepared year-round,” Litschauer said. “Here on the west coast, we’ve seen storms in January, February and March. Dec. 1, don’t just lock up your raincoat and walk away.”

        Editor’s note: Amy V.T. Moriarty and Ryan Paice contributed to this report.