The day after Hurricane Irma made landfall here, attacking with downpours and 120 mph winds, residents were assessing the wreckage and deciding what to do next.
At the very least, the tiny island is back open after bracing for the historic storm, Marco Island Fire Rescue Chief Mike Murphy said Monday.
Yet Murphy warned that residents shouldn’t rush back if they don’t have to — the island still doesn’t have water or electricity.
Irma arrived on Marco Island — which measures about 24 square miles and is located in the southwestern part of Florida — Sunday afternoon with howling wind gusts measuring up to 130 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
That was enough power to knock down cell towers, damage roofs and uproot trees.
The hurricane’s powerful eyewall crossed the Gulf of Mexico island at 3:35 p.m. Sunday as a Category 3 hurricane, after raking Cuba and slamming the Florida Keys.
Despite taking a direct hit, the island appears to have escaped some of the major damage feared by officials. A 10- to 15-foot storm surge that was predicted did not materialize; Murphy said the storm surge was between 3 and 4 feet.
“We were the little engine that did it,” Murphy told reporters. Authorities haven’t reported any fatalities, and Murphy says there are a few “very minor injuries.”
About 16,500 permanent residents live in the affluent enclave of Marco Island; officials estimate that 3,000 to 5,000 people chose to stay during the hurricane.
Zack Forrest, 26, is one of those residents. Forrest and his roommate chose to ignore a mandatory evacuation order and ride out the storm in their apartment. He said Irma proved to be powerful, but he expected more.
“It was not a nuclear hurricane,” Forrest told CNN. “But it was a badass hurricane.”
Forrest moved to Marco Island six months ago from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where tornadoes are a more typical weather threat.
He and roommate Krock Indigo, 22, wanted to experience the intensity of the storm.
“It was loud. It was scary,” Forrest said. “The storm was really intense, it was like a tornado that lasted for an hour and a half.”
As the eye neared the island and Irma forced the area’s barometric pressure to drop dramatically, the roommates said they could feel a popping sensation in their ears similar to when a plane descends during landing.
But humans weren’t the only ones impacted by Irma’s arrival on Marco Island. Bruce Kretschmer, who owns the local Kretch’s Restaurant, found himself jumping in to help rescue a dolphin.
“We were finally able to move around this morning around 6:30 am,” Kretschmer told CNN. “We were checking up on our friends and family and a friend of ours asked for help getting a dolphin back to the water. The dolphin was stranded about 50 yards from the water, but the waves were still crashing into the rocks, so we decided to put it in the truck and take him to a sheltered boat ramp down the road.”
Now, Kretschmer says, the focus is on clearing the roads — and providing food to those in need. He’s planning to offer some sustenance Tuesday afternoon from his restaurant free of charge.
While Marco Island residents begin to clear the destruction Irma left behind — at least 15 homes so far have either lost their roofs or suffered some other major damage — there is encouraging news on the horizon.
Forecasters predicted good weather to usher cleanup and repairs on the island, with just a chance of scattered showers.