KEY WEST, Fla. – There was a possibility of tornadoes late Monday night and Tuesday across the Florida Keys. Hurricane Ian is forecast to emerge over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico to affect Key West and Key Largo before causing turmoil on the western coast of Florida.
The Dry Tortugas National Park closed on Monday. The area was no longer within the forecast cone, the track of the center of the hurricane — where the eyewall packs the storm’s greatest fury. Even without a direct hit, authorities warned the hurricane’s power will still be felt in Monroe County.
“Prepare for the flooding. If you feel like your house is not comfortable or strong, please leave that and go to a higher area. My big concerns are the liveaboards,” said Craig Cates, the former long-time mayor of Key West and Monroe’s temporary mayor.
Thousands live aboard boats, typically small yachts, powerboats, and sailboats, in nearly 500 marine facilities throughout the Florida Keys. Some houseboats have registered with the county to benefit from the marina pump-out outfitting program.
“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Tomorrow is the highest king tide that we are supposed to have this month. This whole dock will be underwater I would imagine,” said Casey Jackson, who is among the hundreds who live on anchored boats in Key West.
The Port of Key West closed on Monday but made an exception for a Carnival cruise ship. U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jason Ingram, of the Port of Key West, said the storm is going to rapidly intensify when it comes across Cuba.
Ingram had a message for boaters: “Don’t stay out in the water! If you can get back to town, stay in town for these couple of days.”
Monroe County Public Schools decided to close schools on Tuesday. Officials had yet to make a decision about what schools if any would welcome back students on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, a Hurricane Warning was extended southward along the west coast of Florida to Bonita Beach while a Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for the Middle Florida Keys from the Channel 5 Bridge westward to the Seven Mile Bridge.
Winds at 39 to 46 mph are capable of breaking twigs and small branches and impede walking. The wind can cause structural damage at 47 to 54 mph, uproot and blow over small trees at 55 to 63 mph, and cause widespread damage at 64 to 75 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
The swells, likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip currents, are set to begin affecting the Florida Keys on Tuesday. Also, residents should be prepared for four to six inches of rainfall and the risk of flash flooding from Tuesday through Thursday.
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