KEY LARGO, Fla. — For years, American crocodiles have be seen lounging, mouths agape, on boat ramps in the Key Largo neighborhood of Stillwright Point.
On Thursday, Florida Bay storm surge from Hurricane Ian piled onto higher-than-average seasonal “king tides.” That caused almost 3 feet of standing water to spill into the streets, making it impossible to tell where backyards end and canals begin.
Apparently, the crocodiles didn’t know either.
With the boat ramps underwater, those crocs that live in the canals were spotted swimming down Stillwright Point’s streets.
“If you stay closer to the driveways and away from the mangroves you should be safe,” a woman in a passing pickup truck told a reporter wading through the floodwater Thursday afternoon.
If crocodiles lurking beneath street floods wasn’t a frightening enough image, the thought of not flushing your toilet was a whole other scare.
The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District issued a statement Thursday urging residents to go easy on toilet flushing because the widespread flooding in the area has put stress on the sewer system.
“It is very important that customers minimize toilet flushing and using other water which enters the sewer system,” the utility said in the statement. “The situation will continue through mid Saturday.”
Michael and Amanda Davignon left their house on North Blackwater Lane to get away from Hurricane Ian earlier in the week and came home Thursday to find water in the house and the dock a foot underwater. Their home is one of the few left in the neighborhood not on stilts.
“We went out of town for just a couple of nights to get away, and this happened,” Michael Davignon said.
Scott and Shelly Flomenhft have owned their Stillwright Point home for 20 years. They saw worse flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in October 2005, but not since.
“For two weeks, we’ve had saltwater in the street, but nothing quite this high,” Scott Flomenhft said.
Driving through standing flood water is dangerous. But driving through standing saltwater is a sure way to destroy a car through slow corrosion.
With this much saltwater sitting above residential streets for so long, it could mean that residents who don’t own jacked-up pickup trucks will be stranded in their homes for days.
Mike Melendez, 25, services pools for Reef Tropical Pools. On Thursday, he drove his white company pickup truck as far as he could down North Blackwater Lane before encountering more than two feet of water that started rising above his front bumper.
He was scheduled to service several pools in the neighborhood, but the floodwater made that impossible.
“I gotta let them know I’m not going to be able to do it,” Melendez said.
About two miles south, in the Twin Lakes subdivision, 54-year-old Carlos Diaz cleaned beneath his stilted house on Bostwick Drive after the floodwater finally receded past his driveway. The water began flooding out onto the road, then into his yard around 11 p.m. Wednesday, he said.
The extent of the flooding wasn’t something he and his neighbors expected since Ian’s center passed the Keys so far from Key West, but Diaz said in the end, it turned out to be little more than an inconvenience.
“Compared to what I’m seeing in Fort Myers, I can’t complain,” he said.
King tide season, which lasts through October, tends to spill saltwater onto residential roads in northern Key Largo along the eastern Florida Bay every year.
But Hurricane Earl and then Fiona hung out in the Atlantic ocean for days earlier this month, pushing massive amounts of water into the Gulf Stream, which backed up into Florida Bay, said Jonathan Rizzo, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Key West.
Then, as Hurricane Ian passed by the Keys on Wednesday, it pumped even more water into the bay, which has no place to go until the area receives days of easterly winds — not expected for weeks, Rizzo said
Earl and Fiona “set us up for this, and Ian capitalized on it, causing even more water to back up into the bay,” Rizzo said.
While waters are expected to ebb some by Saturday, Rizzo doesn’t expect significant relief in the area until around Wednesday. And even after that, it will still look like a bad king tide in Stillwright Point, absent a period of strong easterly winds, he said.
The situation, Rizzo said, “just leaves the water there.”