CEDAR KEY, Fla. – Tropical Storm Elsa brought strong winds and rain to the Gulf Coast near Cedar Key on Wednesday as it moved past just 35 miles offshore. People who live and work on the small island were prepared to be impacted by the storm but appear spared from a direct hit.
Cedar Key, known for fishing, scalloping, and clamming, is about two and a half hours from Jacksonville, southwest of Gainesville.
The streets were deserted at dawn except for the chief of police, Virgil Sandlin, who said he was working around the clock to monitor the roads and water conditions. A deputy from the Levy County Sheriff’s Office was on patrol in the city.
The Cedar Key community center was sandbag central for the 773 people who live on this island. On the waterfront, all but one business was closed: a lone restaurant stayed open for the residents and visitors who were riding the storm out.
At the volunteer fire station, the fire chief prepared a military surplus high-water vehicle for possible water rescues.
At the boat ramps Tuesday evening, mariners were pulling out their boats before the storm.
“The storm surge is the issue,” said Michael Bobbitt, a resident who is a clammer. “We’re gonna have a big high tide tomorrow about the time it’s gonna get here. So if we get three, four, five feet of storm surge, it’s gonna be rough.”
Cedar Key has taken a lashing from other storms before. With just 10 feet of elevation, it doesn’t take a major hurricane to cause flooding and damage.
“Areas along the Levy coast need to be prepared for heavy rain, high winds and storm surge starting on Wednesday, but all of Levy County needs to be prepared,” said David Peaton, Levy County’s assistant emergency management director.
On the mainland in Chiefland, Levy County’s only Walmart was busy Tuesday afternoon as people stocked up on food, water and other important storm supplies. Associates said they were watching the storm’s track closely.
“You need to make sure you’re gonna be prepared for prolonged power outages,” Peaton said, warning people even away from the coast about falling trees. “With as much rain as we’ve been getting and the wind, it’s not going to take much for those power lines to start getting knocked down.”
In 2016, News4Jax was in the Big Bend area as Hurricane Hermine caused major flooding, destroyed buildings and washed out roads. Locals and tourists hope this time around, Elsa is a little kinder.