CEDAR KEY — Residents of Cedar Key woke up Friday morning and began inspecting the considerable damage to their artsy, seaside village after Hurricane Hermine delivered storm surge flooding of at least six feet.
The water snuck in through the walls and up under the floor, one shop owner on the island in the Big Bend of Florida said. Another Cedar Key resident spent part of Friday morning retrieving family photos scattered by the flood waters.
"We're slowly recovering but it's going to be a slow recover," said Cedar Key Police Chief Virgil Sandlin, noting that about a third of the island was flooded.
"I would say 10-plus million dollars, easily," he said of the damage.
Peak winds on Cedar Key clocked in at 58 mph just after 11 p.m., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Among those hardest hit was the Tres Palmas Condominium complex, which saw its first floor buried in at least a few feet of water, rendering the residence uninhabitable. Debris – household items whisked away by the storm – lay scattered nearby: a toilet, shelving, a flower pot.
“The wall’s blown out," said Denise Whikop, whose first-floor residence was devastated.
“I’ve seen a lot of high water here,” said Nickie Rucker, who co-owns the complex. “My parents built Faraway Inn next door ... and this is the highest water I’ve seen in decades. And behind the condo that you see right here, all the walls on the bottom floor have kind come out the side walls, the windows. My air conditioner is down.”
Rucker, emotional at times, spent some of the morning picking up family photos that were strewn throughout the condo parking lot and on nearby streets.
All things considered, she feels fortunate.
“We’re OK. Everybody’s safe. The worst thing is I lost my pictures. Life is good. God has his plan,” Rucker said.
Hermine was particularly unforgiving around Dock Street, an area at the western-most part of the island, sprinkled with restaurants and bars.
"Dock Street took a beating. I've been here 34 years and I haven't seen anything like it," Sandlin said.
Hermine’s impacts were also felt in the downtown area of Cedar Key, a spot popular with tourists just a few blocks from the water.
Pat Bonish, owner of Bonish Studio in downtown Cedar Key, which doubles as a shop that sells antiques and spirits, held a "hurricane party” on Thursday as people awaited the storm.
On Friday morning, Bonish said that “pretty much everything inside” was a “total loss.”
“It was probably knee level straight across the building and the crazy part was it never came in any of the doors,” Bonish said. “It came in through the walls and up through the floor.”
Not far away, Martin Kemp, owner of the 1842 Daily Grind coffee shop, was handing out coffee, water, bagels, muffins and other items to residents at no charge.
Kemp said his business opened just four days ago.
“How can I charge people?” Kemp said, embodying a we're-in-this-together spirit seen throughout the island.
Residents also seemed taken aback by the damage inflicted by the storm, with some admitting that maybe they'd gotten complacent over the years.
“We stayed here through the evening and we did not expect the water to get as high as it did,” Whitkop said.
“Not this bad. And you never know with these storms,” Bonish said. “When you’ve lived in Florida for a long time and you sit and go through storms to where you say they’re going to prepare for the worst and you do that 10-15 times and you sort of just get complacent so I guess it is what it is.”
Sandlin also noted that 2nd street, G Street and Cedar Cove were three of the hardest hit areas.
There was some good news in the midst of all of the damage, with no reports of any storm-related injuries.
"We were very, very blessed, fortunate, that we have no injuries," Sandlin added.
He also vowed that the island would recover, saying that he was hopeful that within 30 days many of the businesses impacted would re-open.
"This is a very resilient community," Sandlin said. "We may be down but we won't be out."