Corrections, 11/20/20, 3:15 p.m.: A previous version of this story stated that Megan Wood had surrendered her vessel to the city because she couldn’t afford the cost of removal. This is incorrect; it was Monica Sarah Taggart who surrendered her boat to the city.
The Gabber also misquoted Mayor Sam Henderson in a previous version, stating that the storm surge and damage were the worst “since Hurricane Debby hit the town in 2000.” Henderson said that the storm surge from Eta “reached as far inland as it has in two decades. Debby was the last time it approached this level.”
The Gabber apologizes for these errors and any confusion they caused.
Tropical Storm Eta made landfall in Florida around 4:20 a.m. on Wednesday, November 11 near Cedar Key, with sustained winds of 50 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The tropical-storm-force winds stretched 115 miles from the storm, and coincided with a high tide in the Tampa Bay area.
Gulfport and surrounding waterfront cities, including St. Pete Beach, suffered flooding damage to homes and storefronts, and heavy debris littered the streets.
Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson told the Gabber on Wednesday, November 12, that the storm surge from Eta “reached as far inland as it has in two decades. Debby was the last time it approached this level.” Henderson continued that, “since it was declared an emergency, the city has already been in touch with FEMA for relief.”
Six boats washed ashore on Gulfport’s beach and downtown waterfront Wednesday evening, prompting local news media, as well as some national outlets, to focus on Gulfport in Eta’s wake.
At least six additional vessels in Gulfport city limits were either pushed into the mangroves or damaged as well, Gulfport Police Department’s Public Information Officer Thomas Woodman told the Gabber.
According to the city, of the six boats that washed ashore on Gulfport Beach, two of them were tied to mooring balls, and the other four were independently anchored.
“The two boats that did break free from the mooring field, it wasn’t because the mooring ball failed; it had to do with the failure of the lines tied to the mooring balls,” said Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
“Emergency Operations Center employees and Public Works worked overnight and monitored the pump stations; no failures were noted,” said Gulfport Cultural Facilities Events Supervisor Justin Shea.
Though the stranded boats created a scene on the waterfront, Shea noted they could have caused more damage.
“The system worked, though,” he said. “These railings and steel ropes kept the boats from washing into adjacent buildings and we’re thankful for that.”
Several of the boats that came ashore in the waterfront district severely damaged the Casino dock and waterfront railings.
As of Monday, November 16, the city had received several estimates for repairs.
According to Shea, the white railing on the east side of the Casino could cost between $10,000 to $15,000 to repair. The steel ropes and railing along Shore Boulevard could cost between $2,500 and $5,000 and the brick pavers that washed away will cost $6 per square foot.
Engineers had not yet assessed damage to the public floating dock behind the Casino at press time, but were expected either Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.
As of Monday, the city was able to reach all owners of the grounded boats except one – the owner of the big red, steel sailboat. GPD Marine Patrol gave owners five days’ notice to respond. If the owner does not respond within that time frame the city will take possession of the vessel.
Public Works requested three quotes to remove the boat from the shoreline to remove the boat.
Two of the six sailboats stranded on Gulfport Beach have already been salvaged, funded by the owners, and are safely back on the water.
Monica Sarah Taggart surrendered her vessel to the city because she couldn’t afford the cost of removal. The city is storing the boat at a secured location, according to Shea.
Waterfront Homes and Businesses Damaged
Boaters weren’t the only folks affected by Eta. As the waters receded early Thursday morning, businesses and homeowners along Beach and Shore Boulevards dealt with flood damage.
Businesses closest to the water, like Neptune Grill, Salty’s Bar, Paw Paws Pet Boutique and More Bazaar, saw the worst of the flooding, but all are now back up and running.
Unfortunately, some waterfront homeowners, like Lisa Kauffman, lost nearly everything.
“The alley from Shore Boulevard near Dupont and 58th is packed with stuff,” said Kauffman. “These people need help; we need to get the message out to everyone affected by Eta to fill out FEMA’s online survey in hopes residents will be able to receive both state and federal assistance.”
The flooding, says Kauffman, was unprecedented.
“I have lived here for nine years,” Kauffman told the Gabber. “I have never seen anything like this; it came so quickly the sand bags just couldn’t hold up.”
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office also reported rescuing 33 people from homes and roadways with boats, high water vehicles and the sheriff’s dive team.
“Most of the rescues occurred in the area from Pass-a-Grille in south St. Pete Beach north to Madeira Beach. Rescued people were taken to area hotels or other shelters,” PCSO said.
Weathering the Storm
According to Duke Energy, more than 50,000 customers lost power throughout the duration of the storm.
A small part of Gulfport was affected by the power outages, with 124 houses losing power overnight Wednesday and into Thursday afternoon.
Duke Energy restored power to most county residents by Thursday night.
In Gulfport, “this is the furthest inland water has reached in two decades and we had no sanitary sewer overflows, which is outstanding,” said Henderson. “It’s a testament to the sewer improvements the city has made over the past six years.”
City facilities across the board had little damage, apart from the Gulfport Casino dock and Shore Boulevard seawall.
Help for Eta Damage
The county continues to document damage for potential state and federal emergency help, but says that residents can document damage on their property with the Online Damage Assessment Tool at arcg.is/1T4i9j.
The county also offers tips and assistance options for businesses that had storm damage, and encourages owners to complete the Florida Business Damage Assessment Survey to begin the recovery process at floridadisaster.biz/businessdamageassessments.
Get more assistance options at pinellascounty.org or by calling 727-464-3800.
Shea warned people to not “hire just any contractor” as they begin the repair process. “Residents, please make sure to document everything. Be thorough and honest and be sure to fill out the FEMA’s online survey.”