In Cedar Key, Hurricane Idalia’s raging surge took over a tiny town

CEDAR KEY — On the shaded streets of this tiny island, residents rolled around in golf carts and trucks Wednesday afternoon, pointing their arms toward the damage.

Hurricane Idalia had pushed the frothing Gulf of Mexico up over G Street and through the Faraway Inn. The flood deposited banks of shells down Dock Street and tore open the floor at Duncan’s on the Gulf. The restaurant’s exposed decking revealed sloshing waves below. Inside, dollar bills tacked to the wall flitted in the afternoon breeze, a whisper of the storm’s fury.

Surveying the damage, Rebecca Cullinan, 45, recalled how the surge had raged. “It looked like the ocean just taking over our little town,” she said.

Cullinan had stayed at her home several blocks inland.

A few doors down on Dock Street, the ceiling fans of the Big Deck Raw Bar spun lazily in the wind. A barefoot regular leaned against a railing outside, pulling on a cigarette and crying behind her sunglasses.

Everywhere, people said they would clean up fast.

Shattered wood boards and palm fronds were stacked in long piles like snow drifts. A woman gathered fistfuls of Spanish moss from her lawn.

Some had stayed, they said, because Cedar Key is hilly and they felt safe on high ground, even as forecasters warned of a major hurricane and historically bad surge.

“I can’t leave my home,” said Kegan Ward, 30, who lives beside Cullinan.

Jeff Webb, 56, sheltered in his family home at 4th and F streets. His grandmother, he said, was born in a house just across the road. The property has five bedrooms and is elevated, so he wanted to keep it open in case others needed it.

Early Wednesday, he said, he drove to rescue friends, who were staring at pounding surge just two feet shy of their home.

Webb spent much of Wednesday riding around in a golf cart, checking on people and places. Cedar Key, in spots, smelled briny, like a tidal flat exposed to the sun.

Webb saw his friend’s coffee shop was waterlogged. But the school where he’s the dean was largely spared.

“It just happens,” he said. “This is part of living on the island.”

Up the road, across from a staging area for fire trucks, Amy Bletcher, 54, grilled burgers and chicken in the afternoon sun. She’d also ridden around Wednesday on a golf cart with her friend, Donna Knight, 62, a clam farmer who said the storm had upended her work.

Knight recalled how at Idalia’s worst, the waves had seemed to slap all around her home.

“I don’t own these businesses,” Bletcher said, “but it hurts to see people lose.”

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