KEY WEST, Fl. — Bill Cottrill is a native of Clarskburg, West Virginia, but now makes his home in Key West where he serves as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. As part of his job, Cottrill has seen some serious weather, but even he admitted Hurricane Irma was an entirely new experience.
“We’ve have a couple of storms, Wilma and Jorge, that were significant storms,” he said on MetroNews Talkline Thursday. “But, this is at least in order of magnitude, even worse than either one of those.”
Cottrill shipped his wife out of the Keys ahead of Irma’s arrival, then hunkered down and and waited for the worst. The experience was like nothing he’d ever witnessed.
“Like a train, but a very long train without a whistle and some lightening and some thunder,” he said. “But, you would hear more prominent the cracking timbers of roofs, boats banging against buildings or other boats. It’s quite a scary sound.”
When it was over, he emerged and went to work as a first responder. Key West, according to Cottrill, held up pretty well. His own condo was only slightly damaged, but the evidence or the storm’s fury was everywhere, especially in other other islands.
“Twenty-eight miles of the lower Keys, south of Marathon and Seven Mile Bridge, it’s virtually uninhabitable,” Cottrill explained after touring some of the damaged areas. “Lots of trees down and some roof damage, but structurally Key West fared fairly well. We were very fortunate, that storm could have been 20 miles west and that would have made us ground zero.”
Despite the surge and the wind, the roads linking the Keys stayed intact. Although not sound for public traffic, first responders were able to get into those areas rapidly as soon as the storm was over. A hurricane in the 1960’s washed out the approach to the bridge and Key West was cut off from the mainland for two months.
Cottrill estimates it will be a year to 18 months before the damage can be repaired and the area cleaned up.