Southwest Florida recovers fast from Tropical Storm Eta coastal surge

Hurricane Eta caused some flash floods and beach erosion along the Lee County coast and pounded Collier County with wind and rain, but otherwise made few lasting impacts.

Eta, downgraded to a tropical storm mid-day Wednesday, was a meandering bearer of wind, rain and coastal surge, bringing wind gusts of more than 50 mph to some areas of Southwest Florida.

It seemed to stall southwest of Lee and Collier counties early Wednesday before hugging the gulf coastline north to Cedar Key, then veering northeast Thursday.

More: Raw Video:SWFL gets swiped by Hurricane Eta

At the Salty Crab Bar & Grill on Fort Myers Beach, general manager Bruce McElhone has been there for 10 years. He never had seen a storm surge quite like this one, not even during the more powerful Hurricane Irma.

“About three feet of sand washed up on the beach,” McElhone said. His crews were digging out the restaurant’s outdoor picnic tables and furniture, which the surge had buried under the sand.

“Everything else is fine,” he said. “We’re just trying to clean up.”

On Sanibel at the Island Inn, general manager Chris Davison also had never seen anything quite like this surge in his 11 years on the job there.

“The storm surge was pretty impressive,” he said. “It came up over the dunes. It was the highest I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Thankfully, the winds weren’t that strong, and the rain wasn’t that bad, and it didn’t all come together.”

Duke, the pet dog of residents in Matlacha, wades through rising waters in his backyard to collect a toy as the winds and rain from Hurricane EtaÊimpact the area Wednesday, Nov, 11, 2020.

Other than cleaning up debris, business had returned to normal Thursday.

“When you see something you’ve never seen before, and you’ve been through more powerful storms, it gets your attention, that’s for sure,” Davison said of the surge. “But it receded pretty quickly.”

Unlike counties to its north, Collier fared significantly better overall with Hurricane Eta, with the worst of it largely rough surf and some water on the roads that also happens at times with afternoon thunderstorms.

More: Fort Myers Beach surfer takes advantage of Tropical Storm Eta’s swells

It seemed more like an aggravation.

“I just relocated here permanently,” Southwest Florida newcomer Anthony Ventra said. “We had our vacation place here for years but now that we’re down here since August, I think it rained 90% of the days.”

Wednesday was one of those, but maybe not as wet as others.

As the storm left the area, better weather would be replacing it, said Sammy Hadi of the National Weather Service in Miami.

“After today, looking at a drying trend,” Hadi said of Collier County. “Moving into Friday and Saturday, there’s about a 10% chance of showers. This weekend will be sunny with a very low chance of rain.”

That same trend will hit Lee County in the next couple days.

“Weather conditions should greatly improve,” NWS Tampa forecaster Rick Davis said. “We’re seeing a reduced chance of rain as a front is expected to slide down-state tomorrow with dryer conditions.”

About 3 to 5 inches of rain were reported in most of Lee County, Davis said, with the barrier islands and Lehigh Acres receiving 6 to 8 inches.

Collier’s highest reported totals were more inland, Hadi said, with Raccoon Point receiving just above an inch.

Tropical storm-force winds rocked both counties. Naples Municipal Airport had gusts clocking in at 55 mph and some gusts of 50-60 mph were reported in Lee.

Some coastal flooding was reported in Lee, Davis said.

“There was high surf and very large breaking waves along the beaches,” he said. “That, combined with above-normal tides, produced a lot of beach erosion with some loss of dunes.”

At the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina on Fort Myers Beach, general manager Bill Waichulis did grow alarmed when the property lost power for almost four hours, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday. And between 11 a.m. and about 1 p.m., the storm surge sent waves over the seawall. “We got a little nervous,” he said. “The water was cresting over the seawall. That was the worst part. It receded pretty quick. We didn’t really have any damage other than some cleanup stuff.”

By midday Thursday, the resort had returned to normal.

“It’s a beautiful day, and we’re looking at a beautiful weekend,” Waichulus said. “We’re close to selling out. It didn’t scare anybody away for this weekend.”

In Matlacha at the Bayview Bed & Breakfast, owner William Leroy described the storm as the most vivid he had experienced in his decade there.

Jayden Diaz, 14, along with friends Kayden Hallmon, 12, left, and Randy Hanshaw,14, ride their bikes through flooded 8th Avenue and Oleander Street in St. James City Wednesday, Nov, 11, 2020. The strong winds and rain from Hurricane EtaÊwere impacting the area.

“Some really hard rain,” Leroy said. “Some gusty winds. High water. You could see the boat had gotten stuck.”

A boat had crashed into the side of the Matlacha Bridge on Wednesday. But as on Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel, things had returned to normal there as well on Thursday.

“The sun is up,” Leroy said. “The winds have died down. The birds are singing. It’s a great day.”

Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).

Naples Daily News reporters Karl Schneider and Phil Fernandez contributed to this report.

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