Few signs of Irma left on Marco Island one year later

The Category 3 hurricane ripped through the area in 2017, but there’s little evidence of storm damage in the community.

Marco Island’s beaches remain as tranquil and clean as before Hurricane Irma hit in 2017. [Cat Gloria | Florida Beach Insider photo]
Marco Island’s beaches remain as tranquil and clean as before Hurricane Irma hit in 2017. [Cat Gloria | Florida Beach Insider photo]

Almost a year after Hurricane Irma caused billions of dollars in damages across Florida, you’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence of the storm on tiny Marco Island.

The eye of the Category 3 hurricane made landfall here on Sept. 10, 2017, right before the island’s peak tourist season. It uprooted trees, flooded streets and homes, damaged roofs and shut the 4-by-6-mile island with no running water or electricity.

These days, the island looks as if nothing even happened — especially in the tourist areas. (Tropical Storm Gordon’s Labor Day weekend visit this year had little lasting effect.)

“By the third week of November you would’ve had to look very hard to see any damage,” said Amanda Cox, the director of marketing for the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort. “The way the community of Marco Island rallied for its peak season of the year made me so proud.”

The Marriott is just one of the high-end resorts and condominiums on Marco Island’s Gulf of Mexico beachfront. The most notable damage there was to the hotel’s landscaping and on its two golf courses, Cox said, which the Marriott was able to quickly repair. The bigger issue was the damage to many of the staff’s homes.

The canals within Marco Island have no sign of damage. [Cat Gloria | Florida Beach Insider photo]

“The moment we had phone service again, our executive office was filled with guests wanting to check on their favorite vacation spot as well as the associates that work there. ‘I want to know how Dave the bellman is, how is his family and what can I do for his house?’” Cox said. “I have never seen anything like it.”

In reaction, the Marriott decided to run a promotion for guests telling them if they booked a trip in late 2017 that they hadn’t previously planned, a portion of the proceeds would be donated to a food bank in the area. They were able to donate $1 million to the food bank, Cox said.

“We were able to get employees back to work immediately because of that, and they needed the income,” Cox said.

Other hotels had similar stories: little overall damage and now-complete repairs. The Marco Beach Vacation Suites, located across the street from the beach, had roof and elevator damage, but manager Keith Abed said all is well now.

Most of the island’s remaining damage lies in the hands of homeowners. Since Irma hit, Collier County alone received $173 million in federal funds for homeowners, renters and businesses, plus insured losses of almost $1.3 billion.

Lauren Ross, owner of Mango’s Dockside Bistro in Marco Island, recorded the damage Hurricane Irma caused to her bar. [Cat Gloria | Florida Beach Insider photo]

The streets of Marco Island have long been cleared, and most businesses were able to fix their damages quickly like the Marriott. Mango’s Dockside Bistro, a restaurant located on Collier Bay, experienced several downed trees and a broken window.

“When the window blew out we were on a waiting list for new glass for almost three months,” said Mango’s owner Lauren Ross, “so we just put up an umbrella, then plywood.”

The damage is almost invisible now, with only a few indentations on the bar serving as a reminder of the broken window.

As for the beaches, no damage remains, according to Collier County public information coordinator Daniel Christenbury. The only concern within Marco Island’s parks are some downed trees at the Otter Mound Preserve.

And while day-to-day life has largely been unaffected, labor and supply shortages have left many roofs in need of repair.

One resident, Ali Graham, has been fortunate to have most repairs made to her condominium unit in South Seas Northwest. However, even with astonishing progress by her contractor, her unit is still not completely fixed.

"I think 102 units in the building had doors that blew open, including our unit, and both sliding doors buckled,” Graham said. “Even with hurricane glass, they still buckled."

She said her contractor has made amazing progress, but “there is still a lot to go.”

In addition to supplies being on backorder, some residents have filed complaints alleging contractor fraud on the island. The Marco Island Police Department is currently investigating the issue, including one case in which more than 30 homeowners are accusing an Indiana-based contractor of starting work and not finishing it.

Read more: Homeowner complaints over Hurricane Irma contractor trigger investigation

Some residents have dealt with other obstacles. Joseph Barbato said his home only had roof damages, but nothing has been done yet because it has been one headache after another.

“We were fighting with the insurance company up until March,” Barbato said. “Then the homeowners association, because they didn't like the color of the tile we chose.”

This Florida Beach Insider article was published on Sept. 7, 2018.

Cat Gloria, private eye for FloridaBeachInsider.com, enjoys working alongside the ocean. Her beach expertise stems from her childhood spent on the shores of Wildwood, N.J.