Hurricane Idalia's record storm surge left trail of damage, rotten smell in Keaton Beach after landfall

Water gauges just south of where Idalia made landfall in Florida's Big Bend reported a record nearly 7-foot storm surge that left behind a trail of damage and stinky debris that "smells like rotten vegetation (and) gross seaweed."

KEATON BEACH, Fla. – About 24 hours after Hurricane Idalia made landfall in the Big Bend of Florida Wednesday, the Category 3-level damages to the community are visible, along with the lingering stench of the 7-foot storm surge.

FOX Weather Meteorologist Britta Merwin was in Keaton Beach on Thursday, a day after Idalia's raging winds and dangerous storm surge left widespread debris and flooding damage throughout the Nature Coast community. 

Some of the homes perched only 100 feet from the Gulf of Mexico sustained flooding damage and had their siding ripped off. Trees were then completely uprooted when the water retreated back into the Gulf, pulling the vegetation from its roots. 

"We're talking about a Category 3 hurricane that rolled through," Merwin said. "These homes were impacted by 7-foot storm surge and 83-mile-per-hour winds." 


Water gauges in Cedar Key, Florida just south of where Idalia made landfall in Florida's Big Bend reported a 6.89-foot water level above normally dry ground – a record for the city though the National Hurricane Center had forecast a possible 10- to 15-foot storm surge for the region.

Deep storm surges were also reported in Horseshoe Beach and Steinhatchee.

The FOX Forecast Center said Idalia was the strongest hurricane to strike the Big Bend area – especially near Cedar Key – in 125 years, dating back to an unnamed 1896 storm.

Smells like ‘rotten vegetation; gross seaweed’

 Merwin said a lot of the wind damage to homes was driven by the wind placement.

"I think a lot of that has to do with the direction of the wind. You know, these shutters right here looking pretty good," Merwin said pointing to the front of a two-story home. "But on the side of the house, that's where we're seeing the damage. So I think it has to do with the angle."

The flooding also left the stink of anything dragged in from the Gulf of Mexico. 

"It smells like rotten vegetation, gross seaweed," Merwin said. "It really does kind of make you a little sick to your stomach because we've had so much stuff pushed in with the storm surge."

Florida's August heat and humidity will only add to the stench.

"It's been sitting here for 24 hours," Merwin said. "I can only imagine by the end of today, I mean, we're expecting a day in the upper 80s and all of that humidity is going to combine with all of this stuff."

Fire ants washed out by the flooding were also another hazard left by Idalia, according to Merwin.

Lessons learned from ‘No Name Storm of 1993’

While the cleanup could take months, most homes where Idalia made landfall were still standing. Most people boarded up and evacuated well ahead of Idalia's rath. 

Keaton Beach resident Spyridon Aibejeris said many residents left for Idalia because of the "no-name storm of 1993", also known as the "Storm of the Century."

The March 1993 winter storm brought a 12-foot storm surge as it pushed through the Gulf of Mexico and into Florida on its way to eventually dumping feet of snow in the Northeast. And it was the reason building codes were changed in Taylor County. Most homes in Keaton Beach are on stilts today, enabling them to survive Idalia's storm surge.

"Category 3 or 4, whatever was forecasted it’s time to go," Aibejeris said. "In 1993 we got caught in a storm that we didn’t know was coming, and we survived it."

Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Wednesday he believes Idalia was less deadly than Hurricane Ian because people heeded the National Hurricane Center Storm Surge Warnings and local evacuation orders. 

"There is a lot of work to get done," Merwin said. "But if you can evacuate and come home and realize that there's hope to move forward, you're not looking at a complete loss."