MARCO ISLAND, Fla. – As people out West brace for Tropical Storm Kay, on the other side of the country, Floridians are preparing for the next big Atlantic storm.
Saturday will mark five years since Hurricane Irma made landfall. The storm hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 before moving to Marco Island that afternoon. The coastal barrier island is located on the southwestern side of Florida and is made of deposited sand and runs parallel to the coastline.
Even after downgrading to a Category 3, Irma produced a storm surge and high winds that heavily damaged homes and businesses on the island. Now, the community is working to prepare themselves to battle the wrath of future storms.
In Marco Island, the fire department has been working out of the second floor of another city building as they wait for their new home to be completed. It replaces the old one built in 1992 before current codes were even created.
"We're very fortunate to have very good building codes in the state of Florida. That's all based on experience, beginning with Hurricane Andrew," Marco Island Fire Department Chief Chris Byrne said. "Those standards will help them better prepare for what hurricane season can bring."
It will also help them better prepare for what hurricane season can bring.
"The building was damaged by Irma," Byrne said. "But the most important concern was a rising storm surge that began to cause a flooding concern at the station, and we had to evacuate the firefighters from the building."
The storm sent firefighters next door to the police department’s second floor.
"The winds and the storm conditions were still too difficult to respond at that time," Byrne added.
While the fire station was spared of floods, after Irma, the city set out to make the area more resilient for hurricane season, tearing down the old for something stronger and higher.
"About a level of 205-mph protection. It is solid concrete," Byrne said. "The first floor is at a 12-foot elevation."
Byrne said many aspects would be above code, like thicker and stronger impact windows and bay doors shown in renderings.
"We also have increasing generator fuel capacity so that the building can be on a generator at a longer amount of time," he said. "We also have potable water holding tank, so if the water system goes down, we have a large tank of continuous water for that, for the operations."
The price tag was just over $12.5 million. Several other projects funded improved an evacuation route and main artery of Marco Island in front of the station. The city also raised the road and replaced storm drains.
"We've already seen positive effects from some rain event we've had that it has eliminated our flooding risk in this," Byrne said.
The new fire station now provides a fortified bunker for fire responders during severe weather events.
"And the most important thing for the community is the quicker public safety and utilities can deploy out after a storm, the quicker the community will begin to recover," Byrne said.
Construction crews have come a long way since breaking ground last September. They're expected to be complete next March.