Hurricane Idalia Wreaks Havoc on Cedar Key, Florida

By Mia Taylor August 31, 2023

A raging Hurricane Idalia wreaks unprecedented destruction on the serene artist haven of Cedar Key, Florida - turning it into a hazardous flood zone with no power.

Once a green haven, known for the trees that densely covered the island, Cedar Key, Florida, is a small island town located about four miles away in the Gulf of Mexico. This isolated locale, linked to the mainland by a single road spanning four small, low-lying bridges, serves as a serene refuge for artists, writers and so-called 'adventure' tourists. But today, the picture isn't as peaceful. Hurricane Idalia has turned this tight-knit community of 800 into a disaster zone.

In its violent wake, record-high storm surges flooded most of the island, hoisting centuries-old homes into the Gulf, crucial infrastructure like power, water and sewage systems have been crippled, and the town’s streets and beaches are littered with household objects and other debris.

However, despite the devastating destruction and the island's current state of power outage, Cedar Key's citizens, well-versed in dealing with the adverse weather conditions common in their area, reacted swiftly to the early warnings and adhered to a mandatory evacuation order – thus effectively preventing any loss of life. Now, the long road to recovery and reconstruction begins.

Michael Bobbitt, a Cedar Key local, stayed behind during the hurricane. Speaking to the press on Wednesday night, he recounted, “It was a tough evening and an equally challenging morning. But the sight of everyone pitching in to clean the streets and check on their neighbors is a silver lining in this grim situation.”

Images shared on the Cedar Key Fire Rescue Facebook page, show the extent of the early destruction. Bobbitt describes the scene as "heartbreaking" as he surveyed the wreckage of many buildings and old villas, yet he remains optimistic about the community's resilience.

The history of Cedar Key brings its inhabitants solace. From its heyday as Florida’s bustling cross-state railroad terminus and port city, attracting notable figures like famed naturalist John Muir, to its current role as a clam-producing powerhouse and tourism hub, Cedar Key has weathered numerous disasters. Notably, an unnamed hurricane in 1896 wiped out the island, and in 1950, Hurricane Easy left the island stripped of most of its roofs.

Mayor Heath Davis on Tuesday had stressed the seriousness of evacuation orders as Idalia approached, warning that emergency services would halt once winds hit 39 MPH. Thankfully, only a few brave souls, like Bobbitt, decided to stay behind. Bobbitt, who stayed to assist his elderly neighbors, was able to help an elderly couple evacuate before the roads flooded and cut off the island from the mainland.

Images and videos shared by those who evacuated depict an unsettling scene. One resident, Shely Boivin, the manager of a beachfront motel in Cedar Key shared her shock upon seeing the images; “Everything is flooded. The water is just – it’s everywhere."

By sheer chance, Cedar Key escaped the worst of the potential damage, according to Levy County Emergency Management Director John MacDonald. Yet, the islanders face the daunting task of recovery, reconstruction and reclaiming their tranquility amidst this testing period.