"My anemometer only registers up to 120 miles per hour," he said. "The needle went up against the peg at that point and stayed against the peg for four hours."
On the other side of Tavernier, Herbert Alley, owner of the Key Haven Motel, suffered little damage, since his place was on the lee side of the storm. But both he and Captain Carpenter reported considerable injury to the beautiful coral reefs, which are now included in an offshore preserve. On visits to the reefs Alley found that the fish populations had shifted. In some places there were greater fish concentrations, and in others they were fewer than before. He felt they would soon become stabilized according to food supply.
At the Theater of the Sea, where all kinds of marine creatures are normally kept in a series of pools, the porpoises now cavort around a house blown into their big lagoon by the hurricane. Phelps McKenney, the proprietor, lost only one of his five porpoises. It swam away during the high water but the others elected to stay at home. Windy, his big California sea lion, wound up at Marathon, 40 miles away. There his deep barking in the night frightened people already suffering from hurricane jitters. Finally, when daylight came, a man located Windy and fed him some fish. Someone else recognized him, and sent for McKenney, who found him none the worse for his unexpected journey.
Windy is back home now, and apparently glad of it. "He's as free as he can be because my fences are gone," said McKenney. "He could go out into the ocean and start back to California where he came from. But he prefers to stay." McKenney, meanwhile, is rebuilding his curio shop and restaurant, which will be ready soon. Then comes the slower task of collecting live marine specimens to replace those that escaped. "I'm shooting for December 15," he said. "I hope I make it."
In Upper Matecumbe, Mrs. Helene Baur and Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Sandrey escorted us through the wreckage of their unique establishment, the Chesapeake. Before Donna, the Chesapeake included a large restaurant decorated with numberless antiques and curios. There were motel units and a large houseboat that had been set up on shore as a home for the owners. The storm cleared out the restaurant, wrecked the motel cottages, uprooted the houseboat and almost sent it out to sea again. Sandrey and five other men took refuge in an ornamental tower at a corner of the restaurant. For days afterward he and his wife and Mrs. Baur conducted treasure hunts into the mangroves to retrieve curiosa ranging from ebony elephants to a stuffed jaguar which was found in a treetop. One of its ears had been shot off by military guards sent in to protect the islanders from looting and other dangers.
Now carpenters are already at work rebuilding the restaurant, which, it is hoped, will be in operation by January. The motel units and houseboat will be dealt with later. Mrs. Baur said that when the restaurant is rebuilt they will have a "Hurricane Alley" in which battered antiques, salvaged from the mangroves, will be on display. They will be presided over by Donna, a female figure with wildly blowing hair and a dress made of hurricane flags.
Farther down the line, Dick Williams, a popular Islamorada fishing guide, showed the wreckage of his Coral Cove resort. Williams had spent 15 years building up this establishment, with its motel units, docks, boats and swimming pool. He was simply wiped out by the hurricane. Only concrete foundations mark the sites of some of his buildings.
"It will take longer for me to build back because I have to start from scratch," he said. "I have to have architects design new buildings and that takes time. We'll put up a temporary dock and I will be fishing by the first week in November. I'm aiming at having new buildings ready by February 1."
Standing by his television set which lay rusting in the sand, Williams told us what had happened in the famous bonefish flats of the area. Actually, the storm did little damage to the flats, but it left some unexpected hazards. Guides will have to beware of sunken refrigerators and other submerged obstacles in the shallow water.
Islamorada suffered a heavier battering than either Tavernier or Marathon because it was right on the edge of the hurricane's eye, with the wind coming directly from the ocean. The Olney Inn, known for its beautiful grove of coconut palms, was hit by a 12-foot storm wave, and water rose inside the building to a height of five and a half feet. Other structures on the property were washed from their foundations or split in half. A big houseboat, which had been sunk in the ground and used as a rental unit, came to rest 1,000 feet away. With dead and toppled palms strewn everywhere, the once lovely grove now had a shell-torn look. Shelton Stone, the caretaker, said 608 of these trees, representing most of the grove, had been lost. He doubted that the inn could be made ready for this season.