Ripped roofing, crashing waves: How Irma rocked St. Pete Beach hotels

The foam roof of the Howard Johnson on St. Pete Beach litters the parking lot after Hurricane Irma passed through St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
The foam roof of the Howard Johnson on St. Pete Beach litters the parking lot after Hurricane Irma passed through St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017.WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Published September 11 2017
Updated September 11 2017

ST. PETE BEACH — Keith Overton watched as Hurricane Irma ripped the Howard Johnson's roof from the building around 9 p.m. Sunday.

"It blew it all the way to the beach," Overton said. "At that point, we said it's time to go in for the night."

Waters retreated in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday night, exposing buoys that Overton said are normally about 75 yards back from the shoreline.

"It was about the size of a football field that you could walk on," Overton said.

By Monday morning, waves were crashing along the shore, which was noticeably free of much debris.

As the president of TradeWinds, which owns 35 acres along St. Pete Beach, Overton oversaw a crew of 52 people who stayed on site Sunday while Irma ragged around them.

When most of the rain cleared Monday morning, Overton and others ventured outside to see what Irma had left for them. Trade Winds held power all night and seemed to dodge any major damage.

The wind still whipped fiercely, thrashing palm trees that stubbornly held their ground. Wind tunnels formed between buildings, forcing people to hold on to the fence to pull themselves through.

Up and down Gulf Boulevard, most signs and buildings remained intact. Windows held strong. Trees stood tall. Detour signs from construction near Corey Avenue were busted open, but construction barriers remained in place.

The Waffle House sign appeared to be one of the hardest hit, losing its "s" and "e" to proclaim WAFFLE HOU.

When Irma's last bands pass, Overton is prepared to host 700 Duke Energy workers at the TradeWinds. They'll stay the rest of the week while restoring power to Pinellas County.

Overton, meanwhile, is focused on getting the property back up and running.

"Cleanup is mostly what's going to happen today," he said. "Tomorrow, we should be open."

COMPLETE COVERAGE:Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] Follow @cljohnst

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