ON PINELLAS COUNTY’S BARRIER ISLANDS — About an hour after Pinellas sheriff’s deputies reopened access to the barrier islands around 6 a.m. Thursday, the streets remained quiet, with only a few people coming out to assess the damage.
Businesses and beachfront owners from Clearwater Beach to Pass-A-Grille were among the first to be evacuated in Pinellas County’s Zone A. But after Hurricane Ian shifted south, the county’s beachfront towns were mostly spared.
“The winds were much more intense during Hurricane Irma, and this storm, fortunately, the winds weren’t as severe,” said Deputy Chuck Skipper.
People also took evacuation orders seriously and sheltered in place when the storm passed through, Skipper said.
By 7 a.m. a man was out walking his dog in Indian Shores. Businesses at John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk in Madeira Beach remained boarded up but were largely damage-free. Not far away, deputies guarded a downed utility line near Gulf Boulevard and 134th Avenue in Madeira Beach.
Property manager Bruce Myers took two days to prep the Dolphin Reef Condominiums in Indian Rocks Beach for the storm. Myers placed sandbags at each unit, shut down the pool and stashed away outside furniture.
He came back this morning to no real damage and just fallen palm fronds.
“We lucked out,” Myers said.
A sign for the Two Mermaids Resort in Treasure Island had fallen and shattered. A very shredded but still standing American flag waved in the wind in front of the Penthouse Beach Club.
John Petrilena, 63, works at the Penthouse and stayed there to ride out the storm. He moved here from Pittsburgh in April, so this was his first hurricane. He said the destruction that took place in Fort Myers could have happened in Pinellas.
“My heart certainly went out to those people because that so, so easily could’ve been us,” he said.
At Pass-A-Grille Beach, Susan Hilton fought strong winds as she snapped photos of the ocean to post in a Facebook group. Hilton, 65, said had come to the area to check on the houses of friends who had evacuated.
Compared to the damage done here by Irma, she said, “this seems not as bad.”
Other damage included a toppled light pole in Pasadena and some debris in Clearwater Beach. In St. Pete Beach, a convenience store was missing some shingles and the sign for the Polynesian Putter mini golf course and Sea Palms Motel had toppled, crushing a chainlink fence.
The Hotel Zamora, also in St. Pete Beach, suffered a couple thousand dollars in damages to the roof, said engineering supervisor Jeff Rose. The storm destroyed some artificial boxwood greenery and ripped off the outside bar’s countertop.
Still, Rose said, Tampa Bay escaped the brunt of a major storm.
“We were prepared for worse,” he said.
Times staff writer Tracey McManus contributed to this report.
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane coverage
WHEN THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
WHAT TO DO IF HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.
IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.