Hurricane Irma: Florida locals brave wind to rescue stranded manatees

Storm’s power causes sea to ‘disappear’ along the US coast

(Image credit: Michael Sechler/Facebook)

Residents of storm-battered Florida have braved the wind and rain to come to the aid of beached manatees left stranded in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Two members of the impromptu rescue party in the aptly-named Manatee County shared their experiences on Facebook.

Michael Sechler posted first, drawing attention to the plight of two manatees which he and some friends had spotted in Sarasota Bay, on the west coast of Florida.

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The approaching whirlwind had caused the shoreline to recede, leaving the marine creatures stranded.

“One wasn't moving, the other was breathing and had water in its eyes,” he wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon. Despite their best efforts, the group was unable to shift the mammals. A full-grown adult manatee can easily weigh in excess of 700kg.

“We gave them as much water as we could,” Sechler wrote, adding that he was “hoping the rain and storm surge come soon enough to save them”.

An hour later, animal lovers received cheering news about the fate of the two mammals, courtesy of another Florida local, Marcelo Clavijo.

Clavijo was taking a drive around the area when he ended up joining a “handful” of people gathered on the muddy flats trying to help the stranded creatures, under the supervision of a member of the local sheriff’s office.

“We rolled them on the tarp and then dragged them a 100 yrds [sic],” he wrote, describing the feat as a “pretty cool experience”. Clavijo’s video of the rescuers tending to one of the manatees amid swelling winds has received more than six million views.

After tearing over the Keys island chain to the south of the mainland, Hurricane Irma careened towards the coast of Florida on Sunday evening, the extreme low pressure at its centre drawing up water from inlets and waterways in its path.

Photos taken on Sunday morning showed a vast expanse of exposed ocean floor at Tampa Bay after “winds from Irma pushed the water out of the harbor, leaving a mix of sludge and puddles in its place,” Fox News reports.

The phenomenon has already been observed in parts of the Caribbean battered by Irma earlier in the week. On Saturday, video footage from the Bahamas’ Long Island showing a seaside resort without any sea was widely shared on social media.

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Although a rapidly receding shoreline can be a sign of an impending tsunami, that is not the case in this instance - but that doesn’t mean it is safe.

When the eye of the storm passes, “the wind will shift, and water levels will rise within minutes,” says the Washington Post, “flooding the coast with huge waves and 10 to 15 feet of water”.

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