Residents of unincorporated Duette in northeast Manatee County, unlike their coastal neighbors 45 minutes to the southwest in Bradenton, were not worried Saturday about storm surge from advancing Hurricane Irma.
Duette is 112 feet above sea level, the highest point in the county.
But wind and tornadoes are a different matter to the roughly 700 residents of this community comprised of ranches and farms and pioneer-like families.
Several years ago, an EF-0 or EF-1 tornado claimed the lives of two Duette residents.
I sit in my recliner a lot and I can look out the window and see deer walking across the fields. We see turkeys every day. We hear all the birds. We can hear locusts just going at it like crazy. We see things that people in town will never see.
Duette resident Betty Glassburn
Thirteen years ago, when Hurricane Charley came through the area, many of Duette’s residents went without well water for a week when downed power lines interrupted the electrical service needed to run pumps.
Duette has no centralized water system and relies on pumps, which require electricity.
Duette Fire Chief Jim Leonard on Saturday said that while it seems to some that Duette is a magnet for bad weather, it’s not the case.
“Every area gets bad weather but you may not hear about it,” Leonard said. “I do hear people say, ‘I don’t want to go to Duette because it has storms.’ It’s not true, though.”
Still, because many homes are frame or mobile, when bad weather strikes a rural community, it can be bad.
“Irma could take down every house here,” said Duette resident Betty Glassburn, namesake of the Betty Glassburn Legacy Scholarship recently created by the Manatee County 4-H Foundation to honor Glassburn who worked at the Manatee County Extension Office for 15 years and is known countywide as a super-volunteer.
“We have a lot of older frame homes out here, lot of mobile homes,” Leonard said. “Flooding is probably not a real big issue except for certain small areas but it’s mostly going to be structural damage, trees down, power lines down.”
Irma could take down every house here.
Duette resident Betty Glassburn
Leonard, who just about knows every resident by name and they often call him on his cell phone during an emergency rather than 911, said he and his staff of 13 volunteers are ready to help those in need.
“But we do advise them to go to a neighbor or evacuate to a shelter if they are in a mobile home or a home they have concerns about structurally,” Leonard said.
A country way of life
Rural areas tend to have non-chain stores, such as Duette Country Store. It was open Saturday morning and intended to be open Sunday if possible to help the community during the hurricane’s pass, said Mike Seng, owner of the store for 13 years.
“It depends on how bad it is on how long we stay open,” Seng said. “I want to help my community if I can.”
Seng was waiting on a fuel truck Saturday so he will have gasoline people can use in their generators – most Duette residents have at least one.
Teresa Giles, owner of PJ’s Sandwich Shop in Parrish, was also working Saturday. Like in nearby Duette, Parrish residents were putting up plywood over windows and mostly worried about wind, not flooding.
“Everyone else is shut down,” Giles said when asked why she was open. “People are scrambling to find things to eat and I have everything done at my house I can do so I decided to take care of people.”
Baby tomatoes may become Irma’s victims
Duette, along with Parrish, Myakka City and other rural locales, represent the county’s significant agricultural and ranching economy as well as its country way of life, a place where everyone knows your name and horses and cows in the front yard are not unusual.
In fact, acre after acre of farm fields with three-inch baby tomatoes could be seen all along State Road 62 in Parrish and Duette on Saturday.
“Those baby tomatoes are filled with water and I doubt they can withstand the wind,” Glassburn said. “If it’s bad, we won’t have tomatoes or we will have tomatoes at higher prices.”
Maybe the biggest hit will be to nature itself, Glassburn said.
“I sit in my recliner a lot and I can look out the window and see deer walking across the fields,” Glassburn said. “We see turkeys every day. We hear all the birds. We can hear locusts just going at it like crazy. We see things that people in town will never see.”