Many of you have asked about the Keys and how they are doing after Hurricane Irma. It has now been a little over four weeks since the storm made landfall at Cudjoe Key. On October 2nd, the Florida Keys and Key West officially reopened their doors to tourists. This past weekend, we took a look for ourselves to see how this tropical paradise is faring.
The areas from Marathon through Big Pine Key were hit hard. Mobile home parks and campground are now pretty much gone. Relief efforts are scattered throughout the area, and in many places, the landscape looks more like a war zone than a lush tropical island. Trash and debris line the roadways, piled as high as 20 feet in certain areas. Metal objects like washing machines and dryers are separated from yard trash and building materials. There is no doubt that this storm will provide a Darwinist approach to housing construction in the area — survival of the fittest. I assume that that the middle keys will evolve and become stronger because of the storm and that the less than desirable housing will eventually vanish. However, I do think it will be some time before this becomes evident.
One thing I was not expecting was the lack of greenery. The shrubs that line most of US 1 are leafless as a result of the high winds, giving the small trees a dormant appearance. On the plus side, major businesses like banks, grocery stores, and gas stations are open. Roads are clear, and traffic flows freely despite the massive lines of dump trucks tasked with removing the trash from the islands. I did find it interesting to note that buildings with thatched roofs, mostly tiki bars, seemed to fare just fine.
The north and south end of the island chain, Key West, and Key Largo are okay as well. Honestly, in Key West, if it weren’t for a little debris on the side streets, I would have never known there was a storm. Cruise ships are docking daily, filling the streets with the tourists that the economy so desires and needs. Duval Street and its bars are packed in true Key West fashion. Parasailing, jet skis, scooter rentals, and fishing charters are all open and active. At the end of the day, everyone gathers a Mallory Square for the sunset, just like they’ve done for years.
So if you’re thinking about a visiting Key West and the Florida Keys, now is a great time to visit. Go ahead and plan a trip. You may find a few inconveniences, but overall you’ll be surprised at how resilient the islands are. Just remember to tip a little more than usual. They’ve had a tough few weeks, and your support will be much appreciated.
Rusty Gardner 10-8-2017