With only a short while after Hurricane Irma planted itself about the Florida Keys, throwing its violent winds across this land, much of the once pristine landscape remains littered with the residue the storm left behind.
Thankfully, electrical power is back in most places and the Overseas Highway is open all the way to Key West. Although pummelled by great winds and left flooded in parts, largely, the town was spared the kind of destruction seen only a few miles to the north east. Reality is much harsher now
though, even weeks after the storm. Everywhere, all you can see is strewn palm trees, parts of houses, discarded vehicles, water-logged sofas, deformed refrigerators and range cookers. All await removal by the rumbling machinery that have become synonymous in the area. In the docks are lopsided, half-sunken cabin cruisers sticking out of the water.
The main employer in Florida, tourism, was pummelled. Nearly all of the hotels, restaurants, and other businesses closed immediately afterwards. Some have reopened or are about to, but many will decide not to return to the Keys. It’s just not financially viable for them, or their employees no longer have anywhere to live.
Big Pine Key, Marathon and Ramrod Key – all on the ocean side of the islands, really bore the onslaught of Irma’s strength. Houses, apartments and motels, all lie in ruins. All around them, palm trees lay in the direction of the ill forget winds, glued in place as though by an angels breath.
Cruise ships have now returned, to the relief of business owners who had been forced to close and now, once up and running again, have seen few customers. Now, three or four days a week, there is a continuous flow of them from the vessels coming into town.
There are still some things here to be excited about. Goombay Festival, a street party in Bahama Village celebrating our Caribbean roots, is on Oct. 20 to 21; the Stone Crab Eating Contest, also on Oct. 21; and the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Florida is on Oct. 18 to 22.
However, there are some businesses on Duval Street, the main thoroughfare, remain closed because of damage due to flooding. A handful, as mentioned earlier, do not even plan to reopen at all.
No one knows if the area will return to its past bountiful vibrancy. At Mangia Mangia on Key West’s Southard Street, just three of the restaurant’s 30 tables were occupied on a recent Saturday evening. That same night at Willie T’s on Duval Street, was probably less than half full for a usual Saturday, which makes the place seem a little quiet and lonely.
Hopefully the spirit of the locals and hard work of the businesses can come good the revitalise the place. We need our home, our community back. But our spirit will never be broken.