Update to Travel Series: Key West, by Angela Rieck
I have written a series on Key West. The series is a love story and a travel story that highlights Key West in all of its quirkiness. In Key West, we end a lot of our comments, critiques or observations with the simple phrase “it’s Key West.” Since I wrote these essays, nature has let Key West know who is in charge. Nevertheless, we will be publishing this series and I will provide a postscript to let you know where each segment is in the temporal space of Key West…post Irma.
As most of you know, on September 9 & 10th, Hurricane Irma slammed into the Florida Keys with all of her fury. Well not all. Ground zero for Irma in the United States was Cudjoe Key, which is about 20 miles east of Key West. (The keys run east to west and Key West is most western key.) Cudjoe Key, Big Pine Key, Sugarloaf Key, Summerland Key and Marathon bore the brunt of Irma. Key West, while sustaining 60+ mph winds for 24 hours, saw a reduced version of Irma. Apparently Cuba wore down the western side of the storm.
Despite Nature’s benevolence to Key West, on September 11th, Key West was left without water, electricity (100% of customers lost power), sewer, cell phone service, US Highway Route 1 (the only roadway that links the keys to the continental US), gasoline, cable and Internet. A week later, there was still no reliable source of water, spotty electrical service, as well as limited services for cell phones, Internet, gasoline and sewer. US Highway Route 1 was restored in 48 hours, but access to middle and lower keys was prohibited until September 17 at 7 a.m.
Many in Key West ignored the evacuation order. Estimates range from 4,000 to 8,000 Key Westers decided to stay…some waited out the storm in a Cat 5 location, but most chose their homes; much to the consternation of first responders. However, given the aftermath, it is understandable…there is little more frustrating than being prevented from going home.
Life in Key West for several weeks after the hurricane was difficult, mainly due to the absence of water and electricity. Key West gets its water from Miami and while the main pipe remained intact, the devastation in Marathon and the middle and lower Keys resulted in so many ancillary broken pipes that the water drained on the ground before it could get to Key West. The power company lacked sufficient resources to restore power. Few stores were open and those that were had limited supplies and long lines. The Naval base provided water at a local checkpoint; however average wait time to get through the line was 2-4 hours.
But Key Westers are Key Westers and are surviving as best they can…barbeques of formerly frozen food were commonplace and all were welcome to partake. Local restaurants emptied their storage centers and offered food to anyone who stopped by. For now, Key West is rebuilding and many restaurants and businesses are back; it is going to hold its Fantasy Fest. Most of the buildings remain and all of the bridges to Key West are safe, which is a testament to the building codes. Those buildings that were destroyed were too near to the encroaching ocean or in the path of a falling tree. Shel Silverstein’s (one of many Pulitzer Prize winning authors who live or have lived in Key West) home was destroyed by a banyan tree. But for most of us, our yards still need to be cleaned of trees, bushes or flowers, all of which can be easily restored when we can get down there.
So like Key West, this series will go on and like Key West, I hope to keep my sense of humor. The Sharknado graphic was created by our local power company before the hurricane…after all, it’s Key West.