No area was hit harder by Hurricane Irma than the Lower Florida Keys as the Category 4-5 storm ripped across the low-lying Keys between Marathon and Key West. Potential visitors around the world saw on news reports waves of sea water float knee deep on the major commercial roads of Key West. TV reporters stood outside the remains of trailer camps and boat marinas.
While early reports stated 25% of the homes in the Keys were destroyed and 65% sustained damage (which could be minor), by mid-October nearly all the major island resorts had reopened and newer houses, many on higher elevations and concrete buildings did a good job. The most obvious impact to visitors driving to the Keys is a heavy loss of vegetation and damage to coastal properties such a docks and marinas and waterfront older wooden structures.
Despite a Lot of Pics Like This the Keys are Not Puerto Rico or Virgins
Since clearing US1 was first priority many side streets and certainly unoccupied rural roadways still have debris. All 42 bridges of the Overseas Highway passed the safety test and just two 300-yard strips of highway had to be replaced on the main road.
Big Resorts Like Key Largo Marriott Reopened Quickly
Luxury resorts and urban hotels suffered little or no serious hurricane damage and have opened, offering a lot of post-Irma prices that go to the end of the year. The one resort we saw that wasn’t fully operational was the wonderful Hawk’s Cay Resort which sits on a small island with causeway. The big marina was still undergoing repairs, but the other facilities are fully operating.
People may be wondering about the islands tourist attractions – both natural and man-made. John Pennekamp State Park is operating its glass-bottom boats and other tours, but with the waterfront destruction, there are no scuba and marina facilities. Bahia Honda State Park is open only for day visitors. People will need to go online for the reopening of the dolphin shows in the Keys. The highway signs are still standing, but there are trees to be cleared and buildings to repair.
Key West Landmarks Clean Up and Go
Key West visitors will not notice much damage to the Hemingway House or Sloppy Joe’s or Captain Tony’s Saloon. The latter two places like a lot of Key West’s commercial structures gets flooded by storms almost every year today and have to go into a thorough cleaning. I must admit the smell of alcohol is so strong that I would not notice the salt water intrusion into Key West bars and nightclubs. In thirty years some of Key West’s streets might look like Venetian canals and the regulars will still arrive.
The one literary landmark that was destroyed was poet and children writer Shel Silverstein’s 1901 cottage at 618 William Street took a direct hit from a huige ficus tree and was leveled to the ground.
Waterfront and small island landmarks like Islamorada’s Robbies and The Moorings (once home for Netflix’s Bloodline TV show) were still undergoing restoration since their marina’s took a direct hit. Key Largo’s Alabama Jack’s, which always looked like a collapsing crab shack, was still operating.
Stock Island & Marathon Desalination Plants Show Future
Sad to say, the famous wooden 1829 Bat Tower on Sugarloaf Key fell down and reconstruction is probably doubtful since not even the bats wanted to stay there.
I’m sure people are worried about the unique wildlife on the Florida Keys. The Keys Deer Refuge is closed to visitors as are all state refuges in the Keys. The key deer are being feed and helped by park rangers as a restoration of essential vegetation and protection takes place. And an inventory in Key West shows that Hemingway’s infamous cat population found shelter during Irma. The Conchs have a history of being survivors…. even the animals.