Florida Islands Start to Rebound from Hurricane Irma

On September 11, 2017 Nikitas3.com wrote a commentary about Hurricane Irma which had struck Florida on September 10. I said that the ‘global warming’ alarmists had grossly exaggerated Irma for political purposes and that we were all thankful that the whole state of Florida had not been flattened as we were warned that it might be.

However there is one isolated area that suffered heavily in Irma and that is the middle section of The Keys, a chain of dozens of islands that stretches more than 100 miles southwest into the Atlantic Ocean from the tip of Florida near Miami.

The Keys were originally linked together and to the mainland by the Flagler railroad but when the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 destroyed the tracks and trestles, work commenced on a road. The population of The Keys has spiked since then, particularly in the post-World War II economic boom.

Today The Keys have a year-round population of 75,000 and they get 3.5 million annual visitors for the beaches, diving, fishing and boating, particularly during the 8 months when The Keys are not baking under the Summer sun.

The Keys, which are described by Wikipedia as a ‘coral cay archipelago’, are an impressive destination. Houses and trailers are crammed by the dozens, hundreds and thousands onto an island chain with bright white sand beaches including Big Pine Key, Cudjoe Key, Ramrod Key, Bot Key, Grassy Key, Little Torch Key and others, some as small as one square mile like Duck Key, or Conch Key (about 1,500 feet long, elevation 3 feet).

Key West is the legendary capital city but it is small in scale, more like a town, with just 27,000 people. It is located at the end of the road.

There is a Mapquest view of The Keys here. Click on the satellite icon for that. Or you can use Google Maps to see what The Keys look like from the ground pre-Irma.

The Keys are a fascinating piece of real estate as these islands skip across the calm sea connected by Route 1 that often passes for long distances over open water, like on Seven Mile Bridge. Many keys are uninhabited like Missouri and Fat Deer. Many appear to be just bogs a few feet above sea level, with the ocean around them quite shallow and even stagnant in the bays.

Since the Keys have only about one-third of 1% of Florida’s population they did not get the media attention that they might have gotten if Irma had smashed into, say, the city of Tampa. Still the damage in the middle part of the Keys is catastrophic. Key West itself had minor damage.

If you want to see some videos of Irma’s destruction you can go here to see what happened to Big Pine Key and others, or type into the YouTube search engine ‘bot key irma’ or ‘cudjoe key irma’. The pictures are heartbreaking.

It is being reported that The Keys have 50,000 homes and that 12,000 were destroyed in the hurricane and 30,000 were damaged. It is hard to guess what the financial toll will be since we tend to see pictures of only the worst, but the tab will certainly be in the billions.

It is sad to see videos of people returning to find their homes ruined. Or looking for lost friends and relatives. One video showed an elderly man sitting in front of his wrecked house and it is plain to see that Irma may take him too.

This tragedy shows that The Keys are more than beach bums in flip-flops and the ‘Margaritaville’ lifestyle that Jimmy Buffett portrays in his famous musical paean to life down there (margarita refers to the alcoholic cocktail). It is a serious retirement spot and tourist destination.

The Keys are downright gorgeous. If you watch pre-Irma videos or look on the street view of Google Maps you see what a surreal place it was – and will be again – easily one of the most distinctive island locales in the world.

For many years now we have heard about people “living the good life” and boasting about the great times in the ‘endless Summer’ of the Keys, spending every day in a bathing suit and with prodigious amounts of booze thrown in.

This is the ‘Margaritaville’ culture, also known as “island escapism”, that Buffet made famous with refrains like “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere…” (referring to Happy Hour). Interestingly Buffett doesn’t live in the The Keys; he lives on ultra-exclusive Palm Beach Island, which is 100 miles north of Miami where president Trump has his Mar-a-Lago home. Buffett not only is a multimillionaire entertainer but a businessman too, owner of two restaurant chains.

The Keys have a singular geographic disposition. These islands are isolated. There is only one road in and out. But to the people there The Keys are the whole world and that is all that matters.

In post-hurricane videos the residents try to sound upbeat in their distress (“we’ll rebuild better than ever”) but we know that they are suffering. Some folks have lost everything. Many must still be in a state of shock to see their homes, some very modest, destroyed, along with their neighbors’ homes, and then the whole block and the entire neighborhood.

Boosters say that tourists should “Come on down! The Keys are open for business!” which is happy talk. Areas at the east and west end of The Keys did OK but it is going to take several years for the middle Keys to get back to a modicum of normalcy.

Even the leaves on the low-lying vegetation were blown away, producing a more barren and depressing look. Amazingly the taller palm trees survived. They are very flexible and the palm fronds are strongly attached.

Also amazingly The Keys themselves are still standing. According to the alarmist ‘climate change’ rhetoric you would think that they would have been washed away but they were not; the ocean has fallen back to pre-Irma levels although beaches, sea walls, boats and docks have been significantly rearranged.

The destruction in places like Big Pine Key is apocalyptic. Boats of every type, from small motor craft up to luxury yachts, are tossed around like toys. Homes are flattened or blown to pieces, particularly lightweight trailers. Caution is even being exercised in retrieving submerged boats because of oil, diesel fuel and raw sewage from wrecked boats polluting the waters.

Thousands of homes that were not damaged or destroyed by wind were flooded by the tidal surge and already are suffering an aggressive black mold that is thriving in the sweltering Autumn sun. Multiply this by tens of thousands of cases and you have a major problem particularly in seasonal homes where the owners are far away and cannot address the mold immediately.

Irma had a hit-or-miss way to dole out her wrath. There were houses ripped apart next to homes that look unscathed. “There’s a price to pay no matter where you live,” said one glum resident as he surveyed his wrecked property.

And while we have often heard about the ‘paradise’ of Sunny Florida, hurricanes sometimes strike with fury and have been doing so for millennia. When they do so the best thing to do is run and then pray.

“God will keep me here as long as he needs me here,” said another distraught homeowner surveying his property, fighting back tears. Another bearded old gentleman, who only had a bicycle for transportation and who lived in a tiny trailer said poignantly, “Maybe it’s not a bad time to die…”

It’s hard to guess how long the recovery will take by watching from afar. It all depends on the personal financial situations of homeowners, on insurance payments and bank loans, etc.

But from what I have seen of the residents down there in videos both pre- and post-Irma they will rebuild because they are specially dedicated to their unique domain. As owners take responsibility for their individual properties, and with workers flowing in, The Keys will surely bounce back. There already is significant cleanup activity.

In short Margaritaville will be fine over the long run. Let us all hope for the best. And now that I have seen what The Keys are all about I’d love to visit myself. See you there!

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