Today I had the opportunity to come alongside my Rockstar friend Raquel as she continued her work this week as a first responder assessing and meeting the basic needs of the residents of Key West. Upon entry to the upper keys, the devastation depicted in photos was now stretched out before me for miles and miles. This was going to take a long time to rebuild.
The streets were lined with the debris that Irma had dropped like splintered crumbs on her war path. As I continued the ride down south, I noticed cars parked like a drive-in theatre along the median. After watching this scene play out several times along US-1, I began to realize these vehicles were intentionally positioned to ride out the storm. Raquel later informed me that drivers chose higher ground to leave their cars in hopes Irma’s winds would have mercy.
Entry into the lower keys, brought more of what the upper keys forewarned. Cudjoe and Big Pine Key seemingly suffered some of the hardest blows.
…I could continue share much more about what I saw, but I would rather share what I felt.
Driving in solo, I felt surrounded by a sense of protection, purpose, a drive to take care of this community by the governing bodies who stepped in to secure the islands and prepare for their residents’ return. From caravans carrying port-o-lets, to telephone and cable companies working overtime to re-establish connections for their customers. The Florida Highway Patrol, and the surrounding counties’ law enforcement united forces to set up perimeters ensuring safe environments for this work to continue. The large-scale military presence was comforting to those there for good will and a strong deterrent to those with other plans in mind.
Free water, ice, meals and even tire repair was offered by locals, in addition to what the Red Cross and FEMA provided.
I had the chance to chat with a principal of a private school in Key West. He shared that 90% of their families had evacuated and now in preparation for their return were asking what they could bring back. He was hesitant to make requests, knowing these families had yet to see what they were actually returning to. Still, I love that their desire was to care for the needs of others, before they had the ability to assess their own. This was the overarching spirit of the Keys.
Florida Keys you have served as a refuge, retreat, a beautiful escape for us for so many years —now it is our time to give back to you. We will rebuild and we will see an even brighter, stronger community in the months and years to come. Though the damage is great, the heart of what makes you our favorite getaway still beats strong.
It may take a long time for the Keys to look like it used to, but it will not take that long for it to feel like home again.