The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Hurricane Irma: 9-14-17: Cutting down trees, piling up brush, restoring Fort Zach

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park ranger Ed Cunningham went back to work today cutting brush, removing trees, piling debris and trying awfully hard to handle his grief over the devastation of the park. He told me tonight that “there are years of work to do” before we get back the Fort Zach we love.

Fort Zach took the brunt of Hurricane Irma as the westerly winds from the back side tore through that tidy little spit at the end of Key West. At least a third of the Australian pines are down and gone. Most of the other trees and vegetation is destroyed. And the beach? There’s sand, but not the way we remember it. Ed says the sand is up into the remaining trees, the picnic tables are buried and onlyt the tops of the grills are showing above the sand. That’s feet of sand. Not a few inches. There was a catch in his voice again this evening. Tomorrow, he and his fellow park rangers go back at 8 a.m., and they’ll work until just before the sunset curfew. For days. Weeks. Years.

“You know,” he said as he called from the cell tower behind new City Hall, hurrying because it was almost curfew, “you know how back in Rockford at the end of the winter there would be those mountains of snow piles that dwarfed cars and filled parking lots? Well, that’s exactly what the streets of Key West are like today — except instead of dirty white snow, it’s dead green.”

“You think parking was a problem before the hurricane,” he joked. “Well, it’s worse now. Every square inch of available parking along the streets is filled with mountains of vegetation and debris. Some streets are barely one way. If people came back now, they’d have no place to park.”

The city’s debris removal contractor is at work, but the task of removing everything that was green last week is monumental.

My park ranger sounds, despite it all, happy. Forester and tree hugger that he is, Eagle Scout that he was, Ed thrives on things like chain saws, hammers and heavy equipment. He grins when he comes home from work after getting to use the Fort Zach tractor and guiding tours of the fort. He said it was drizzling tonight. No sunset to speak of.

We’re minus the Facebook trolls!

A week ago we were screwing in the shutters, gassing up the car and entertaining ourselves with Hurricane Irma Comes To Key West Cat 5 stories (hurricanes, not my Cat 5s).

Today, we’re flat worn out. And, by we, I mean we’uns off-island watching from our semi-comfortable evacuation retreats, with air conditioning, running water, a toilet that flushes on command, a pizza place on speed dial and ice cubes for adult beverages. So, since we have nothing else to do, we ratchet up our indignation and yell at whomever happens to be closest. (I just grumped at my mother; I know the feeling.)

Except not on our Key West Hurricane Irma Facebook Page. Here we’ve shown the best side of humans under stress. Not so in my News Feed or on some of the other Facebook pages I follow. Here has been a refuge; I chalk that up to you. Those who’ve followed it since we made our first post at 8:12 a.m., Sept. 5, know this: Over the past nine days, we have reached three-quarters of a million people with our posts, there are 12,000 people following the page and there’ve been more than 128,000 video views.

We are the most civilized collection of online family. When this mess is over, you can tell yourself you did good. Thanks for letting me be part of that.

What we know, don’t know, and think we know

Keys Energy estimates maybe by the end of the week Key West will have power. And, that, my friends, is the best news of the day. I’m not dragging out the hairdryer in celebration just yet, but you gotta give credit to those guys climbing poles and chasing wires. Dangerous, hot, nasty work.

There are no hordes of looters at your door. I mean, really, folks? Use some common sense and stop feeding on headline hysteria. OK, not on our page, but it’s out there. The sheriff and the city police report, like maybe, four reports from the whole county. Give our island people some credit. They’re not breaking into your homes in roving packs. Sure, it could happen. That’s why law enforcement is roaming around, too.

Running water. Getting there, but slow going. Each day on-island folks get a couple hours mid-day and a couple in the evening. So they get a shower. A pox on the people who are washing cars and cleaning outdoor spaces. Those greedy ones are making it tough for everyone else. is the new Monroe County Emergency Management website that will provide the latest information on the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. I hope. The site’s content remains pretty thin, but I’m hoping they are committed to keeping it up to date. For now, she says immodestly, we’ve got more updated news on the Facebook Page.

Find someone. Everyone has been begging for an efficient “wellness check” system. I dug around the new website this afternoon and found this. Send an email with details to and they’ll get it to the right place.

Old Publix is open with shortened hours. Good news for those who didn’t plan for a couple weeks of canned goods. Do not, however, expect to find delicacies for a cocktail party and, fresh stuff will be hard to come by until supply lines can support those big trucks.

Communications getting better. Yeah, you’re getting calls. Finally. I got a text from a friend this evening saying she actually had data service — and thus internet. Ah, the simple pleasures of the digital world.

And, no, we still don’t know when we can go home. We can’t go home until there is stable electric, water, sewer, food deliveries and medical services. Each hour we get closer thanks to those nameless, sweaty, tired, frustrated men and women lifting, tying, cutting, checking, building and fixing.

It sucks to read posts or listen to calls from on-island folks who have taken down shutters, or who are sharing cocktails and cooking up the frozen stuff with friends. Seems unfair they can work on their houses and we can’t. I know that’s making a lot of us irritable. We don’t want to admit that we harbor a secret thought or two that they’re being rewarded for not evacuating and we’re being punished for getting the heck off the rock.

That’s the way it is with decisions. (Cliche alert) Sometimes you catch the ring and sometimes you fall off the horse.

From way out here, in those NOAA satellite pictures, our homes look just like they did a week ago. From the ground, it’s a much different story. We escaped the predictions. We did not escape the damage.

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media. She and her husband, Ed, live in The Meadows of Key West with their Cat 5s.





  1. Judith Herrick

    Thank you for writing and keeping us “off islanders” informed. I have a second home in KW and have been reading your posts daily to get information. Fort Zach is and always has been our favorite beach, too beautiful for words in my opinion. With people like Ed, it will become beautiful again, I am certain of it. I hope to meet you one day in KW, in the meantime, thanks so much for the blog, and the prayers will keep coming.

  2. Christine

    I love your blog! Reading what you write feels so comforting, hearing any news that we can about KW. One of my fav vac spots. Hoping you get home soon. Next time we are there, we’ll look up Ed at the park (and ask for you also). You are a wonderful writer! Praying for the Keys every day!

  3. mr. rogers

    i went to the fort zachary webcam and the last video photo is 9/9/0217 at 2:39:39 pm. it looks like the whole park in the photo is underwater up to the cam. stay positive each day will be better.

  4. Paula

    So wonderful to read your posts and updates. Although we only have the privilege of visiting three weeks a year, we feel like KW is our home-away-from-home, Thankful for any information we can read.

  5. Sandra Bock

    Thank you the continuing updates.I check my phone first thing every morning to hear about progress.

  6. Dana Sebek

    thank you for these wonderful posts. so sad about Fort Zach. Hopefully all the downed trees will spread seeds and reseed the area? we are continuing to pray.

    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Well, those Australian pines are aggressive and invasive, which is why arborists steer clear of them, but that could be good news after a hurricane. Mother Nature and all that! 🙂

  7. Irma Simpson

    Superb first draft of history, Linda! Without that relatively tiny shift in Irma’s direction, Tampa Bay would be suffering the same damage and deprivation as the Keys. I read your posts avidly, knowing that there will be a ‘next time’ when our piece of paradise will not be so lucky. Thanks, and write on!

  8. Juan Benitez

    Great post as always!!! Thank you.
    Yesterday I was thinking “they are not gonna let us back there until there’s electricity, water and food”. Now after reading this entry, I’m adding: parking spots.

  9. Wendy Wolfe

    Don’t know if these are “happy tears “rolling down my face or the everyday after Irma tears, thank you for your posts and info, Ed is a great man Thank you!!

  10. Meri Newell

    We are all praying for you all and sending encouragement, supplies, and love from Mississippi. We have been there, done that, and still have some scars and empty slabs from Katrina to prove it. Sounds like you have a level head and a great attitude. Recovery takes time, and in our right-now tech world, it is hard to be as patient as we must be in something of this magnitude. I will look forward to hearing your stories of progress in future posts.

  11. Janet Bradley

    I have commented before and I will do it again! Thank you, thank you, thank you! LOVE reading your words! Cant wait to get back to our refuge and hopefully run into you with a cocktail in hand!!!

  12. Joe Matika

    My heart aches for each and every one of you every time I read your stories or anything else about Key West. My vacation to my fav 2nd home, yea it’s put on hold but that’s not important. What’s important is that that “one big happy island” stay strong. Some day soon I’ll be back too, wanting to hug each and every one of you!!!!

  13. Claire Perrault

    I love what you write. It helps a lot. I might just read it again! Thank you. Maybe when we get back I can thank you in person. That would be lovely.

  14. Rachel

    Maybe Fort Zach was the hero in the end. It took the brunt and protected what lay beyond it. I love reading how passionate your husband is about it. It’s one of my kids’ favorite beaches. Got news today that my parents house is ok. Neighbor finally was able to call. No water damage and just debris to clean up. Hallelujah. Of course now my mom is panicking about how soon she can get back, empty her fridge and get elbow deep in there with her bleach, but I try to remind to keep it all in perspective. She knows what others have lost but she’s in the same spot you are in. She just wants to go home with her husband of 49 years and make their house a home again. As always, thanks for your updates. They are a my little ray of Key West sunshine.

  15. Linda R Zinnecker

    Great article Linda!

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