For seven days we have shared the (cliche alert) roller coaster that began with believing Key West and the Keys might be spared the worst of Hurricane Irma as the predicted path of the Category 4 storm headed up the east coast of Florida. Wibble wobble back and forth until the storm crashed into Cudjoe Key, leaving Key West on its westerly and slightly less horrific backside — at low tide. Had we collectively ordered from a hurricane menu, Key West could not have been more delighted with the result.
As most know by now, I was in Virginia with my mother when the storm hit. My husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, remained in Key West because of personal commitments. He and our five cats, appropriately, I think, designated the Cat 5s, our house and our neighborhood escaped almost unscathed the storm’s damage.
That’s what we know today. The nightmares of a week ago are fading. A week. Just a week. The flooding receded. The downed trees and debris are being removed. Lights turn on across most of the island. Cell and data service means we’re texting and sticking our heads into our hands-cum-phones. Gasoline, food, construction and repairs supplies remain in short supply, but stock is coming down the Keys and I’m betting Jeff Bezos is going to have Amazon Prime deliveries back on track in a week. Running water remains at premium, and thus toilet flushing is a luxury. That, too, will resolve itself.
Each hour there’s a growing sense that everything is OK in Key West. I suspect, though, that those of us who are off-island have a slightly rosy view of how things are. Photographs and videos of bright sunshine and intact homes don’t smell. They aren’t hot and sweaty. They aren’t swatting mosquitos. And, our focus on what Key West and the Upper Keys escaped belies the destruction between the two.
Not for those communities a return to air conditioning and some hard work with bleach and a chain saw. For them, there’s little left except the catastrophe of not knowing what to do next. That could as easily have been Key West on Sunday morning. As we celebrate our great good fortune, may we forebear doing so at the expense of our neighbors and friends, Our sister islands need us, the fortunate ones.
A week ago I was a Facebook post or a column away from panic. To know that in mere hours everything that makes my life my life could be swept away was paralyzing and so I keep posting, kept writing. This is what I wrote last Saturday night:
Tonight, though, I am swatting my errant, apprehensive imagination. Because what’s in my brain has kept me sleepless for three days and its relentless stranglehold drives me to write. One of my bosses used to call me the “Ice Queen” because not even the worst in front of me brought tears. This is no Henny-Penny. I can stay focused and on task in chaos. I pay a price for that stoicism, but it is who I am and almost seven decades in, God isn’t going to bother to make sweeping changes.
Tonight, I’m tired. I know you are as well. Humans can’t absorb that much emotional hurricane and come away unscathed. I am glad we have been together this week. Without you, John Teets and I would not have kept at it for virtually 24-7. We did what we did because we’re old, “warhorse” journalists who cannot imagine deserting our community. We did it because, well, at the time, no one else was.
We stopped counting when we reached 800,000 people. More than 220,00 video views. In. One. Week. We knew if we needed the information, so did others, but we never expected an audience this size.
But, you know what was best of all? The sheer civility of this community. No trolls. No mis-directed anger. In a world where social media has become a swamp of bots, trolls and angry pejoratives, spending the week with you has been an affirmation that most people are good people. Thank you.
And, with that, good night, my friends. John and I will wind down the page over the next day or so. It’s time for this most splendid hurricane house party to wind down. We’ll put together a list of best websites and Facebook pages for those who want to keep going. I’ll write the occasional aftermath column. I’ve got clients wondering if I am ever going to get back to building their websites. It’s been our pleasure.
Oh, and about the Cat 5s. Electricity was restored at our house at 4:15 this afternoon. The AC is on. The pool pump is running. Ed’s doing the laundry. And, the Cat 5s (three of them, anyway) are stretched on on the bed for the first time in a week. They hated the heat and preferred the cooler floor to a warm bed. It’s an awful picture, but, hey, we love our fur babies.
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media. She and her husband, Ed, live in Key West with the Cat 5s.
This blog has been one of my main go-tos for all news of the Keys. I thank you so much for all of your dedicated posts and I am so glad you are ok. We remain waiting on news of our beloved rental spot in Summerland Key. I hear the house structure survived but the butternut tree did not. I am sure the owners are facing horrible cost to fix and clean now. Please keep us all updated. Lovely photo of three of the Cat5’s (We have two cats, two dogs and a horse so I get you totally)
Thank you again for everything. There is a pink tutu’d bottle of Captain Morgan ready for me to drop off to you when I get back down to Key West, whether it is to help my parents clean up or just come and give them some much needed love and hugs. Until then, big hugs to you and your husband and the Cat5s. So many of us would have been lost without you this past week.
Thank you, Thank you. You are officially my favorite journalist.
I am soooo sorry to hear you are closing up shop. Thank you for being a dependable source of information and for how wonderful and reassuring you have been. A dear friend of mine has lived in Key a West for approximately 15 years and I have visited so many times I feel like it’s my home away from home and I was so worried about it and her. Also, my high school sweetheart and I got married last August at Fort Zach which we chose, in part, because of the Australian Pines and we were heartsick to hear about the devastation there and can feel Ed’s pain. Your words made it easier for me to bear and we’re of great comfort. #ConchStrong ???❤️
Thank you so much for these columns. We are still out of town and they we’re very helpful!
Last weekend I, like you, could not sleep and could not imagine what our life would be like if our worst fears came to fruition and Key West was destroyed. To distract me, my wife spontaneously organized a hurricane “party” at our former home in PA, and 20+ of our old friends changed their evening plans and helped us spend last Sat night watching the weather channel and recalling all the good times we all had in KW. By Sunday afternoon we we cautiously optimistic about the island and our home there, but distraught about the status of our neighboring islands to the East. Your Page has been a wonderful source of information and hope …. THANK YOU!
Thank you so much. These posts have been our lifeline! We will meet & raise a toast !
Linda, my neighbor….my friend. I speak for so many when I say that we couldn’t have done this without you and John, also,my friend. You have been the watchers, when so many couldn’t look. You have been our voice, when we were too emotionally spent to speak. You have been our courage, when we flagged or despaired. Spending these days and nights with you has kept us sane and given us hope and strong shoulders to lean on…when you too both worried and wondered what would be there when the skies cleared. Because of you two, we 70,000+ Monroe County keys residents had a light each day to lead us from the darkness of the storm and of our greatest fears. Great reporting. Great fortitude. Great ethical example of the kind of reporting that has made a difference over and over again in this country. Thank you. I love you both. You can stand down now. You’ve given us the strength to go on.
I will miss your posts.
Thank you for all the info during this difficult time. We are “snowbirds” from October thru April who appreciate all you do. KW is such a big part f our lives and have been for 30 years…we don’t know what we will find when we return but whatever our hearts go out to those who call KW home 24/7
Thank you Linda and Ed. You not only brought us news and hope, but you have shown us your heart as well. We don’t live on the Keys, but my brother and his wife have a home on Sugarloaf. Fortunately their home was spared but their friends’ homes had different outcomes. We will be forever grateful for the narrative you provided during times of literal darkness. For all of your reporting, weariness, and frustrations we are most appreciative. Our hats go off to you. ? Karen and Ted Harris
Thank you Linda for sharing. We first visited Key West five years ago and have been back every year ever since. We fell in love with the island but we also fell in love with the people who live there. Sending all of you prayers, hugs, and all things good from Northwest Indiana.
It has been good and bad news that I looked forward to reading. A twist of hope and dispair but told gently and straightforward! Thanks so much for the information! Glad you and your husband and furbabies are safely back home. We are in Northwest Indiana now (our summer home). Key West has been our winter home for several years now, and have been visiting since the early ’80’s. We love the island the people and now call it home!