A year ago this time, Key West awaited Hurricane Irma and I began writing from Virginia where I was visiting my mother. As many will remember, my husband Ed and our five cats, known forever as the Cat 5s, eventually decided to remain on-island. I stayed in Virginia for almost a month before I was able to get home. Writing kept me sane as I watched the approaching storm and its aftermath.
I’ve collected those columns in an anniversary package, adding updates and observations from the months since the storm. Re-reading them reminded me just how powerful we were as an online community. So to each of you who followed along, who shared your stories and your tears, I say “thank you.” It was a tough time. It’s been a tough year.
We are Keys Strong.
And, now for a glance through the looking glass. Here’s where we were one year ago:
Wednesday morning and Ed’s wrapping up the last of the storm prep.Shutters are up. Outside stuff is inside. Car is packed. And, he’s ready for the wait-and-see day.
The Cat 5s are delighted with the stacked furniture; sort of like Disney World for cattens. Gives them a whole new appreciation for fun things to do.
Folks wonder why anyone would stay on the island. So here’s a couple things to keep in mind:
- We are at the end of the road. If it weren’t for the bridges, we’d be as isolated as any of our fellow Caribbean island friends. There’s really no where to go. Remember, we are about 150 miles from Miami.
- No gas. Even if we made it to Miami, there’s limited to no gasoline to get us farther north. No one wants to run out of gas on the Florida Turnpike or Alligator Alley.
- Some — actually a LOT — of Key West folks don’t have cars anyway, so there’s no way for them to head out.
- No where to stay. See above. No vacancies. No friends or family up north. Key West is home. One wouldn’t leave Puerto Rico, or Cuba, or the Bahamas, or the Virgin Islands, right? Folks forget that the only thing that makes us different is that series of bridges hopping from one island to another down the Keys.
- Can’t get back in. Again, see above on the bridges. If a hurricane blows bridges, we don’t get home. Maybe not for weeks. Months? And, yes, that would also mean residents are isolated with no food, water, electricity. Those are scary concepts, which is why folks DO evacuate. It’s a conundrum and that’s why so many wait until the last day or two to make a go-stay decision.
- The city has ordered a mandatory evacuation. That was expected and it was the right move. If folks decide to stay, they do so knowing they are taking enormous risks. And, they’ll pay the price — literally and figuratively — for staying. See above.
But, before judging too harshly, consider the context. Evacuating Key West is not as easy a decision as evacuating Miami or Naples or Orlando. We are, as the tourist advertising says, a place like no other at the end of the road.