Florida Keys

Mark Hedden / markhedden.com

As Irma was coming toward the Keys, I actually managed to get a couple hours of sleep.

This was surprising since the wind was already rattling the air vents in the room where I was settled on an air mattress with my husband and our dog. But essential because I had not slept at all the night before. 

Al Diaz / Miami Herald

An estimated 10,000 residents are homeless after Hurricane Irma blew through the Florida Keys as a massive and powerful Category 4 storm and devastated entire blocks of homes last week.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced the estimate during a news conference Monday morning in Marathon.

With that count, a little more than 10 percent of Monroe County residents have nowhere to live.

‘The Keys Are Not What You Left’: Residents Return To Middle Keys For The First Time

Sep 16, 2017
Al Diaz / Miami Herald

MARATHON - When Judith Silva pulled up to her fish market and restaurant alongside Overseas Highway at Mile Marker 52 early Saturday morning, she breathed a bit of a sigh of relief. The signs for King Seafood were still perched atop her business and the mural she had recently paid $2,000 to restore was intact.

 

Inside, was a different matter: A 2-to-3 foot storm surge had deposited a thick soup of noxious mud and likely shorted out all her freezer cases.

 

In the Florida Keys this week, some residents were able to get back to their homes and assess the damage from Hurricane Irma along with those who stayed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says in its preliminary assessment that some 25 percent of the homes in the Keys were destroyed and only 10 percent escaped without major damage.

Some residents of Key Largo are being allowed back in Tuesday morning, but the Florida Keys are still largely without power, water, medical service and cell service. Most Keys residents are anxiously waiting to hear when they can return home, and others who stayed despite mandatory evacuations remain stranded there. More than 80 percent of customers in the Keys are currently are without power.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

The slight veer south in the projected track of Hurricane Irma led some Florida Keys holdouts to hit the road Friday.

The entire Florida Keys island chain has been under a mandatory evacuation order for residents since Wednesday evening.

Still, some residents are sticking it out. Including Kerry and Diane Shelby of Key West.

"The entire state of Florida's evacuating. So we looked at both options and it just looked a little too difficult to get out," Kerry Shelby said. "So we decided we were on the good side of the storm, we were going to stay here."

Despite Keys officials urging islanders to pack up and leave Thursday, many residents were still debating whether to stay or hit the Overseas Highway.  

Jim Heslin was putting shutters on a house at the top of Key West's Solares Hill, the highest point of the southernmost island.  

"We're not sure yet, so we have a back-up plan to get out on the 6 p.m. flight tonight," Heslin said.

He said he has been watching the advisories from the Hurricane Center.

The Keys are on our minds this week because it's the annual Florida Keys Museums and Attractions Weekend.  If you've ever wanted to explore more about the history, culture and natural environment of the Keys, you can get free and discounted admission to more than 20 museums and attractions from Islamorada to Key West.

If you can't make it, or want to learn more about the Keys on the page, we came up with these recommendations from some people who really know the island chain. If you have suggestions, add them in the comments or tweet them to us @WLRN.

Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority

Twenty years ago, only a few areas in the Keys had central sewer systems.

The rest of the island chain was using a combination of shallow injection wells, septic tanks — and even some cesspits, basically holes in the ground that provided no treatment at all.

Since the Keys consists of fossilized coral, that meant polluted water could easily move to canals and shorelines.

Sharkwater.com

Rob Stewart, the underwater filmmaker who was shooting a documentary off the Florida Keys in January, drowned, according to the autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office.

The report was obtained by The Reporter, a weekly newspaper in the Upper Keys.

Stewart was in the Keys making a film for his "Sharkwater" series. He and a dive partner were in very deep water, 220 feet.

Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Every year in the late summer, the dive and tourism industries in the Florida Keys encourage people to come to the island chain and watch the reproductive act first-hand — on the reef.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

While mainland South Florida ramps up its battle against the mosquito that can carry Zika, the Florida Keys has already begun the region's most intensive mosquito control operation.

Monroe County Sheriff's Office

Marine thefts are a chronic problem in the Keys. Fishing gear, dive equipment, engines — sometimes even entire boats - are stolen from marinas, canals and backyards in the area.

Those thefts happen year-round, but there's a noticeable uptick in summer, especially during the annual two-day recreational lobster mini-season, when thousands of boaters come to the Keys. This year's mini-season is Wednesday-Thursday, July 26-27.

Bob Care / Florida Keys News Bureau

The annual Poker Run that sees an estimated 10,000 motorcycles travel down the Keys is officially off.

"There will be NO Poker Game or official stops," according to an announcement on the event's web page, hosted by organizer Peterson's Harley-Davidson. "Sorry for all the confusion, we have not been able to get the support of local Charities and Volunteers this year."

But it appears that the event is not permanently gone.

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