Irma struggles continue in Key West

BY PRU SOWERS

KONK LIFE STAFF WRITER

Day four of the post-Irma struggle continued in Key West Wednesday, Sept. 13, with Mayor Craig Cates saying it may be seven to 10 days before residents who evacuated the southernmost point can return.

Key West Commissioner Sam Kaufman said Cates has been on the twice-daily Monroe County Emergency Management telephone calls and based on the damage to the city’s power, water and sewer systems, estimated it will take several days to make the extensive repairs necessary to allow those who evacuated to return.

“I think we are going to be lucky if Key West residents can return by the end of next week,” Kaufman said in a telephone call with Konk Life Wednesday. Kaufman evacuated with his family to Kissimmee.

Key West City Commissioner Margaret Romero said City Manager Jim Scholl has also been on the county emergency calls. The military has been providing local officials with “communication units” to allow those who did not evacuate to participate in the county-wide emergency preparations, she said.

“Jim Scholl does not want what he calls civilians coming back. [Key West] is not ready for civilians,” Romero said. “Key West has water for maybe two hours a day at a trickle. The sewer is just coming back on line. That was a major problem in Key West.”

All 42 of the bridges along US 1 in the Florida Keys have been inspected by the Florida Department of Transportation and found to be safe. Debris crews are clearing the roadways to allow emergency crews to begin restoring power.

Kaufman said he has been hearing growing anxiety from Lower Keys residents who evacuated but sheltered in areas where power and cell service are still spotty. They feel they might as well be back in Key West to protect their homes and businesses, he said. But Kaufman pointed out there is very limited food and water in Key West, despite emergency food drop sites starting to open in the lower and middle Keys.

“There are people who want to get in [to Key West]. But there are people who want to get out,” he said, adding that 8,000 people are estimated to have remained in Key West to ride out Hurricane Irma.

An unidentified boat owner in a Stock Island marina complained via satellite telephone about what he said was incorrect information about food drop sites that were supposed to open on Tuesday.

“They said they had five drop sites for supplies today [Tuesday]. They only came through on two drop sites. The other three, people walked to or rode bikes to. FEMA never showed up. And the other two, they handed out a pallet of food at each one. No water. Just food. One at Key West and one at Sugarloaf, about 500 people at each one. They fed about a quarter of the people they needed to. They didn’t give water to anybody,” the man said in a voicemail to Konk Life.

The Monroe County Emergency Management press release on Tuesday said: “Two distribution centers for food and water became operation in Key West on Tuesday. One is at the Sears Town Plaza in New Town and the other is in Bahama Village in Old Town. Two other distribution sites are in the works at Sugarloaf School and the National Key Deer Refuge office on the Overseas Highway in Big Pine Key.”

Amidst the communication confusion, there were bright spots that continued to appear on Facebook Tuesday and Wednesday. At The Green Parrot, all is well.

“We are proud to report that all here is good. Weathered the storm. Will reopen as soon as water is restored to our island. We know you’ve all been wondering and worrying about The Parrot and all those who chose to stay,” the Facebook posting read. “We want to report that all are well and chomping on the bit to serve our island city once again. We thank everyone for their prayers and we are blessed to have all of you in our orbit.”

And there was optimism from the Key West Attractions Association.

“Due to the impacts of Hurricane Irma, Key West and the Florida Keys are temporarily closed to our beloved visitors. We aren’t going to let this devastation bring us down. Paradise awaits (just give us a few minutes…),” its Facebook post read on Wednesday.