Tourism Returns As A Big Step Forward In Recovery From Hurricane Irma
Nearly a month after Hurricane Irma blasted through the the Florida Keys causing massive damage, power outages and flooding, this popular tourism area will re-open to visitors.
The area will welcome visitors beginning Sunday, Oct. 1.
“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” Monroe County Mayor George Neugent said. “But because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”
Key West, the primary tourist destination in the Keys, reopened to cruise ships on Sept. 24 and the bars began re-opening earlier in the week. Some hotels re-opened while others will not be ready until early or mid-October.
In the Keys, the damage from Irma was widespread and officials worked frantically in the three weeks after the storm to restore electricity, make sure the bridges on the Overseas Highway were safe for travel, making repairs so residents could return and in general cleaning up so the area could be ready for tourists for the busy fall and winter seasons.
“Motorists should use extreme caution when navigating these regions and stay off side roads to avoid hindering restoration activities,” Keys officials stated in a press release. “Throughout the Keys there are significant debris piles that are being picked up by cleanup contractors.”
The decision to open the Keys to visitors was based on winding up some of the most immediate infrastructure repairs, officials said. Almost all power and water have been restored from Key Largo through Marathon as well as throughout Stock Island and Key West. Cellular service is working well, but restoration of Comcast cable television and internet is lagging behind other utilities.
Some special events in the Keys have been postponed or canceled but others are on as scheduled, including Key Largo’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival (Oct. 18-22) Marathon’s Stone Crab Eating Contest (Oct. 21) and the biggest event of them all this fall, Key West’s Fantasy Fest (Oct. 20-29).