This will be my third season in south Florida and the Florida Keys. My daughter (Nikki) lives in south Miami-Dade county and I visit her for a brief time during the winter when the weather is more tolerable.
I sleep in my van no matter who I’m visiting. I don’t have air conditioning (other than when I’m driving). The weather in south Florida can be hot and humid so I visit when the weather is as tolerable as possible.
Key West – A Family Tradition
Nikki and I have made it a tradition to take an annual day trip to Key West.
We always take Cookie along because he’s part of the family.
Cookie is our little Toy Poodle who lives with Nikki but has traveled with me on occasion.
We looked forward to the Florida Keys but it’s been 3 months since hurricane Irma hit.
In her path of destruction, Irma made landfall in the middle Keys as a category 4 hurricane. Now, three months later, we knew the scenery could be quite different than we’ve seen in the past.
Heading To The Florida Keys
We left Nikki’s house around 9:30am on a sunny Sunday morning.
As usual, we get on the Florida Turnpike and head south to Florida City where we take the US hwy 1 exit toward the Keys.
US hwy 1 is also known as the Overseas Highway or All-American Road.
The scenery during the first umpteen miles of the highway is unchanging.
It’s one-lane (in each direction) with a light blue cement divider on the left and a high barbed-wire fence on the right.
The barbed-wire-topped fence runs along the Southern Glades and helps keep swamp critters (like alligators) from wandering on to the road.
The first change of scenery we see on US hwy 1 is Manatee Bay.
Many of the pictures on this page are dash cam images. Please overlook the flaws and simply enjoy the ride!
It’s hard to imagine that three months ago this road was impassable.
Eventually, we arrive in Key Largo in the upper Keys. Key Largo seems to go on forever but it’s the longest island in the Keys (spanning 33 miles long).
We begin to see small piles of debris along the side of the road. It’s not much but it’s noticeable.
I’m told that, in the aftermath of Irma, residents place their debris along the roadside for the State or other relief efforts to pick up and dispose of. The further south we drove… the worse it got.
Along The Overseas Highway
In many places, once grassy areas are now covered with sand.
The further we drove the larger and longer the piles of debris grew.
Several demolished RV’s and travel trailers were among the ruins.
A campground remains desolate and uninhabited.
The clean-up efforts were massive.
Semi’s lined-up waiting to (I assume) deliver items or take debris away.
Long combination vehicles (truck-tractors with multiple trailers) were common. Excavators loaded debris in to the long combination vehicles to be hauled away.
Visiting Residential Areas
We took a detour from US hwy 1 in to a residential area. I didn’t pay attention to where it was but I know it was in the middle Keys which sustained the worst impact from hurricane Irma.
Update: I remembered that Google has a feature that labels photos with their location so I checked it out and found that the residential area was Big Pine Key.
Traffic signs and street signs had been blown over or turned the wrong way.
I stopped at a stop sign that wasn’t meant for me. I stopped just before the stop sign and realized I was in the middle of the intersection. As I sat there, befuddled, it dawned on me that the stop sign was facing the wrong way.
An empty spot appeared out of nowhere. It looked to have been bulldozed over and prompted me to wonder what used to be there.
Houses on stilts are common along the coastline.
We came upon a couple of houseless stilts. These houses were side-by-side and were the only stilted houses I saw in that block.
All that remained were the stilts with a twisted steel rod protruding from the top.
Surrounding the houseless stilts were piles of rubble that presumably contained bits and pieces of the homes that were once perched upon them.
Vehicles appear to have been flung around and crushed or covered with debris at the hands of Irma.
At times, it felt like I was in one of those post-apocalyptic movies.
How The Local’s React
In my interactions with Local’s I never heard them complain! The attitude was one of “Island life as usual”… other than massive post-Irma cleanup efforts, of course.
Business signs and billboards had been destroyed or mangled beyond recognition. Yet, many business’s had re-opened and let everyone know by creating their own unique handmade “We Are Open” signs.
A couple of well-known sayings come to mind:“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”“Tragedy creates unity”
Both of these hold true for the people of the Keys.
Along the way we saw signs proclaiming “KEYS STRONG!”
A tree on the old Seven Mile bridge decorated with Christmas ornaments and a sign proclaiming KEYS STRONG!
There was also evidence that, in the aftermath of tragedy, a positive and/or humorous attitude is the best way to go.
I think the SS Irma has seen better days but she comes with a smile and a positive attitude!
Florida Keys Video
Here’s a video highlighting some of the impacts of Irma along with some of the awesome scenery of the Florida Keys!
The video was taken while driving US hwy 1 (the Overseas Hwy). We also explore a residential area and, finally, a brief tour of Key West.
I didn’t experience Irma first hand but I’m the mom of a daughter who couldn’t evacuate south Florida in time to escape Irma.
Nikki hunkered down in a small house during the entire ordeal. She was with several other people along with their pet’s.
Thankfully, she never lost cell signal (Verizon) and we could keep in touch. During Irma, Nikki sent me an audio clip of the wind during the worst part of Irma.
It was indescribable.
Irma was a devastating storm but the effects go deeper than the rubble you see on the surface.
The destructive forces of Irma left enormous piles of rubble… but the rubble is only temporary.
Beneath the rubble still rests the beautiful Florida Keys!
Within the beautiful Keys, cleaning away the rubble and rebuilding their lives, resides a stronger, more unified society!
For more info about the Keys check out the Fla-Keys.com website.