John Bartus

The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 hit the Florida Keys as one of the strongest hurricanes on record. That storm basically destroyed much of Islamorada and the Upper Keys, causing much damage and loss of life. We like to think we’re used to hurricanes — battle-hardened, if you will. Some of us are. Others still feel varying degrees of anxiety — understandably — when the National Hurricane Center starts plotting cones of uncertainty and we all become obsessed with the various spaghetti models.

Here in the Keys, and likely in most of Florida, we escaped a monster. Strong Category 5 Hurricane Dorian spared us his wrath while creating Labor Day agony for the Bahamas. While the Keys were never in danger of experiencing the worst of Dorian, our local emergency managers took the storm very seriously. Precautionary steps and measures were taken, people checked their hurricane plans, and most all were ready. Kudos to our City of Marathon EOC Team, as well as all those with Monroe County Emergency Management that coordinate our response to a tropical threat.

While we dodged the bullet this time, the Bahamas were not so lucky. Dorian hit the Bahamas as a 185-mph (gusts to 220) Category 5 hurricane. If that weren’t bad enough, Dorian decided to hang out and hover over the islands for a long time. Some of the photos and video footage I’ve seen is simply heartbreaking. There isn’t much that can withstand multiple hours and days of Category 5 hurricane winds and surge.

The Keys have many special connections to the Bahamas. One of them is that all South Florida Rotary Clubs, including those here in the Keys, are in the same Rotary International District (6990) with Grand Bahama Island. Grand Bahama is home to Freeport, and is one of the worst-hit islands. Our district is spearheading relief efforts for the Bahamas.

Rotary International District 6990 has a non-profit fund, The Robbins Fund, which was established over 20 years ago to aid in disaster recovery efforts. For monetary donations and/or to find where to drop off items, please visit And if interested in assisting or volunteering in this and on-going efforts to support the recovery, please contact the Rotary Club of Marathon — the club meets at noon Wednesdays at the Florida Keys Country Club, and our president is George Garrett, also the City of Marathon’s planning director. The club has a Facebook page with necessary contact information.

There are a lot of other local relief efforts underway; it’s just good to see those of us who were recipients of assistance not that long ago are so willing and eager to repay the kindness we were shown. The Bahamas have a long and difficult road ahead, with many years of rebuilding and recovery in their collective future.

Closer to home, there is still a bit of shell-shock among victims of our own Irma, understandably so. It wasn’t that long ago. And there are many still living with the aftermath of Irma as a daily reminder in their lives. The Weekly just ran a story about Lori Rittel, a Marathon resident currently living in a severely storm-damaged house. She is one of many who are frustrated with the FEMA substantial damage system (a.k.a. the 50% Rule). She is one of many still living in damaged homes who can’t get local building permits because of the FEMA rule. Ironically, she is still required to pay her mortgage — and the accompanying windstorm and flood insurance policies — even though the insurance companies won’t cough up enough for her to rebuild.

Lori has applied to Rebuild Florida’s buyout program; it remains to be seen if they will offer a decent amount for the purchase of her damaged home. This program has $10 million available in Monroe County, with $5 million earmarked for homes in Islamorada, Key West and Marathon. If it goes like the rest of the Rebuild Florida program (with an alleged $90 million to spend on rebuilding Keys homes and still not one Keys home rebuilt), it’s hard to feel positive and optimistic … especially at the peak of another hurricane season.

God help the people of the Bahamas, Florida, the Carolinas, and please give us no more Labor Days to remember.


Catch John Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, Fridays at the Lighthouse Grill, Saturdays at the Key Colony Inn, and Mondays at the Sunset Grille.

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