An hour north of where Hurricane Irma made landfall, evidence of the storm remains in Islamorada, but Upper Keys officials are still thankful they were spared the worst of the worst.
Village Manager Seth Lawless said the biggest, most immediate hurdle post-storm after the September storm was communication – something most municipalities in the Keys agree on.
“As with every large incident, communication is always the issue -getting information to the public and the public getting information back to us,” Lawless said.
The Village of Islamorada’s emergency operations center was housed at the Islamorada Fires Station No. 20 on Upper Matecumbe Key, until it flooded during the storm and Lawless, fire rescue workers and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies had to evacuate to the village building at Founders Park. “We got back at Station 20 a few days later,” Lawless said.
And with less damage than Marathon and below, Middle Keys residents above mile marker 74 were allowed back to their homes within four days of the storm. Another major challenge was getting U.S. 1 cleared, “because if U.S. 1 isn’t open, the other 70 miles of the Keys can’t recover,” said Fire Chief Terry Abel. U.S. 1 was blocked for a period of about 24 hours, covered with debris, trees, Jet skis and a myriad of other things blown around by 100-mph plus winds. Parts of the road were washed out as well, but repaired fast.
For future storms, the village is planning what it would like to see done better.
“We’re still kind of evaluating that,” Abel said. “We’re sitting down with our contractors in the next couple weeks just going over what we learned and what we’d like to see happen a little differently.” This hurricane season, Abel said heed the evacuation advice if ordered.
“Pay attention,” he said. “Evacuation really saved a lot of lives.”