End of the Hurricane Season in Key West

by Last Night in Little Rock

Key West: Time again for the annual NORML drug law seminar at the Pier House in Key West. This is the 22d.

Today is the end of the hurricane season, and there was, in Key West sytle, a ceremony for the burning of the hurricane warning flags at sunset, at the Pier House beach, and CNN even thought enough of it as a symbol of the end of a horrendous hurricane season to broadcast it live. Fitting for Key West, the mayor gave a tribute to the dead and displaced from hurricanes throughout the United States, and it was sounded on a conch shell by a man in a pirate costume.

Behind CNN's John Zarrella was an island with all its trees stripped of leaves, and boats sitting on the island, 30 feet inland. In the water in front, two sailboat masts lean out of the water.

As bad as it was everywhere else on the Gulf Coast, Key West was lucky, considering that its highest point is a mere 12 feet above sea level and storm surges are higher than that. The Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico met on Roosevelt Avenue during Wilma, something that hasn't happened since the devastating hurricane of Labor Day 1935 that destroyed the railroad from Miami to Key West and killed 500 people. Key West knows hurricanes, and it knows it is extremely vulnerable and exists only because Mother Nature lets it exist.

A month after the storm hit here, the signs are reminiscent of Arkansas after a typical summer storm with 90 mph winds or a tornado. Roofs, building facades, and signs missing or damaged. The Sheraton on the Atlantic side near the airport is undergoing a complete renovation because all its windows are gone.

More telling, however, are the piles of household goods still stacked on the streets in residential areas waiting to be picked up for disposal: refrigerators, washers and driers, furniture, beds, piles of clothes. Some houses looked like the owners have been evicted and all their belongings are on the street. They've not been evicted. It's just all there stuff was flooded and now mildewed or moldy, from 2-3 feet of water for a day, not 10 feet for a month like in New Orleans. FEMA's not helping with clean up, and all the trash has to be hauled back to the mainland. The island is too small to have a dump.

Another, less obvious sign is the damaged vegetation: half the palm trees are damaged with brown palm fronds waiting to fall; all the color from the beautiful flowers on the ground and in trees are gone. Many trees have no leaves, and it looks like fall in the North. The locals lament that it will take a couple of years for the color to fully return; a year if they are lucky.

Compared to New Orleans, where I went October 31st, Key West remains a paradise. For being in Wilma's path of destruction, they were extremely lucky and suffered no where near the damage. But Wilma was nowhere near as strong as Katrina by the time it got here.

Another casualty that was a little surprising: The funky Iguana restaurant, which had a plastic roof with a tree in the middle is out of business. It had the best conch fritters on the island. It was always my first stop when I got to town. The Garden of Eden clothing optional bar? It survived.

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    Re: End of the Hurricane Season in Key West (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:33 PM EST
    I'm sorry I'm not there. Next year for sure. Please say hi to everyone for me. I've never missed two years in a row before. And please, more updates!

    Re: End of the Hurricane Season in Key West (none / 0) (#2)
    by johnny6644 on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:34 PM EST
    We here in Arkansas again got hit by storms that seem to happen later and later in the year. We still have a bunch of folks from New Orleans here in the state, probably awaiting the boot from our oh-so compassionate conservative government.

    Re: End of the Hurricane Season in Key West (none / 0) (#3)
    by jen on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:34 PM EST
    Shouldn't they be waiting till all the storma are over before celebrating? I mean... isnt that invinting bad things from the universe or something?

    Re: End of the Hurricane Season in Key West (none / 0) (#4)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:35 PM EST
    Jen, obviously you've never been to Fantasy Fest, a week long Halloween. LNILR, when I played Ricks, while the load in and out were ... uhh ... labor intensive, the gig was better than most arenas I've played at. The whole town seems to know you and you get the island acceptance (and discount) from every vendor. And my memories of the Pierhouse? WOW! What's the name of the little bar, tucked up under the paths? The Chart Room!? Chart House!? Between that and the adjascent pool and the Pier House beach I had some of the best times, and best woman, I ever encountered in my gypsy life. Key West, like NO, is a jewel for this country.

    Re: End of the Hurricane Season in Key West (none / 0) (#5)
    by roger on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:36 PM EST
    TL, We miss you too! As always, great lectures and great people. Just watched the video of the cop shooting himself in a school demo, just finished up on dogs. Maybe we'll see you next year?

    Errors - (none / 0) (#6)
    by KeyWestBoy on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 06:57:51 PM EST
    Key West has a dump on the island adjacent to it, Sock Island.  You can see a photo of it here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock_Island

    Also, the 1935 hurricane did not hit Key West.  It hit the upper Keys.  Key West had a rainy day and didn't even know what had happened up the Keys until the following day.

    Also, Solares Hill (Key West's highest 'natural' point) is 18 feet above mean tide, not 12.

    Please stop spreading ignorance.  If you don't really know something, don't talk about it.