As life returns to a small semblance of normal in the Upper Keys, normal is still far off for residents living in the Middle and Lower Keys, where the usually raucous town of Key West was boarded up and shut down.
For the first time Wednesday, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department allowed residents past the checkpoint above Marathon to view what “Irmageddon” had done to their homes.
The Marathon Airport took on the look of a disaster on foreign soil as the U.S. Army choppered in with relief supplies for the fragile islands slammed with Hurricane Irma’s 130 mph winds Sunday morning.
But not everything seemed dire.
At the Seven Mile Bridge, a long stretch of ocean looked as gloriously blue and untroubled as it ever has.
But on the other side, the Keys’ normal lush summer greenery began to turn rusty brown, as if a fire had raced through the mangrove and gumbo limbo forests. At the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key, the mangrove leaves on which the tiny deer feed were stripped from branches.
On Ohio Key, Irma’s potent brew of wind and storm surge topped large luxury RVs at the Sunshine Key Resort and Marina.
Throughout the lower Keys, newer houses on stilts, built to stricter codes in the last few decades, seemed to have little damage, even on hardest-hit Cudjoe Key. There, DEA agents unloaded blue tarps from unmarked vans in front of a house with a damaged roof.
“We’re taking care of the first responders’ homes while they take care of everyone else,” said one agent, who declined to give his name.
On Stock Island, just outside Key West, John McCain waited three-and-a-half hours in a gas line at a Shell station, the only one with fuel for many miles.
“But I was told I can’t fill up the gas cans for my generator,” said McCain. “I’ll just fill up my truck and siphon, I guess.”
Key West Wednesday was a sonambulent shade of its usual boisterous self. Duval Street was a ghost town, including Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes, Sloppy Joe’s and Captain Tony’s.
Most of the city had no power, although it had come on at Ibis Bay Resort at the city’s entrance, only to go off again 12 hours later.
At a shopping center on North Roosevelt Boulevard, Army servicemen and Marines handed out water and food.
Each family received a 24-pack of drinking water and four boxes of dried rations for each family member in a town where grocery stores and ATMs remain powerless and closed.
“No money, nothing is open, it’s not like we have a choice,” said Michael Stec, whose family of six lives on a 43-foot boat at Garrison Bight on the Key West waterfront.
“The boat survived,” he said, “and now we will, too.”