Key West CitizenOctober 7, 2017

Adversity does not build character — it reveals it.

This is nowhere truer than here in the Florida Keys. Those in various aspects of government and first responders certainly did an incredible job, but the citizens of Monroe County also deserve to be recognized.

Hurricane Irma has changed the Keys forever and many challenges are just beginning to become apparent, yet through it all, the true spirit of the Keys has shown through.

The challenges created by the storm are overwhelming. Starting a week before the storm, residents worked feverishly to prepare with many evacuating as directed, days before the storm. Another wave of evacuation took place immediately before the storm as the forecast models changed and had Irma making a direct hit on the Lower Keys as a catastrophic Category 5 Storm, changing the minds of many who had previously decided to stay.

It is important to point out that this was easily the most extensive and complete evacuation of the Keys in memory. Evacuees often left with little more than the clothes on their backs, not knowing if they would ever see their homes and possessions again.

Most incurred expenses they could not afford on top of the lost income of all those days out of work. And many who evacuated did so either right into the path of the storm and were affected by storm related power outages, flooding, downed trees and more throughout the Southeast. In many cases, evacuation was almost as much of a hardship as staying would have been.

The storm knocked out power, water, cable, internet and even cell phones. With communications virtually non-existent, and no utilities for the days immediately following the storm, those who stayed got a taste of what old Florida was like. 

Now, weeks after the storm, there are still a significant number of homes in the hardest hit areas without power. There are literally mountains of garbage and debris in our neighborhoods and along our highways, made worse by the accompanying smells and vermin.

Yet through all these obstacles and many more, the people of the Keys have shown tremendous character. Neighbors who for years politely waved at each other without actually knowing one another have been brought together through the shared suffering of the disaster.

Many residents who stayed were diligent in protecting their own and their neighbors’ homes and property. Neighbors shared unconditionally with one another and across the Keys, lifetime bonds were created among people who before the storm hardly knew each other.

Once the evacuees were finally allowed to return to their homes, they too became part of the silver lining of this event. Rather than be a burden as some had feared, the vast majority of those who had been away went right to work and provided a welcome relief for those who stayed and were exhausted from the cleanup.

Many of those lucky enough to make it through the storm unscathed have volunteered to help others who have lost everything with housing, food, donations and countless man hours. It is truly inspiring to see what so many are doing to help those less fortunate.

The pain and challenges Irma brought to our community are far from over, but no matter what challenges the future may bring, the storm revealed that the people of the Keys possess a character like no other.

—The Citizen