Tutu-Making Party! A couple weeks ago, Sheila Cullen, Cheryl Rollings and I threw ourselves a flamingo-pink tutu making party. We’re still hoping to wear them in the locals parade for Fantasy Fest, but, heck, in Key West a tutu is appropriate for any occasion.

Day Two of post-Hurricane Irma in Key West rolls to a close. So before I go cook supper for my mom — and maybe actually take a shower and read a couple chapters of mindless fiction on Kindle — let’s do the day’s update of what we know, what we don’t and what we think we know.


What we know

My Ed is OK: Knowing so many of you are frantic to make contact with on-island family and friends, I’m feeling a little guilty about getting the Facebook message at 3:05 p.m., today, that my husband, Ed is OK. Have absolutely no details other than “he’s OK.” I’m good with that. Although…. If he doesn’t soon get over to the house and borrow the neighbor’s landline, we might be having “words” — after I tell him I love him bunches and bunches. The fact that I got good news on Ed today means that y’all will, too. Bad things are happening on the island, but we can be pretty sure we’ll start making contact easier in the next day or so.

  • The damage was extensive: Make no mistake, folks, it’s not the paradise we left a few days ago. We are just now beginning to get photos and videos of the damage around town. It is extensive. If things were lushly green and palm fronds were waving on Saturday evening, by Sunday noon, they were gone. Trees are bare and hundreds are down. About 75 percent of the trees in Bayview Park are down. Some trees are on houses and some have closed streets within the city. There is structural damage in Key West, though so far no reports like the ones I’ve seen from Little Torch where entire houses are flattened. When we do get home, nothing will be the same. And, yes, because we won’t get home for a long time, and our homes are closed tight with no AC, expect some gawdawful mold, green swimming pools and all round nastiness — even if everything is structurally OK. There was flooding in all the usual parts of town. If you flooded in Wilma, you likely flooded this time, though perhaps not quite as high.
  • The folks who sheltered at Key West High School are fine and one reliable report I saw said everyone either was gone or was heading home.
  • Clean up has begun in earnest: The city and county have begun clean up as best they can with current resources. Streets are being cleared for access to neighborhoods and debris is being collected. It’s a long, slow, tedious and dangerous task. Reports I’ve read today would support my belief that one of the reasons I haven’t heard from my Ed is because he can’t walk from Simonton and Front streets where he sheltered to our home in the 1300 block of Olivia. Just a mile, but a planet away.
  • Communications: Same as yesterday. No cell service. No internet service. No wifi. Imagine that; a world without smartphones and text messages. They can’t contact us, folks. Not at all. Unless they happen to know someone with a landline or satellite phone. I suspect as they get out-and-about tomorrow, they’ll find more ways to connect. We hear that new Publix has wifi still working; heaven knows how, but if our on-island folks learn that — and if they can get to Publix — maybe we’ll hear sooner. The city and the Key West Fire Department are working with AT&T to restore internet service. Cell phone companies are sending technicians to repair cell phone towers. But that’s for first responders first. Surfing Facebook while streaming a video or football game ain’t gonna be on the priority list.
  • When can I come home? Not now. Definitely days; likely weeks. No one is coming down the Overseas Highway anytime soon. And, you’ll get stopped somewhere around Homestead if you try. There are places where parts of the highway are washed out. Nothing but emergency vehicles are coming down that road. The airport is closed and when it does re-open, trust, me there’s not going to be tourists getting a welcome-to-Key-West margarita in the Conch Flyer. I’m supposed to fly in on Sept. 18. I’m assuming that won’t happen. (Yikes, I need to ask mom if I can stay.) I know we don’t like to hear that. In fact, if I were a houseguest at friends, I’m pretty sure it would suck, especially for them. No one wants forever houseguests. But, if you’re thinking you can sneak back in the next few days or week? Better get over yourself.
  • There’s a curfew in place from sunrise to sunset.
  • Utilities and such: Right now, there’s no electricity, no water, no sewer and no communications. There’s no food coming in. Monroe County, Key West and the state are making headway, but it could be weeks before any kind of “normal” returns. The government folks warned us: If you choose to stay on the island, “you are on your own.” And, they mean it. They have to mean it. There is no priority higher than returning basic, life-saving services to the island and getting it going again — and that means all effort right now and for the foreseeable future is on a functioning emergency response. Whether the AC is working in my house or the pool guy comes to check the PH is irrelevant.
  • This today from City Commissioner Sam Kauffman: “FKAA have their employees returning to the Keys with crews in the Upper Keys, Marathon and the Lower Keys. Key West will have water tomorrow (Tuesday) from 10:00 am until noon only. There is a boil water order for the entire county. FKAA is working diligently to restore water. There is no water from Layton down to Key West. FKAA is working to isolate the areas where the lines are breached. Key West will have water during the two hour period Tuesday from temporary storage and from the Key West plant.
  • Also from Sam: “Good news is that it appears that there are no down power lines in Key West reported. 300 additional crew are arriving in the next day to assist to help get power back in the neighborhoods.”
  • An aside: My husband was a forester and project manager for public electric utilities for 40 years. He spent pretty much every summer and every winter on “storm duty.” I’d go for weeks without seeing him. For years, he was one of the guys that made the lights (and my hairdryer) come on again. He knows the challenges.
  • Supplies arriving: The military is bringing in a food and water delivery expected Monday evening with distribution coordinated by the City of Key West. The USS Abraham Lincoln is also underway with supplies. The Red Cross and Salvation Army will be bringing thousands of MRE’s and potable water to the Keys with serving first responders as a priority.

What we don’t know

  • We don’t know about your house or your family: Oh, goodness, how I wish I could answer each of you with specific news. Thousands of folks have posted to our Facebook Page asking about their home or a loved one. They’re frantic. I’ve fielded phone calls from around the world that break my heart, have translated information to Spanish for non-English speaking folks on the page and tried my best to calm the fears of those who are so desperately asking. The fact is, we don’t have any way of knowing or getting that information — yet. Eventually, the emergency rescue folks and organizations will set up a system for “wellness checks.” I hope it’s soon, but, honestly, it could be a while.
  • Timing:  We have no idea when things — fill in the blank with the “thing” you want — will happen. Patience is not something I have in any great measure, so this makes me nuts. I’m like the rest of you: I just want to know when so I can make plans. Ain’t fun to sit and wait helplessly.
  • Fantasy Fest: OK, so it’s not exactly the top priority, but, we need a silly giggle about right now. Haven’t heard a word about Fantasy Fest, which is round about the week before Halloween. I’d be disappointed if it were cancelled because I just finished making the most awesome pink tutu and glorious pink wig for the locals parade on Oct. 27. Oh, well, one can always wear a tutu in Key West; no special occasion required.


What we think we know

Hey, what about the vacation I booked: See above. Pretty sure the priority order will go like this: First responders, emergency services, residents and then tourists. I do know that the vacation rental companies are doing their best to re-group and figure out what’s going to happen with scheduled guests. But first they have to get their own homes and business back in operation, inspect and re-stock those homes and then figure out what to do. When I worked in the vacation rental business, we always told guests they should purchase the trip insurance because there weren’t going to be any refunds if there were a hurricane. Many didn’t want to spend the extra few bucks. Those folks are going to be unhappy in the near future, I’m sure. Hotels and resorts will have to go through the same process. In short, if you’ve got a vacation booked in the next few weeks, you might have to consider a stay-cation. Your rental company or hotel/resort will be contacting you as soon as they get their own lives back together.

And, the odds and ends

Holy Mary, Joseph and the Wee Donkey! We’ve collected almost 10,000 followers on the page and reached close to half a million people with our posts. There’ve been 92,000 video views. Egads and little fishes. I remain in awe of the news and information gathering and sharing commitments of John Teets, Mike Freas and Jamie Mattingly. Without them, this page wouldn’t exist.

And, the best news? No trolls! None. So, now I just jinxed it. I expect trolls to drop by; these nasty people can’t help themselves and they’re going to start posting ugly things and political diatribes. When they do, I’ll have a great deal of fun using them for chum. Let me know if you see them. I’m a political junkie (some of you know that all too well from my days as editor of the Rockford (IL) Register Star or from older posts on this website. But, I really don’t give a rat’s tail what your political soapbox is. We’re gonna work together to reclaim our island.

The best place to get real time updates is on the Facebook Page. I’ve found it particularly helpful to read through the comments as folks post during the day. I learn a lot about specific locations, people and useful information in the comments. Thank you for sharing and for helping each other.

And, an apology. I’ve tried to answer each message and question as folks post comments, but with thousands coming in now, I just can’t do personal notes. (I really do need a shower and my mom is wondering, right now, where her supper is. I told her it would be ready two hours ago.) Knowing how wonderful y’all have been through all this, I’m pretty sure you understand. I am grateful.

Good night, my friends. Each day that comes gets us closer to knowing where our friends and families are, how our houses fared — and closer to being home again.

This has long been my daily prayer. Hope it works for you, too: Show me my path. Teach me along the way. Grant me peace. Sustain my hope. Direct my anger. Let me laugh.

And, in the spirit of “let me laugh”? How about that pink flamingo wig?

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media. She and her husband Ed, who is a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in The Meadows with the Cat 5s.

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