Been thinking today that our collective sense of relief that Hurricane Irma in Key West “wasn’t as bad as it could have been” might be lulling us into a false euphoria over what we’re going to find when we finally get back home.
Countless times over the past three days I’ve typed “if you managed Wilma, you’re going to be just fine managing Irma.” Or, “We don’t know for sure, but the reports we’re getting from folks on-island say the town held together pretty well.” And, thousands of times, we all have posted the two letters “OK.”
An editor friend of mine whose newsrooms have covered more hurricanes, including Katrina, than most warned me in a comment on one of my more “euphoric” posts: “I’m glad everything is OK,” she wrote. “But get a grip, the worst is about to come straight in your face. It’s the recovery that will get you.”
Because we aren’t there — and because we’ve shared those amazing NOAA satellite images where we could count the trees in our yards and rejoice, as I did because the new solar panels were still on the roof and there WAS a roof — we’re seeing Key West as it was when we left. More than a bit like the Tourist Development Council’s postcards. Our heads know better, but we’re still seeing Key West with our hearts.
Just a caution, friends, here on our third day together. What our hearts are seeing, isn’t what our on-island friends and family are seeing.
I finally got through today on a landline to one of my friends who has biked the island over the past two days. She was blunt: It’s grim. There are no trees. No water. No electricity. No cell or wifi. And, no food except what we’ve stored. We’re making the best of it, but, it’s not like you remember. Sort of like primitive camping without knowing when you’ll ever get a shower or decent night’s sleep.
I guess I am tired tonight and I get kinda maudlin when my eyes are crossed and my brain doesn’t make my typing fingers work very well. So, let’s suck it up, shake it off and get down to what we know, what we don’t know and what we think we know. See? There I go with those cliches again.
What we know
- Emergency services are arriving: C-130’s landing with supplies, including food and water, which are being distributed in Old Town and New Town.
- Search and rescue teams are going throughout Keys and expect to complete their searches by Wednesday. There are no additional signs of casualties or fatalities, an almost miraculous thing. Searches do not include the private residences that are locked and shuttered.
- Communications: By Wednesday we should begin to see some cell service (and internet if they’ve got a data plan) restored. AT&T is working to do so, and priority will go to emergency and first responders. I tried to call tonight; no luck; straight to voicemail. Be patient.
- No fuel: Remember when you left the island how there was no gas going up the Keys and none in Key West? Well, that has not changed. If you’ve got gas in your car, that’s going to be it for a while, maybe a long while. Any supplies that make it to the island are going to emergency services, not for a ride up to Bahia Honda.
- Streets cleared: The main streets in Key West are cleared and the city expects to have the side streets passable on Wednesday — and then comes the haul out.
- The sewer plant is functioning but there’s still no water.
- No electricty from Key West to the Seven Mile Bridge. Only about 30 percent have power from the Seven Mile up the Keys.There’s so much damage in Big Coppitt that it’s going to take a while for Keys Energy to clear debris and restore service. Keys Energy estimates 300 poles down from Sugarloaf to Big Pine Key.
- Some Upper Keys residents and business owners were allowed back to inspect their homes today.
What we don’t know
- Don’t plan on coming home anytime soon. Mayor Craig Cates said today it would be at least seven to 10 days before returning could even be consider. The airport is open, but not for commercial or small craft. Open only for emergency services. So, even if your Delta app is showing your flight is on time, you really need to show some common sense — the app is wrong. If I were estimating — and I am — when I can fly home from my mother’s in Virginia? I’d say the earliest would be a week from Friday, long about Sept. 22.
- When basic services will be restored. See above. Crews are working but it’s a monster task to bring back the island — and it’s beyond worse farther up the Keys. We may have escaped the worst case scenarios, but not by much.
- When “wellness checks” will begin: Eventually the emergency management folks will set up a formal system, likely before the end of the week. But, I have to be honest with you, finding out whether my husband is OK or not is not a priority for the first responders. He chose to stay. He knew he would be on his own. And, the real reason we haven’t heard from so many people is not because they’re hurt or missing. It’s because THEY CANNOT CALL US. Hopefully by week’s end, we’ll all have made connection.And, please do not be calling the U.S. Coast Guard to do it for you. That 800 number and red graphic that’s floating around is not for sending a Coast Guard officer to your mother’s door. Just wait. The city will organize something eventually.
What we think we know
Cell and internet communications should get better by the end of the week.
On-island folks are finally getting out and about — and they’re sharing information about landlines and hotspots. Some local businesses with landlines are offering long lines of people two minutes each to check in with families. I hear the lines are long.
Odds and Ends
My husband and the Cat 5s were re-united yesterday at our house. I haven’t talked to Ed, but a handful of sightings by friends is good enough for now. We may have a slightly different discussion at some point, but this is the guy who went off on a two-week ski trip with our son — and failed to check in once. When I asked why? Well, you knew where we were, you knew what we were doing and you knew we were safe. What else could we need to talk about? He had a point. I never worried again.
John Teets and I decided that although we’ve loved doing this Facebook Page, we kinda miss our olden days in print journalism when, once you put the various editions “to bed” and the press rolled, you could turn off the lights and head to the bar. The digital news world is (cliche coming) 24-7. I’m a tad long in the tooth to keep up that pace.
But, we’ll keep going for a while. As communications with the island improve, you’ll get your news first hand from friends and families. I suspect that over the next day or two, we’ll wind down to several scheduled posts and updates. It’s a great ride, though. I feel like we’ve created a splendid family — even if I did have to smack around a couple of political folks earlier today. Sent them off to the kids’ table for a time out.
And, with that, I’m done. In newsprint days, we just typed -30- at the end of a story. So, -30- it is.
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media. She and her husband Ed, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in the Meadows neighborhood of Key West with the Cat 5s.