Irma Update + A Love Letter to the Florida Keys

First off, I have to start with a huge, enormous, giant thank you to everyone who called, texted, DMed asking about my parents down in Miami.

As a quick update to those that may not have known – my parents ended up riding out the storm separately. My mom spent Friday – Monday in the emergency room dealing with an issue that had been plaguing her for weeks and ultimately came to a head at the worst time. She was admitted earlier in the week, spent two days there, got released and then had to go back in right before the storm hit. She said it was a little chaotic and very crowded (she didn’t get a room until Sunday morning) but safe.

My step-dad was home by himself along with their three pups. If you’re wondering why they didn’t evacuate, it’s mostly because of their dogs. They have three labradors, one of which is pretty old and wouldn’t be able to sit in the car for the long ride north. My step-dad is also a native Floridian with experience riding out storms so they made the decision to stay.

It was a worry-filled weekend but thankfully they are safe and sound. Still without power and some minor wind damage but otherwise well. They fared much better than so many of our Florida neighbors, especially those to the west in Naples and Marco Island and to the South in the Keys.

Want to skip the story and pick somewhere to donate? Mashable has compiled a great list of organizations and ways you can help here. 

It’s my love for the Keys though that I want to share with you all today. I love the Keys and growing up we went ALL THE TIME. It was similar to the way people go to the lake here in Kentucky.

If you’re not familiar, the Keys are a small stretch of islands going from Key Largo –  just south of Miami – all the way down to Key West. While Miami can feel unwelcoming, expansive and almost disorienting in its size, the Keys are the opposite. Small, welcoming and each unique in its own way.

When I was really young, we’d go to Tavernier for long weekends at my step-dads friend’s house or do quick trips to Ocean Reef in Key Largo. Riding down with the windows open on US-1, crammed in to the back with my step-brothers. We’d stop at roadside dives for conch fritters and grouper sandwiches. And I can remember a trip we took once with my grandparents when I was in first or second grade where the mosquitos were so bad you couldn’t go outside.

A perfect sunset moment from our most recent trip to Key West with our friends John and Kristin. 

When I was in high school, our school was in the same district for sports as all the Keys schools. That meant driving as far as four hours down to Key West for a track meet, getting out of school early to take the 2+ hour drive down to Marathon for a soccer game or the relatively quick 1+ hour ride down to Key Largo for a swim meet. When I saw video from Marathon High School from the storm, I couldn’t help but remember those games.

There were also weekend trips to the Keys with friends in HS. Most of those involved getting into some kind of unsupervised trouble which still holds true for our more recent trips down US-1 that have included an adult-only family trip to Key West, a wedding and a recent getaway with friends. The amount of memorable moments I could share from Keys adventures could fill a book (not sure anyone would want to read it, but it could). It’s an area so very near and dear to my heart and the people there are some of the best around.

It’s truly my favorite place in the world.  

Those memories have made seeing the total and complete devastation that Hurricane Irma has brought to the area so tough to watch. FEMA has estimated that 25% of the homes have been destroyed. Entire houses have been blown way, businesses upended, boats can be found resting in the middle of roads. Beyond that, there may not be fresh water or power for weeks or months in some areas.

The destruction is magnified by the difficulty these people will face as they look to rebuild. It’s tough and expensive to get building materials in and out of the Keys with only one two-lane highway. There’s also a limited number of places they can go, and stay as they rebuild. Right now, there are parts that are totally cut-off from the rest of the country both physically and technologically. If you want to get a better idea of what they’re facing, this Miami Herald article is a good place to start.

That being said, there’s no doubt in my mind the Keys will be back. They will rebuild. The spirit of the area will remain, the history will stay intact through its people and it will remain one of our country’s treasures. But they need our help. And so, as you consider donating to hurricane relief efforts, please keep the Keys in mind.

And while I can’t locate a place to donate directly to the Keys right now (as more information and options come out, I’ll update), you can donate to the Florida relief effort or volunteer to help here: VolunteerFlorida.org

September 8, 2017

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