The Florida Keys are set to reopen to visitors Oct. 1, following recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma impacted the island chain Sept. 10.
While Key Largo and Key West were least affected by the Category 4 storm, not all lodging properties, including RV resorts, and other tourism facilities throughout the Keys are operating on a normal basis. Some hotels are housing displaced residents under a Federal Emergency Management Agency program.
Potential visitors are advised to call ahead to ensure that hotels and their favourite attractions are open.
In addition, recovery efforts are ongoing, especially in the Lower Keys and parts of Marathon where many residences and businesses were hardest hit by the storm.
Motorists are advised to use extreme caution when navigating these regions and stay off side roads to avoid hindering restoration activities. There are significant debris piles in some areas of the Keys that are being picked up by cleanup contractors.
The decision to open the Keys to visitors was based on completing some of the most immediate infrastructure repairs, officials said. By Sept. 25, almost all power and water had been restored from Key Largo through Marathon, as well as throughout Stock Island and Key West. Cellular service is working well.
Bridges on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway passed inspection and several roadbed breaches were repaired.
“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” said Monroe County Mayor George Neugent, “but because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”
Key West International Airport has reopened and commercial service has resumed, as has general aviation. Florida Keys Marathon International Airport is processing general aviation and charter flights again.
The Port of Key West reopened to cruise ships Sept. 24.
A number of Keys special events scheduled for mid- to late-October – including Key Largo’s Oct. 18-22 Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, Key West’s Oct. 20-29 Fantasy Fest and Marathon’s Oct. 21 Stone Crab Eating Contest – will take place as planned.