by Rick Boettger…….
Key West is in remarkably good shape. They finally let us fly back yesterday and I took a bike ride around town this morning. What follows is a mixture of fact and opinion. The government experts who stopped us from returning for 10 days have facts and opinions no better than my own, I’ll bet. They just take their own much more frightfully, but I’m letting that go for now.
The electricity, cable, internet, phone and water are all normal most places. Both Publix and Faustos are open as usual. The recovery folks stopped giving away food, water, and ice because everyone has enough. I was going to offer my swimming pool as a source for vital irrigation, but as of noon today, Thursday Sept 21, the advisory is now just not to waste water. So we can save our suffering trees and wash our cars again.
Biking around, house damage is minimal. An awning down, problem with some roof aluminum, fences blown over. Overwhelmingly, this was a foliage disaster. We have lost some great trees. On our block alone, the largest sapodilla may not make it, and a large gumbo limbo and ficus went down completely. Nearby, a noted mango. Worst, at our beloved Garden Club at West Martello, the massive strangler fig/banyan is flat out horizontal. Sigh. One of the last banyan types left.
Cynthia says it looks worse than after Georges. I’m not sure. Georges destroyed most of our grand banyans, and that looked like hell all over town, especially Truman Annex. Now the Annex is neat as a pin. For most of Old Town, it looks like the aftermath of a northern blizzard, except instead of snowbanks, we have foliage banks along the curb everywhere, being swept up into trucks instead of waiting for them to melt.
On the way to Zach Taylor to inspect the Australian Pines, I was sad to see about 90% of the small deciduous trees planted alongside the new superhighways cutting through the small park snapped off. I was not allowed onto the beach, but was told around twenty of our pines were gone. Yay! This is a small percentage of the whole. One knock on our Casuarinas when the Park Service was trying to destroy them all was that they were weak in the wind. I couldn’t find a single Aussie down anywhere else in the city, not even on Higgs Beach where a big old one right on the beach braved all of Irma’s fury.
I also couldn’t find a Royal Poinciana down. These gorgeous trees, “Flamboyant”-ly bright red, are cut down because they are messy, with the excuse that they are weak in storms. As with the Casuarinas, I say BS.
Our own story may be quite sad. For sure we have lost our Frangipani out front. After 9 years of having few and puny blossoms, this year it really blossomed into maybe the best on the block. It is a tenth of its size. These trees are incredibly resilient, however, and in a few years it should look pretty good again.
Our disaster was in the back, where we may be losing our giant sapodilla. At 175 inches around, it would be the city and maybe state champion if they gave that award out for “invasive exotic” trees, an unscientific excuse for rampant foliage destruction. Two massive limbs directly out of the trunk went down, over a foot in diameter each. Actually we were extremely lucky in that they fell onto our deck instead of our house. What is left up in the air is maybe 20% of the canopy that has shaded us for 10 years, and others for over a century.
I would actually have rather lost the house, which can be fixed or replaced, than this great spirit of a tree, which can never be replaced. The only thing that comforts me is that if our beloved tree has died, at least it was Nature that took it, not some asshole who cut it down, like a Poinciana, as another “messy” tree, or by someone who wanted a bigger swimming pool.
I have heard one rumor that a cruise ship is coming Sunday, and another that we will not be “officially” open for tourists until October 16th. The latter would be ridiculous, and cause for class action lawsuits against the City. People need their jobs back! One of my tenants hasn’t been called back to his restaurant since the storm. He is one of I bet a thousand locals who need us and the tourists spending money here again. I am optimistic the City has its act together and will be cheerleading our recovery, instead of saying We the People are “in the way” of the cleanup. (One bit of financial good news is that our dancing girls are cleaning up with the cleanup crews, well-paid young men far from home and lonesome.)
After our blizzards, everything reopened immediately, snowbanks be damned. We need to do so as well. Up the Keys, they suffered a true disaster. Someone up there should write something like this about them. But for my best-place-on-earth, we are in full recovery mode. As after Georges and Wilma, in two years it will be hard to spot the remnants of our Irma.
PS—in only a single 30 second slot on the Weather Channel did I see an explanation why we got off so much lighter than up the Keys. Irma’s westbound slowdown over northern Cuba did not much weaken it, just from a Cat 5 to a 4, but it slowed its progress. This allowed a rarely-discussed trough of very dry air over the Gulf of Mexico to impinge on Irma’s western half. On the radar showing the rain and the dry air, you can see just half of a donut. Key West was in the red, dry-air side of the donut. As Irma rotated, it was dry on the west half and got its moisture back on the right side, which smashed the Keys east of us. The dry Gulf air spared us the storm surge and punishing rain. I have found no one else who saw this explanation.