Tourism dollars likely best donation in helping Keys recover

Author: CBS Miami
John Rhode talks with his neighbor Paul Sosbey (L) as he attempts to salvage what he can from his home that was destroyed by hurricane Irma on September 17, 2017 in Summerland Key, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

KEY WEST (CBSMiami) There’s power to about half the area as residents of the Lower Keys returned home Sunday for the first time since Irma hit a week prior.

A boil water order and a plea from county leaders to be self-sufficient greeted them home. Life there now is not the life they left.

Key West resident Sean Blaise found his house intact.

“It’s good to be back on the island,” he said. “It’s still home.”

About 30 miles north on Big Pine Key, residents were also allowed in for the first time Sunday. Ally Miller splits her time between the Keys and Jupiter.

“That’s my house and it doesn’t look too good,” she pointed out.

There’s a boat parked nearby.

“I don’t know whose boat this is,” she wondered.

Homes are wrecked, the community is full of debris and the “conch life” has been upended.

“This is hell. Some of them are gonna be displaced forever,” said Ally, noticing her neighbor’s home has disappeared. “It’s totally gone. I don’t even seen pieces of it. It’s just gone.”

Meaghan Devoe also showed CBS4’s Carey Codd her home on Big Pine. There was nearly 6 feet of water in it, soaking everything inside. Her community consists of regular, working-class people, many of whom are employees in Key West.

“I bawled my eyes out for hours yesterday,” Meaghan admitted. “This is what affordable housing is. We’re all mobile homes. It’s just sad to see so many people’s houses gone.”

Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said housing is a crucial piece of the recovery effort, ensuring that people who work in the service industry are able to get back to their jobs.

“That is a concern, all these people coming down realizing that they don’t have a place to live,” he said.

Assisting with the return, police and National Guard patrol outside neighborhoods to make sure everyone who returns belongs. Shelters are being set up and county leaders are trying to figure out ways to house people who need it.

But tourism is the life blood of the Florida Keys. And could be the best solution to helping residents and businesses recover.

“If people don’t come, it’ll be very, very difficult for us down here,” said Sean.

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