Hurricane Irma Causes Significant Damage in Key West

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The sun sets over Key West, Fla., on Oct. 27, 2009. Hurricane Irma caused widespread flooding and tree damage on the island when it made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sept. 10, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers).

(WB) Hurricane Irma caused significant damage in Key West when it made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday.

Videos that storm chasers and local residents posted onto social media show Irma’s storm surge inundated portions of Key West with several feet of water.

Irma damaged the iconic monument that marks the southernmost point in the continental U.S., but Ernest Hemingway’s home and the more than 50 cats that live there appeared to have weathered the hurricane well. Irma, however, did cause widespread tree damage throughout Key West.

Bourbon St. Pub, a gay bar on Duval Street, on Monday in a Facebook post said the garden bar of New Orleans House, an all-male guesthouse, is “unrecognizable.”

“Not one tree is standing,” said the post, which notes the owner of the Bourbon St. Pub and New Orleans House provided the information after he called from his home’s landline. “He traveled around the island and said almost every street in Key West is blocked by fallen trees.”

The post also noted “trees on top of cars and homes” and all the trees in Key West’s Bayview Park “are down.”

“All trees have been stripped of their leaves,” it reads. “He (the owner) said it was like a huge weed whacker hit the island. All signs, canopies, etc., have been ripped down.”

Island House, another gay resort in Key West, on Monday wrote on its Facebook page that several large trees fell during Irma, but the damage to the property is “fixable.” The post also notes there is no water, electricity or cell phone service on Key West.

“The last few days have been incredibly stressful, watching Hurricane Irma head for Key West,” it reads. “The hurricane has now gone past us, and we are starting to be able to assess damage and think about the future.”

The Washington Blade has received reports that other gay and lesbian guesthouses and bars on the island did not sustain serious damage.

Irma made landfall on Cudjoe Key, which is roughly 20 miles east of Key West, early Sunday morning with winds of 130 mph. The Category 4 hurricane washed out portions of U.S. 1, which is the only road to the mainland in Miami-Dade County, and caused widespread damage to homes, boats and infrastructure throughout the Florida Keys.

Residents and business owners who evacuated before Irma are unable to access the Florida Keys south of Islamorada. Airports in Key West and Marathon, a city that is located in the middle of the Florida Keys, remain closed to commercial flights.

“We certainly will clean everything up on the island and get it ready to re-open,” former Monroe County Mosquito Commissioner Steve Smith told the Blade on Monday from Orlando.

Smith and his husband evacuated their Key West home before Irma.

“We certainly have to make sure that infrastructure is up and running at 100 percent before we open our doors to visitors,” said Smith.

 

Fund created to help LGBT Irma victims in Caribbean

Irma was a Category 5 hurricane when it made landfall last week in Barbuda, St. Barts St. Martin, Anguilla, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Cuba. The storm caused widespread destruction on the islands and left more than three dozen people dead.

Irma damaged an LGBT community center in Santo Domingo, Cuba, when it made landfall on the island’s north central coast over the weekend with 160 mph winds. The hurricane also damaged portions of a makeshift memorial that was outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando as it moved north through Florida.

Alturi, an organization that seeks to promote further engagement on global LGBT and intersex issues, and the Rustin Fund for Global Equality have created a fund designed to help Irma’s LGBT victims in the Caribbean. The groups are raising funds for the Jamaica-based Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, which provides “services directly to and on behalf of Caribbean populations who are especially vulnerable to HIV infection or often forgotten in access to treatment and healthcare programs.”

“In the Caribbean, it can be extremely difficult to reach members of the LGBTI community, but in the wake of Irma’s destruction, reach them we must,” said Alturi in an email it sent to supporters on Tuesday.

 

— Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association.


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