The southern stretch of U.S. Highway 1, running from mainland Florida throughout the Florida Keys to Key West, has earned many names over the years. It’s been called the Overseas Highway. The Highway That Goes to Sea. And for those of us who love the Keys, whether as residents or regular visitors, it’s simply the road home.
Now, following Hurricane Irma’s assault on the Florida Keys and parts of mainland Florida, that highway is also an enduring symbol of our road to recovery.
That’s because many islands along the Overseas Highway sustained damage from Irma. Some, like the Upper Keys’ Key Largo and much of Islamorada, and the southernmost island of Key West, felt less of the storm’s wrath. Others, like parts of Marathon and the Lower Keys, felt far too much of it and will take some time to recover.
But there’s one overwhelming truth about the Keys, and as a 35-year Key Wester, I know it in my bones: the people who choose to make their home here are strong and resilient and caring.
Following Irma they have helped their neighbors, passed along recovery information and supplies, and shared working cell phones and landlines so friends (and total strangers) can reassure loved ones outside the area. I’ve seen people rescuing abandoned pets, making sandwiches for first responders who looked hungry and tired, and using whatever resources they could spare to ease the situation for others.
Perhaps the best example of this is U.S. 1 Radio. The Lower Keys station’s truly heroic team stayed on the air throughout the entire hurricane and afterwards, providing a comforting voice and — when lack of power, cell service and internet meant communication was badly hampered — a clearinghouse for accurate information and resources for recovery.
And on a rather bleak afternoon about 48 hours after the storm passed, the station sent a message of hope that I will never forget, by playing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
“When you’re down and out, when you’re on the street,
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you.
I’ll take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.”
Irma might have battered the Keys’ landscape, but the storm couldn’t touch the island chain’s greatest asset and greatest strength: the tough, independent, creative, warmhearted spirit of its people.
Helping the Keys’ people are responders who have poured in from all over the U.S. to provide assistance, comfort, supplies and labor. Their untiring, compassionate work is heartwarming beyond belief.
In the coming days and weeks, the Keys will recover, re-energize, and renew the elements impacted by the hurricane. As progress is made and life for residents returns to its laidback norm, we’ll share information with you at fla-keys.com and keysrecovery.org.
If you have plans to travel to the Florida Keys, keep checking those websites for updates so we can alert you when the island chain is ready to re-open to visitors.
And when that time comes, know that you’ll get an openhearted welcome wherever you travel along the Overseas Highway. Because if you love the Keys, that road is your road too.