Florida Keys residents staged the ceremonial burning of hurricane warning flags Thursday evening to mark the official Nov. 30 end of the turbulent 2017 Atlantic Basin hurricane season.
Following a blast blown on conch shells, speakers paid tribute to those impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that pummeled parts of the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Irma's Sept.10 arrival in the Keys caused varying impacts along the 125-mile-long island chain. Most residents and businesses in Key Largo and Key West saw little or no damage and recovered quickly, while other areas -- particularly around Big Pine Key -- were significantly impacted and are still recovering. Event attendees were encouraged to support Keys Strong, an organization providing post-storm aid.
"This hurricane season is going down in the history books right now as the most expensive hurricane season in the history of hurricane seasons," said Martin Senterfitt, the Keys' emergency management director. "Yet we still have time to smile … and find a reason to come together, raise a toast and burn hurricane flags."
Members of the Keys' ceremonial Conch Republic administration then doused hurricane flags with Key West First Legal Rum and set them on fire. As nearly 400 spectators cheered, the flags burned rapidly.
Senterfitt praised residents' resilience in the aftermath of the storm.
"That’s the thing that makes the Florida Keys so wonderful, is the backbone and spirit of the people," said Senterfitt. "And that's what we need to be celebrating tonight."