Rebuilding the Florida Keys After Irma

Miami-Dade and Broward counties were spared the worst of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Instead, the superstorm made initial landfall on Cudjoe Key. The islands just east of the eye took a direct hit and in some cases experienced devastation not seen in a generation.

“I looked at my son and said I think we should move to the Bahamas because this property looked beyond repair. It was that bad,” said Richard Stanzyck, the owner of Bud n Mary’s, a local marina.

Robbies and Bud n Mary’s are two well-known marinas in Islamorada. They were both caught in the eastern fury of Irma, as storm surge swallowed up everything in its path.

“We had plenty of time to get ready but to be honest with you, everything we did was basically wasted,” said Stanzyck. “There was no way to protect against this storm. I’ve been here 41 years. There’s a lot of difference between a wind event and a water event. This thing was 400 miles wide – it was a water event.”

Cailin Reckwerdt is the general manager of Robbies. Like Bud n Mary’s, Robbies is nearly fully functional.

“We’re very fortunate for what we have left because a lot of people have nothing and we could rebuild,” said Reckwerdt.

Key West was west of Irma’s eye, and while it took a big hit, cleanup efforts began immediately. The island reopened to visitors October 1st and the historic district looked nearly untouched and mostly operation.

“We had a wedding group who actually came. They didn’t want to cancel that wedding,” said Marlon Garnett, who operates the historic Key West Inns.

On Big Pine Key, which is closer to the eye, the damage was stunning. Parts of the island are still uninhabitable. Lots where homes once stood are either barren or covered in vegetation. Many residents are struggling to recover.

Additionally, many businesses are still not open and many others are gone forever. But 86% of visitor rooms in the Keys are back online and it’s at 95% in Key West. Months of rebuilding have brought back normalcy and an appreciation for being able to recover.

“The marina is better than it ever was. A lot of times in my life, things I perceive as a disaster often turn out to be blessings. We were fortunate,” said Stanzyck.

“The Keys are resilient and we are too,” said Reckwerdt. 

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