Florida Keys Will Be Open For Visitors This Sunday, Three Weeks Ahead Of Schedule

Florida Keys tourism officials said Monday they will indeed be able to meet Governor Rick Scott’s October 1 deadline to reopen to visitors after Hurricane Irma slammed Monroe County.

The good news, which came shortly before the governor was scheduled to meet with Monroe County officials in Marathon, came following the first cruise ship docking, which took place two days ago in the Port of Key West.

However, as recovery efforts are active and ongoing in parts of Marathon and the Lower Keys, not everything is expected to be open when tourists can again travel the 42 bridges of U.S. 1 through the Keys.

The popular vacation destination was hit hard by Hurricane Irma. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reported that roughly 25 percent of all homes in the Florida Keys were completely demolished while another 65 percent sustained major damage.

There is still work to do as was stated by Monroe County Mayor George Neugent.

“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” posted online. “But because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”

Tourism accounts for more than half the jobs in Monroe County and 60 percent of the money spent in the Keys, totaling about $120 million a year in sales taxes for the state, according to the county’s Tourist Development Council.

As late as last Thursday, tourism officials were sounding less optimistic about meeting Scott’s deadline, suggesting the reopening may not occur until at least Oct. 20, with the start of the annual Fantasy Fest.

Hurricane Irma made initial landfall September 10 at Cudjoe Key, less than 30 miles northeast of Key West. It then proceeded to make a second landfall in Collier County before traveling up the peninsula.

Many tourist facilities are still recovering as debris removal continues.

Key West officials hope to have things back in working order soon

“If we have another hurricane, if all that debris is out there, that’s going to be dangerous,” Rick Scott said after Monday’s meeting.

“That’s going to be dangerous for people, but it’s also going to be dangerous for our buildings and especially for our power systems. And we’re a tourist state. One of every six jobs in the state is tied to tourism, so we have to get the debris up.”

Bringing back some semblance of normalcy to the region will continue to be a work-in-progress.

At present time, cellular service is said to be working well throughout the Keys. However, as of Monday, water and electricity were still being restored to areas from Key Largo through Marathon, and cable television and internet services continue to lag throughout the Keys.

Most state parks in Monroe County remained closed Monday. The Florida Park Service stated San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park in Islamorada and the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail are open for day use.

Dry Tortugas National Park, a group of seven islands approximately 70 miles west of Key West, reopened Monday. However, ferry operation from Key West isn’t expected to be available until late October.

The state’s tourism-marketing agency, known as “Visit Florida”, which latched onto Scott’s October 1 goal, has rolled out an estimated $5 million post-hurricane marketing plan that will include a component focused on the Keys.

The state of Florida, which before Irma was on pace to top last year’s 113 million visitors, is still working on calculating the hurricane’s potential impact on the economy of the tourism industry.

[Featured Image by Andy Newman/Getty Images]