Tim Tebow (left) and Florida Senator Marco Rubio (right) visited the Florida Keys Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, to help with Hurricane Irma relief efforts. (AP)
As Florida Keys residents continue to pick up their lives after Hurricane Irma, they are still coming to grips with the fact that cleanup is nowhere near complete, but on Thursday, some of them got a visit from two well-known public figures committed to helping the region.
Bruce Hornsby could be heard at Key West’s Mallory Square as a “reclamation party” got underway, Thursday afternoon. The feeling was positive and the outlook was bright.
Hours later, Key West Mayor Craig Cates came in to Two Friends Patio Restaurant for dinner, as nearby Duval Street began to show signs of life.
“Key West is going to be open for business soon,” said Cates.
When asked about the higher volume of people out and about, the mayor replied, “Well, we’re taking visitors now. We haven’t advertised yet,” he said.
Cates, however, pointed out that the hardest hit parts of the Keys are still picking up the pieces from Irma’s devastation. “We understand our neighbors to the north in the Florida Keys got more damage than us,” he said.
In nearby Big Pine Key, the cleanup is still ongoing.
Among those cleaning up are 85-year-old Wes Harris and his wife. “We’ve been married 63 years,” he said.
The couple rode out the storm near their now beat-up home.
The wheelchair ramp into Harris’ home was just recently repaired by first responders, but there’s still so much more to do.
“See that rock? You see how big that rock is?” Harris said as he pointed to a large boulder in his yard. “That’s not my rock. I don’t know where the hell it came from.”
The legally blind U.S. Army veteran, who suffers from spinal stenosis, lost his orchid ranch, which he says had between 7,000 and 8,000 flowers.
Harris is so tough that the idea of getting a little emotional over the relief effort in the aftermath of the storm makes him annoyed.
“I just can’t believe how everybody has helped. It’s absolutely unbelievable,” Harris said.
Harris’ post-storm story isn’t necessarily unique. Residents told 7News about problems with their house, their boat, or in some cases, both.
Big names also came to help out the Keys, in the form of former football player Tim Tebow and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“So many people are so tough, and what they’ve gone through,” said Tebow. “You know what’s even more special? So many people, who don’t know what’s even going on with their houses, but they’re still volunteering for other people that need help.”
Residents appreciated Tebow’s visit. “He’s such a huge model for me, so it’s a nice thing that he came down here to the Keys,” said one woman.
7News cameras captured Rubio posing for pictures, as food, ice and relief supplies got to those in need.
When asked what he would say to those residents who fear they may be forgotten, Rubio responded: “They won’t be forgotten by us — I don’t know if someone else will — primarily because we’ve spent a lot of time, personally, in the Keys, up and down this place. I mean my family, we’ve had so many incredible memories here. We want to see the Keys come back.”
Meanwhile, Harris indicated he will make it through that strong current called adversity, probably because of his big heart. “You’ve got to keep stroking, bud. That’s all you can do,” he said.
As the reclamation party begins in Key West, many residents feel that, because the cleanup is still underway, the party is happening too soon. however, others feel that it needs to happen to show that the Florida Keys are still alive.
Officials said tourism will return to Key West in a limited capacity on Sunday with the arrival of a cruise ship at the Margaritaville Pier. It is scheduled to arrive at noon.
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