Keys launch $2M campaign

KEY WEST, Fla.--County officials who oversee tourism for most of the Florida Keys are launching a $2 million campaign designed to show visitors the region is nearly recovered from Hurricane Georges.

"We're beginning to get the word out that we are fine and are again welcoming vacationers," Harold Wheeler, marketing director of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, said. "The national news coverage of the storm heavily focused on what was damaged, not what survived."

The entire Florida Keys island chain is open for the first time since the storm slammed the region last month, local officials said. Some hotels are not fully recovered, and several oceanfront state and county parks, including Indian Key, Bahia Honda and Sombrero Beach, will not reopen to tourists until sometime in November.

In the Lower Keys, most cleanup and restoration activities are focused on residential areas, but most of the area's resorts and sportfishing and diving operations are serving visitors, officials said.

Key Largo and Islamorada emerged with little damage, and most businesses there opened a few days after the storm, according to Monroe County Emergency Management director Billy Wagner. Marathon had moderate damage and foliage loss but had most of its electricity restored within a week.

More information is available by calling (800) FLA-KEYS or by visiting the Keys' Web site at www.fla-keys.com. The Web site includes a section on the impact of Georges, with an accommodations directory detailing the status of area properties.

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