The Keys, Pensacola slowly bounce back

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KEY WEST, Fla.--The Keys and Pensacola in the Panhandle, the two Florida regions that incurred the most damage from Hurricane Georges,were both on the road to recovery, officials said.

Helen Brower, a Travel Weekly contributing editor, returned to Key West via the Overseas Highway (U.S. 1) and reported enroute that electrical and phone workers were busy restoring service; others were clearing downed trees. Some restaurants along the 120-mile route from Miami were open as well. There was little structural damage to hotels and U.S. 1 was never blocked, she said.

From Big Pine Key, south to Key West, officials were discouraging travel by anyone other than bonafide residents since tourist facilities were not yet available, but this policy was subject to change. Little Palm Island, a luxury retreat off Big Pine Key, north of Key West, will be closed for two months.

While most Key West resorts were in good shape, the 100-room Best Western Key Ambassador is an exception; it does not expect to reopen until Oct. 23. Many Key West hotels, however, planned to reopen by Oct. 9, depending on power restoration and the ability of their employees to return to work hotel association official noted.

Key West attractions were expected to resume operations soon, including the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum where a large tree fell on the structure. The home sustained little damage and the descendants of Hemingway's six-toed cats survived.

Below is an update on other areas affected by Georges:

  • The Key West Aquarium, according to Ed Swift, its owner, "lost some sharks because of a salinity imbalance (caused by excessive rain), but all our turtles, tarpon, sawfish and jewfish are intact."
  • The Little White House in Key West was expected to reopen Oct. 9, John Behmke, owner of the Truman Annex Real Estate Co., said.
  • The Port of Key West was expected to reopen at presstime, but how soon cruise lines will resume calls was unknown.
  • Fantasy Fest, Key West's annual celebration combining elements of Halloween and Mardi Gras, is still on for Oct. 23 to Nov. 1. This is a peak period for tourism.
  • In the Middle Keys, the 123-room Faro Blanco Marine Resort in Marathon, reported that four of 30 rental houseboats were sunk in its Oceanside section. Vicki Hart, director of sales, said that three houseboats will be salvaged, and with the remaining houseboats, the section will offer 66 guest units vs. 70 before the storm. A January reopening is scheduled. Unaffected is Faro Blanco's concrete structure conference room for 100 in the Oceanside section. The resort's Bayside section is operating normally; it has has 30 cottages, two lighthouse apartments and 23 condominiums, a lounge and restaurant.
  • In the Upper Keys, the Key Largo Bay Beach Marriott, Marina del Mar, Westin Key Largo and Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, all were operational. Historic railroad-related attractions on Pigeon Key, however, were damaged and were not to reopen until Nov. 1.
  • In the Pensacola area, where severe flooding occurred, the airport, which had been closed for nearly two days, reopened. While hotels in Pensacola were operating, some beachfront hotels and condos were damaged severely. The worst hit areas were Perdido Key, Navarre Beach, Santa Rosa Island and Pensacola Beach.
  • On Pensacola Beach, the Dunes and Holiday Inn were closed, but the Best Western was operating normally; on Navarre Beach, the Holiday Inn was closed; on Perdido Key, some vacation condos were damaged and on Santa Rosa Island, the Quiet Water Beach Pier was damaged. But most attractions were little affected. The National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola was operating right after the storm and area golf courses were expected to reopen this month.

  • Florida Keys information:
    Phone: (800) FLA-KEYS
    Web: www.fla-keys.com
    Pensacola Visitors Information
    Phone: (800) 874-1234
    Webite: www.visitpensacola.com

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