On the morning of September 10, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to strike the U.S. in over a decade made landfall in Cudjoe Key, Florida. As still-powerful Category 4 storm, Hurricane Irma had already spent more than a week raging across the northeastern Caribbean and left a trail of devastation in her wake.
By the time she left Florida, Irma had flooded parts of Miami and left nearly 2.6 million homes in the state without power. However, the Florida Keys, the archipelago that forms the southernmost part of the continental U.S., suffered the most damage in the state. In fact, FEMA estimated a quarter of its buildings had been destroyed and nearly 65% had sustained serious damage.
Despite evacuation orders, though, many Conchs—the affectionate nickname for those who live in the Keys—remained steadfast and decided to stick it out.
“We have been open the entire time,” Brad Buckholts, manager of 801 Bourbon bar in Key West, told NewNowNext. “We were giving out water and ice, when we were able to get it delivered once the roads were cleared. We were also a place where the American Red Cross would stop and give out over 500 hot meals daily.”
Fast forward three weeks and the Keys—including LGBT-friendly Key West—have officially reopened to visitors. For locals, this has been especially good news. Tourism fuels the local economy and October, with its annual Fantasy Fest Halloween celebration (above), is traditionally one of Key West’s busiest months.
“Don’t listen to the news, Key West is ready!” continued Buckholts. “Come enjoy our town, you will truly see we are a very tight knit group of Conchs here!”
Two days prior to the storm’s arrival, the W Miami had planned to launch its inaugural edition of Whisper OUT Loud, an LGBT social event planned for the first Friday of each month with DJs spinning and back-to-back performances from Miami’s hottest drag queens. Although Irma’s arrival thwarted the launch, the event has kicked off on October 6 and will take place again on November 3.
Caribbean Pride, being held for the first time this year at the CHIC Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, was cut short. However, the organization has already updated its website looking forward to a sophomore outing in 2018.
Of course, before Irma, there was Hurricane Harvey, a storm that battered eastern Texas, including Houston.
“We reopened 72 hours after Harvey,” reported Christopher Barry of the Guava Lamp. “Our staff and management spent that time volunteering with Red Cross at the George R. Brown Convention Center, which was the center of the relief efforts in Houston.”
How have relief efforts progressed in the month since Harvey hit? “The recovery efforts in Houston are strong, organized, and well executed,” remarked Barry. “We need to help turn our efforts toward helping Puerto Rico.”
Puerto Rico, having experienced the full force of Irma, suffered a second blow as Hurricane Maria tore through the island just days later, leaving half its residents without access to drinkable water and eradicating its power grid.
Although efforts are currently underway, many have criticized the U.S. government’s slow response, most famously, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz who, on September 26, made a plead for relief to come more quickly. Some estimates suggest Puerto Rico may not have electricity restored for another six months.
For information on how you can help relief efforts in Puerto Rico, visit unidosporpuertorico.com.