The Upper and Middle Keys, including Key Largo, Islamorada and Marathon, can begin receiving visitors Friday. The Lower Keys and Key West are intending to accommodate guests Monday, Oct. 31.
Fantasy Fest, Key West's annual outrageous costuming and masking festival, has been rescheduled to Wednesday, Dec. 7, through Saturday, Dec. 10, due to Hurricane Wilma's unwelcome visit to South Florida earlier this week. The theme is slightly changed to "Wilma's Freeks, Geeks and Goddesses", a testament to Key Westers' resilience and humor.
Visitors who have reservations should check with the property or travel professional prior to traveling to the Keys, to ensure operational status. Landscaping at some resorts has been impacted and some attractions and tourist facilities may need more time before they can accommodate visitors.
Hurricane Wilma passed over the island chain on Monday morning. Although Wilma's winds left little structural damage, several residential regions were hit hard by storm surge, emergency management officials said. Although flooding has receded in affected areas, many residents are busy cleaning up their homes and getting their personal lives back together. The hardest hit areas seem to be in a number of residential neighborhoods from Marathon through Key West.
Fortunately, many Keys hotels and visitor facilities have quickly recovered and are opening for business, which is vital to the area's tourism-based economy. Although there is still some evidence of hurricane damage, such as downed trees and other debris, tremendous progress has already been made to restore infrastructure and top priority for the cleanup is being given to tourist-oriented areas.
The Overseas Highway from mainland South Florida is open and traffic is flowing without obstructions and 99 percent restoration of electricity in the Keys is expected by Friday, utility officials said. Florida Keys Marathon Airport is open to general aviation during daylight hours and Key West International Airport is expected to resume commercial air service this weekend.
Key West's cruise port is set to open this weekend with the first ships arriving next Tuesday.
"We've made cleanup of Duval Street and other primary tourist areas in Key West a priority," said Key West City Manager Julio Avael. "Duval Street and visitor areas in Old Town are in good shape. We are doing our best to take care of the needs of our residents who have suffered, while maintaining the economic lifeblood of our community."
For more information on the Keys, call 1-800-FLA-KEYS (352-5397) or visit www.fla-keys.com, where destination status updates are to posted regularly chronicling the status of the Florida Keys as well as a calendar of upcoming special events.