As the Florida Keys prepare to reopen to tourists, Gov. Rick Scott is once again turning to the Florida National Guard for hurricane assistance. He’s activated 400 troops to assist with the removal of debris left strewn across the Florida Keys by Irma.
The National Guard members and 40 trucks will be deployed to the Keys to assist with the cleanup in the areas hit hardest by the hurricane two weeks ago.
“Today, I activated the Florida National Guard for debris removal in the Florida Keys to help families get into their homes faster so they can make needed repairs and get back to their normal lives,” said Scott. “These missions will focus on clearing debris from areas where homes are blocked so residents can get back to their houses.”
The move comes the same day that Florida Keys officials announced the island chain will reopen to tourists on Oct. 1. That’s three weeks sooner than expected.
The decision to reopen reflects the importance of tourism to the economic survival of the Keys and the need to get tourists dollars flowing back into area businesses.
Monroe County leaders had asked tourists to hold off on any travel plans to the Keys until power and water supplies were restored. Florida Keys spokesman Andy Newman says utility crews have restored both and a boil water notice has been lifted.
But, as in many areas of the state, debris removal continues to be a big problem.
“We know the Florida Keys were hit especially hard by Hurricane Irma this month, and have been working nonstop to get the Florida Keys back open,” Scott added. “I am thankful for the Florida National Guard and their work before, during and after Hurricane Irma to keep families safe. We are proud of their service to Florida.”
The announcements come two weeks after Hurricane Irma ripped through the Keys as a Category 4 hurricane destroying about a quarter of the homes in that part of the state.
Local officials say the decision to reopen the Keys comes as crews complete work on the most immediate infrastructure repairs.
Bridges on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway passed inspections and repairs have been made to critical roads in the area.
Hospitals have reopened in the Upper Keys and Key West.
“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” said Monroe County Mayor George Neugent. “But because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”