When you fly into Key West, you spend a lot of time over the ocean before anything like land appears. There is water and water, and then tiny dots of green stuck in the middle. The first time I flew to Key West what struck me was how alone the island was, jutting out into the middle of a blue nothingness. I remember thinking how hard it would be to get anywhere else from here.
Over the weekend, Hurricane Irma made a beeline for the Keys and people are saying it’s the heaviest storm to hit that area in 57 years. Because it’s a place I love, I spent a lot of time trying to find out how Key West fared. Were people okay? Was most of Old Town under water? Did any of the buildings, some of them as old as the buildings here in Madison, get damaged? Are the Hemingway cats okay?
Pretty quickly it became clear that after early Sunday morning, no one knew. No one really knew how badly Irma hit the Keys. There were rumors of a “humanitarian crisis” and the pressing need for a mobile morgue unit, but it’s unclear if that’s true or not. Even by Monday morning, places like the Miami Herald were saying, we’ll have to wait and see. Wait until the sun comes up and planes can fly into the airports again. With power and cell phone service out and roads that aren’t yet passable, we just don’t know.
How strange is that? To say in 2017 that we just don’t know what’s happening in a place, a place that is still (though sometimes not willingly) part of the United States. Our constantly updated world of Twitter and Facebook and 24 hour news just sort of ends at a certain spot on U.S. 1. Beyond that are people we hope are alright and an island we hope is still there.