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Florida Keys Update

Sunday, January 15, 2006

On Oct. 24, Hurricane Wilma blew through the Florida Keys, stirring up the seas and palm trees with fierce winds and a powerful storm surge. Four days later, though, 91 percent of hotels and attractions had reopened to visitors.

While the popular vacation destination took an economic hit, said Andy Newman, spokesman for the Florida Keys Tourism Council, "physically, the tourism infrastructure was not heavily impacted."

In the 2 1/2 months since Wilma, the chain of islands has fully repaired the damage caused by flooding and wind gusts (the former was much worse than the latter). Highways are now clear of fallen debris, plus or minus a stray piece of wood, and in the Lower Keys and Key West, the trees are nearing full greenery.

The property loss tally is equally encouraging: Only one or two properties have shuttered. Hidden Harbor Motel in Marathon, for example, will be converted into condos. "The vacation experience," said Newman, "is absolutely solid."

-- Andrea Sachs

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