Before Hurricane Irma came roaring through the Keys Sept. 10 and hogged headlines, much happened in the Middle Keys this year.
Prior to the storm, summertime was busiest in the Middle Keys news wise.
A fire June 6 tore through the one-acre bayside Vaca Key Marina at mile marker 47.5 and destroyed three boats, a house, six forklifts and thousands of lobster traps. U.S. 1 traffic in both directions was shut down for hours as the fire burned from 2 to 5 a.m. Around 10,000 lobster and stone-crab traps were lost in the fire and total damages were around $2 million.
July 15, a 3-year-old boy drowned in a Key Colony Beach canal moments after his family arrived from Georgia for a Florida Keys vacation. Andrew Williams’ mother, Erica Williams, told the Sheriff’s Office that she and her husband were unpacking their truck in the driveway of the house they rented when the boy ran through the home’s side yard that leads to the canal. He could not be revived by his father, who jumped in to save him.
Baptist Health South Florida and Fishermen’s Community Hospital officials announced in July the closing of Baptist’s purchase of the Middle Keys hospital. Discussions about the sale started late last year. Now, the building at mile marker 48.5 oceanside will have to be rebuilt after Hurricane Irma destroyed the roof and caused flooding inside.
Category 4 Irma destroyed nearly 1,200 residential and commercial structures in Monroe County, according to county government staff. The hardest-hit portion of Marathon was the oceanside stretch between Vaca Cut, mile marker 53, to Sombrero Beach Road, mile marker 50, said Marathon Planning Director George Garrett.
“There were basically no unaffected properties for the most part,” he said, adding the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s definition of “affected” can be something as simple as branches or a downed tree on a property.
Of the 6,643 homes visited by surveyors, 394 were deemed destroyed, 1,402 had major damage, 829 had minor damage and 4,018 were “affected.”
A fuel tank explosion at Marathon Electric Sign & Light on March 23 sent two Marathon men to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami with injuries. Both survived the blast at the bayside shop at Aviation Boulevard and 107th Street, which witnesses said was “four times louder than that of a transformer exploding.”
The city of Key Colony Beach started off the year by hiring its first-ever paid city administrator. Hired in January, the first day on the job for Christopher Moonis was March 27. He is working part-time for $60,000 a year and left his post as an administrator for the borough of Myerstown, Pa., to live in the Middle Keys.
Marathon lionfish hunter Rachel Bowman was honored as one of the state’s top harvesters. She and two other women took first place in the third annual Lionfish World Championship in May and hauled in more than 900 of spiny predators. Bowman makes her living selling her lionfish catches to restaurants and others. She said some of the tournament fish were sold to Whole Foods, to which she has been selling since May 2016.
Marathon City Councilwoman Michelle Coldiron was handed the gavel in November as the city’s new mayor. Her council term ends in November 2019.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219