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Florida Keys Residents Still Struggling To Rebuild After Hurricane Irma


When we last talked to Rachel Price, she was stuck in Cincinnati, trying to get back to the Florida Keys. This was September. Hurricane Irma had just hit the Keys hard, and Rachel had had to leave the inn she owns there with her mom, Janice. It's called the White Sands Inn. When we reached her, she had just seen photos of the inn that were sent by a friend.


RACHEL PRICE: Pretty much the entire first floor of my hotel is gone. It's a concrete building. And the part that faces the ocean has two huge holes on the ocean side, and it pretty much cleared out the entire first floor that way.

KELLY: That was seven months ago. And now with spring break season in full swing, we wanted to know what happened to the White Sands Inn. Rachel Price, welcome back to the program.

PRICE: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So what happened? Have you been able to reopen?

PRICE: As of yet, no, but we are slowly moving in the direction of opening.

KELLY: I mean, when we spoke to you there, you hadn't actually been home to see the damage in person yet. Was it as bad as you thought it was from looking at the pictures?

PRICE: Yeah. Just listen to the recap almost made me tear up. When we first pulled in, it was just before sunset, so we didn't have much time. It's just stuff wrapped in trees, little things that you recognize. Nobody else would recognize them, but I recognized them from this or from that and from this room thrown about or in a tree or under a rock. Took me about a week to figure out what these things were, but they were mixed into the different palm trees. They were box springs, but they were all tore up and wrapped around a tree. And so it was basically two two-by-fours and a whole bunch of fabric - things like that. That's what you're left with, and that's what you have to clean up. And it just really hits you (laughter) - really hits you hard when you're standing there looking at it.

KELLY: Well, it sounds like you've had a to-do list about a mile long.

PRICE: (Laughter).

KELLY: Tell me what these last seven months have been like.

PRICE: It's been very trying, a lot of paperwork. All I keep thinking in my head is everybody's in the same situation, so everything's taking much longer than you expect. Like, for instance, I just got paid for one of the insurances. Yet you're seven months out, and you're still waiting for some funds.

KELLY: And what about the building itself? I mean, you - when we talked to you seven months ago, you were talking about the part of the hotel that faces the ocean. There's - was just a big hole. Is it rebuilt now?

PRICE: It's not rebuilt now. They're starting to do the concrete rebuilding. And those two big holes I've decided to look at as a silver lining. Instead of having a small, one single door, they're going to have French doors facing the ocean.

KELLY: What about the pool that you told us was filled with the beach seven months ago?

PRICE: (Laughter) Well, I've had quite a few different volunteers come into town and people that are friends and other people that work and live here that weren't hit as hard. All those people put on their gloves and their bandanas and jumped in. And it's just really, really amazing to me.

KELLY: So do you have a time frame in mind for when you're hoping to be able to reopen and check that first guest in?

PRICE: I don't have a time frame in mind. I keep making one. But something happens, and it keeps changing my timeline. So I decided I'm not going to say it anymore (laughter). I've said it several times - that I would be open. I thought I'd be open in February. I thought I'd be open in April. And now we're here, and we're still not open.

KELLY: This must hit hard, though, to not be able to be open at spring break. I mean, this must be really high season for you.

PRICE: Yes. Our highest season is pretty much from Christmas until tax day, and we've missed the entire thing.

KELLY: So what keeps you going? How are you getting through this?

PRICE: It's very tough. I've had actually some other guests that have sent some money. My cousin's wife set me up with a GoFundMe page. I'm sorry (laughter) - got me all cut up. I've had quite a few quite regular guests and friends that have donated in that fashion. And it's gotten us through 'cause even though this happens, you still have to pay your mortgages.

KELLY: Well, Rachel Price, we wish you good luck. We'll be rooting for you as you try to get these last projects done and get that first guest checked back in when you get to reopen.

PRICE: Oh, that's going to be a happy day (laughter). I can't wait to tell you about that.

KELLY: That's Rachel Price, co-owner of the White Sands Inn Marathon, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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