KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — Parts of the Florida Keys are still recovering from Hurricane Irma’s devastation, but that didn’t stop tens of thousands of people from flocking to Key West for the annual decadent Fantasy Fest costuming and masking festival.
The highlight of the 10-day event, the Saturday night Fantasy Fest Parade, escaped heavy rains from Tropical Storm Philippe that drenched most of South Florida over the weekend and spawned at least one tornado.
Among its 50 motorized floats, exotically costumed marching groups and Caribbean-style dance troupes were several entries recognizing the island chain’s encounter with Irma, whose most serious impacts were felt in the Lower Keys.
Members of one Lower Keys group created an imaginative float entirely from hurricane debris, while another float featured participants in costumes resembling FEMA-supplied blue roofing tarps.
“To see them (the Lower Keys groups) there with their floats was fantastic and shows the tenacity of people in the Keys,” said Fantasy Fest Director Nadene Grossman. “They were determined not to let the storm get the best of them.”
As the first major special event since Irma, Fantasy Fest was expected to provide a crucial infusion of visitor dollars to the Keys’ tourism-based economy, whose businesses employ 54 percent of the local workforce.
“We are here to support the many people that work in Fantasy Fest who have rent to pay, bills due, things like that,” said parade spectator Scott Purvis of Umatilla, Florida. “We did not bow out from coming here because of Hurricane Irma.”
Florida Keys tourism officials said the festival traditionally garners approximately $30 million in revenues to the island chain each year.
For some attendees, experiencing Fantasy Fest was a greater travel motivator than benefiting the Keys’ post-Irma economy.
“I honestly didn’t think about the hurricane,” said Bruna Corso of Miami. “We were going to make it to Key West, wanted to see what this was all about, and it was just great.”