Hurricane Warning for Florida; Keys Economy Already Hit

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"Traffic was moving steadily," Roth said. "It didn't stop. It was backed up, but it never did stop."

On any given day, there are a hundred thousand or more tourists on the 110-mile (180-kilometer) stretch of coral outcroppings that make up the Keys.

How Much Lost?

Keys tourism officials do not yet have an exact calculation for the cost of the Fay evacuation to the local economy. But in 2004, when evacuations were ordered for three hurricanes that passed near the Keys, the total cost to business was estimated at U.S. $50 million.

The cost of evacuating for Fay will be considerably less than that, said Andy Newman, publicist for the Florida Keys tourism council.

"No one ever likes visitor evacuation," Newman said. "But if the Keys have to be dealt the evacuation card, this is a good time for it.

"The bulk of our visitors this time of year come from South Florida. People were leaving [Sunday] anyway. The hotels expected very, very low occupancies for [Monday]."

In Marathon, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Key West, boat owners were busy all day Sunday pulling their boats out of the water, said resident Jeff Pinkus.

"Most of the businesses don't like evacuations, but it's something we've got to do," Pinkus said.

In Key West the port has been closed, meaning the city will further lose tourism revenue, because large cruise ships won't be allowed in until the storm threat has passed.

Cmdr. James Olive of the U.S. Coast Guard station in Key West said a Coast Guard cutter from the island already has had to tow one boat to safety, and he expects the Coast Guard here will be busy for a couple of days.

"What we typically deal with are people who are unfamiliar with such storms and are unprepared for them," Olive said.

With the departure of tens of thousands of tourists, downtown Key West was unusually quiet Monday morning.

"It's cooled down a little and been very pleasant," said Mauldin, the former police chief. "Basically, it's very calm right now. But that may change this afternoon."

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