A tiny Florida beach town is rebuilding after a hurricane. Is it becoming a preserve of the rich?
It took the better part of a day before Tom and Lisa Johnson were able to secure a room at a motel outside of Marathon, Florida, for a two-night stay. Then they walked the mile to get to the room, a large, empty building with a single room on the second floor, an outdoor bathroom, two small kitchenettes, and nothing else in the way of comfort.
“Pretty scary,” said Tom, a lawyer, as he and his wife sat on the bench in the sandy parking lot by the motel. “We did have a car—which I thought was a good and safe precaution. We can’t live on the beach.”
As they walked to their room, they saw some other people parked in the motel courtyard, but by then most of the other guests had left for the day. For days, nothing had been done to the parking lot, a single paved road in the middle of a wide-open beach surrounded by coconut palms, cacti, and other plants, and empty blue and green water where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s sad,” said Tom. “I don’t know what to say. It’s so sad to see.”
It wasn’t a big town, but Marathon had grown quickly in the past few decades as a high-tech resort destination. It was once a sleepy town of about 7,000 people where tourism and new businesses like a golf course had drawn people in. By now, it has grown by more than double that, to more than 30,000 residents, and still it is an empty town.
The residents of Marathon don’t know how to rebuild. After Hurricane Maria, they watched as one-third of their homes were destroyed and half their income wiped out in just a few weeks. “It was devastating,” said Mike Spivey, a Marathon resident.
In fact, the hardest hit of the Florida Keys—Marathon, the keys, and Key West