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Sign Of Recovery: Key West Sign Welcomed Back After Irma

Nancy Klingener
After being knocked down by Hurricane Irma, hijacked to the Gulf Coast, returned and refurbished, the Key West welcome sign was unveiled at the entrance to the island Tuesday.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, a couple dozen people gathered in a place you’d normally want to spend as little time as possible.

Locals call it the Triangle — a piece of median where U.S. 1 connects with Key West.

They were celebrating the return of the iconic “Welcome” sign that was dislodged by Hurricane Irma — then stolen in the days after the storm.

It wound up on Florida’s Gulf Coast. When authorities determined who had it — with the help of a photo of the license plate of the truck that carried it away — it was returned via the Key West Express ferry from Fort Myers. No questions asked.

But the 10-year-old sign, installed by the Rotary Club of Key West, needed some refurbishment after the storm and its cross-state journey.

All three of Key West’s Rotary Clubs chipped in for the $6,000 repair bill, said Linda Russin, treasurer of the Rotary Club of Key West.

“People love this sign and they will stop and come over and take a picture in front of the sign,” she said.

Key West Mayor Craig Cates said he was happy to see it return.

“It’s like a piece of Key West was stolen from us,” he said. The return shows “we’re back after the storm and we’re looking forward to the future.”

The sign features the sun low over the water, a banana tree, hibiscus flowers and, of course, a carving of a conch shell.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.