Dry Tortugas evacuated before Irma, no word on Fort Jefferson damage

KEY WEST, Florida (WNCN) — West of Key West, which was heavily damaged in Hurricane Irma this week, there are other islands off the Florida coast.

An off-the-radar vacation spot and U.S. National Park is about 70 miles west of Key West and is accessible only by seaplane or boat.

Before Irma hit, all staffers and visitors evacuated Fort Jefferson which a historic site in the Dry Tortugas islands.

The fort, which has a moat, was built — but never completely finished — by the US military in 1861 on Garden Key.

Now, it’s part a national park — great for snorkeling — where day-trip visitors arrive by seaplane or that campers can access by ferry.

The area, also noted for bird life and shipwrecks, is named “dry” because it lacks fresh water, has been hit by many hurricanes, including Wilma in 2005.

No one has been back to Fort Jefferson since Irma hit, park officials told our affiliate WNCN on Tuesday.

“We remain hopeful there was little or no damage to the park or our facilities,” said Glenn Simpson, site manager of the park.

The park has limited electricity from generators and staffers left them running during the evacuation.

Crews were able to “ping” servers at the fort remotely that indicate the generators were not flooded during Irma, Simpson said.

All park staffers rode out the storm elsewhere and have since been accounted for, Simpson said.

It’s not clear if the Loggerhead Key Lighthouse, which was undergoing restoration,  on nearby Loggerhead Key was damaged.

Fort Jefferson, which has more than 16 million bricks, is the largest brick masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere.

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