Hurricane Dennis leaves $100,000 in Damage at Key West Airport

Relieved residents of the Florida Keys trickled back Sunday to an island chain battered, but not too bruised, by Hurricane Dennis after the storm grazed Monroe County, leaving debris in its wake but no major damage.

Key West and Monroe officials said it would take a few days to fully assess how much Dennis cost the Keys. The American Red Cross deployed about 25 workers to the Lower Keys on Sunday to assist with damage assessments.

''It was very close, very close, but once again we were very lucky,'' said Irene Toner, director of county emergency management.

At its closest point early Saturday, Dennis came within 89 miles of Key West. But the storm's massive size toted tropical storm force winds lasting about 17 hours in the Lower Keys and deposited nearly six inches of rain on Key West.

After more than 36 hours of rain and wind, the sun came out Sunday, encouraging locals to emerge from battened-down homes to survey the aftermath and begin a clean-up that's likely to take a few days.

Electricity was restored to most of the 27,000 Lower Keys households and businesses left without power after Dennis made his entrance Friday night, though power to parts of residential Key West was touch-and-go into late Sunday. By morning, though, there was nothing left to do but grab a broom.

''I was up at 7 a.m.,'' said Glenda Lopez, an employee at the Center Court inn and cottages just off Simonton Street, as she plucked another branch from the sidewalk. ''It's going to take two or three days to clean this up.''

Along Duval Street, Key West's main tourist thoroughfare, workers removed plywood, wiped down furniture and reopened refrigerators powered for nearly a day by generators.

''It's too early for this, way too early,'' said Lee Constantine, manager of Mangoes restaurant, which was serving mojitos and main courses Sunday night.

Tourism stewards, meanwhile, scrambled to get the word out that the city would again be ready for visitors today. Many residents who evacuated began the trek back Sunday, though some seemed to be waiting just a little longer. Traffic was reported as light on U.S. 1, the main road into and out of the Keys.

In neighborhoods, garbage cans held the remnants of a storm unlikely to be the last.

''I'm getting shutters. I'm definitely getting shutters,'' said Key West resident Clara Taylor as she inspected the car in front of her eyebrow-style wooden house.

High winds and driving rains had forced power and public works crews to delay major efforts to restore services and remove debris. By Sunday, workers were out in force, removing ficus trees that had toppled into streets, repairing electric lines and reclaiming low-lying parts of Key West still under water.

''It's been pretty wild. It's been a very busy day,'' said Roy Chavez, a public works foreman, as workers in thick rubber boots and push brooms swept downed limbs from Duval Street.

At Key West International Airport, where Dennis did an estimated $100,000 in damage, managers scrambled to clear water and seaweed for a scheduled reopening today.