Key West grotto attracts residents seeking divine intervention after Irma

KEY WEST, FLA. (WSVN) - In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, some Key West residents have continued to pray at a grotto believed to be a source of divine protection from natural disasters.

“You go down to the grotto, light a candle, say a prayer and hope that the hurricane doesn’t hit us,” said hurricane survivor Phil Tannura.

Some people might be skeptical, but plenty of people in Key West believe there is something there.

“It was established by a nun a number of years ago and people do go light candles. Somebody in my family went,” said George Caffery, another survivor.

The grotto is located at the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea.

“Sister Louise Gabriel was a sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary who served in our school for over 100 years,” said Father John Baker, as pastor at the congregation.

He said Sister Gabriel built the grotto after the islands suffered from three major storms. Gabriel had hoped it would protect the Florida Keys from future devastation.

Baker said the site was busy non-stop before Hurricane Irma hit.

“Even before they evacuated, and after those had evacuated, and the other one’s stayed, yeah. And afterwards, too,” said Baker.

People lit candles, said prayers and sought comfort.

“And that’s the importance of being here around the time of a storm, you know, to talk with people,” said Baker.

“That goes a long ways, especially in the aftermath,” said Tannura.

Of those who stayed behind during the storm, some said prayers were definitely needed.

“No damage to our house,” said survivor Don Gray, who stayed behind when Irma hit. “The house was shaking. We were saying a few prayers.”

Some have remained faithful to the grotto, even if visiting the site didn’t always work.

“They seem to hit us on occasion anyway, but we give it our best, I guess,” said Tannura.

The grotto has given residents of the island a sense of security when it seemed like nothing else would help.

“But I do swear when I was walking around on Friday, everyone I saw said, ‘I’ve been to the grotto, I’ve been to the grotto,’ so it’s real. It’s very important to the people of Key West,” said Baker.

During the storm, a massive tree next to the grotto was blown down and landed away from the site.

Baker said it’s a sign that someone is watching over the island.

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