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After Irma, Rubio Vows To Rebuild Everglades National Park 'Stronger Than Ever'

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EVERGLADES (CBSMiami) -- More work is still needed to repair damage done by Hurricane Irma to the Florida Everglades and on Saturday, Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke got a first-hand look.

The Flamingo Marina and Visitor Center at Everglades National Park is operating with limited facilities following the storm. It's an area Sen. Rubio said he's been to dozens of times with his family.

Marco Rubio - Everglades
Sen. Marco Rubio takes a tour of the Everglades National Park on Oct. 7, 2017 following the damage from Hurricane Irma. (Source: CBS4)

"This is an enormous part of our identity as a state, and an incredible part of our economy," he said along the tour. "This is a key part of what we wanted to see here today and to be able to go back and work with our colleagues, both in the administration and in Congress, to make sure we rebuild and bring back facilities like this in the Everglades stronger than ever."

Everglades officials estimate the park brings in about $250 million to the local economy each year, which could take a hit as the facilities face a collapsed ceiling, water damage and debris scattered about.

"We took a lot of damage, both here and in Everglades City at our Gulf Coast Ranger Station," said the park's Superintendent Pedro Ramos. "That speaks to the importance of us restoring this place from an economy perspective and also working hard to rebuild this place so that visitors start coming back in and, in that way, start bringing money back into the local economy."

Nature also took a hit.

Park workers have been clearing downed trees and are working to address underwater damage concerns that could affect marine life.

"We all understand how important our parks are, not only for stewardship and protection of American lands, but also for the local communities," said Sec. Zinke, whose Department of the Interior oversees the national park service. "Our park employees have been devastated, too."

Park sections are opening gradually.

While much of the focus is on storm cleanup, there are also ongoing restoration projects.

"Everglades restoration is what's going to give us the Everglades well, well into the future, for generations ahead," said Ramos.

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