Res­i­dents re­turn home

Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate a quar­ter of homes in Florida Keys de­stroyed by hur­ri­cane Irma

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - WORLD NEWS - FREIDA FRIS­ARO and MARTHA MENDOZA

MI­AMI — Search-and-res­cue teams made their way into the Florida Keys’ far­thest reaches Tues­day, while crews laboured to re­pair the sin­gle washed-out high­way con­nect­ing the is­lands and rush aid to hur­ri­cane Irma’s vic­tims. Fed­eral of­fi­cials es­ti­mated one-quar­ter of all homes in the Keys were de­stroyed.

Two days af­ter Irma roared into the is­land chain with 209 km/h winds, res­i­dents were al­lowed to re­turn to the parts of the Keys clos­est to Florida’s main­land. But the full ex­tent of the dam­age re­mained a ques­tion mark be­cause com­mu­ni­ca­tions and ac­cess were cut off.

Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency ad­min­is­tra­tor Brock Long said while the as­sess­ment of dam­age was con­stantly chang­ing, pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mates sug­gested that in ad­di­tion to the de­stroyed dwellings, 65 per cent of homes in the Keys sus­tained ma­jor dam­age.

“Ba­si­cally ev­ery house in the Keys was im­pacted,” he said.

Statewide, as many as 13 mil­lion peo­ple — two-thirds of Florida’s pop­u­la­tion — were with­out elec­tric­ity in the trop­i­cal heat, and of­fi­cials warned it could take 10 days or more for power to be fully re­stored. About 110,000 re­mained in shel­ters across Florida.

Seven deaths in Florida have been blamed on Irma, along with three in South Carolina and two in Ge­or­gia. At least 35 were killed in the Caribbean.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but ev­ery­body’s go­ing to come to­gether,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “We’re go­ing to get this state re­built. This state is a state of strong re­silient peo­ple.”

The Keys ap­peared to be the hard­est-hit part of Florida, even though the 645-km-wide storm en­gulfed nearly the en­tire state. Drink­ing wa­ter was cut off, all three of the is­lands’ hos­pi­tals were closed, and the sup­ply of gas was ex­tremely lim­ited.

Of­fi­cials said it was not known how many peo­ple ig­nored evac­u­a­tion or­ders to stay be­hind in the Keys.

“It’s go­ing to be pretty hard for those com­ing home,” said Petrona Her­nan­dez, whose con­crete Plan­ta­tion Key home with 10-me­tre walls was un­scathed, un­like oth­ers a few blocks away. “It’s go­ing to be dev­as­tat­ing to them.”

An air­craft car­rier was po­si­tioned off Key West to help in the search-and-res­cue ef­fort. And crews worked to re­pair two washed-out, 90-me­tre sec­tions of U.S. 1, the lone high­way from the main­land, and check the safety of the 42 bridges link­ing the is­lands.

Author­i­ties were stop­ping peo­ple to check doc­u­men­ta­tion such as proof of res­i­dency or busi­ness own­er­ship be­fore al­low­ing them back into the Up­per Keys, in­clud­ing Key Largo, Tav­ernier and Is­lam­orada.

But the Lower Keys — in­clud­ing the chain’s most dis­tant and most pop­u­lous is­land, Key West, with 27,000 peo­ple — were still off-lim­its, with a road­block in place where the road was washed out.

Corey Smith, a UPS driver who rode out the hur­ri­cane in Key Largo, said though it was a re­lief that many build­ings on the is­land es­caped ma­jor dam­age, those who sought to re­turn should rec­og­nize con­di­tions were still not good, with branches block­ing roads and su­per­mar­kets re­main­ing closed.

“They’re shov­ing peo­ple back to a place with no re­sources,” he said by tele­phone. “It’s just go­ing to get crazy pretty quick.”

Irma’s rainy rem­nants, mean­while, pushed through Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi af­ter drench­ing Ge­or­gia. Flash-flood watches and warn­ings were is­sued around the South­east.

In a part­ing blow as Irma ex­ited Florida, it caused record flood­ing in the Jack­sonville area, where the sher­iff ’s of­fice re­ported res­cu­ing at least 356 peo­ple.

BRIAN BLANCO/GETTY IMAGES

Waist-deep in flood­wa­ter, Shelly Hughes gets her first look at the inside of her flooded camper at the Peace River Camp­ground in the wake of hur­ri­cane Irma on Tues­day.

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