Shocked res­i­dents re­turn to Irma-rav­aged Florida Keys

More than 60 killed by storm, at least 18 in US

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

Evac­uees from Hur­ri­cane Irma were early yes­ter­day re­turn­ing to the Florida Keys, where sun­rise will give them a first glimpse of dev­as­ta­tion that has left count­less homes and busi­nesses in ru­ins. Cat­e­go­rized as one of the most pow­er­ful At­lantic storms on record, Irma claimed more than 60 lives, of­fi­cials said. At least 18 peo­ple died in Florida and de­struc­tion was wide­spread in the Keys, where Irma made ini­tial US land­fall on Sun­day to be­come the sec­ond ma­jor hur­ri­cane to strike the main­land this sea­son.

A re­sort is­land chain that stretches from the tip of the state into the Gulf of Mex­ico, the Keys are con­nected by a bridges and cause­ways along a nar­row route of nearly 100 miles. “I don’t have a house. I don’t have a job. I have noth­ing,” said Mercedes Lopez, 50, whose fam­ily fled north from the Keys town of Marathon on Fri­day and rode out the storm at an Orlando ho­tel, only to learn their home was de­stroyed, along with the gaso­line sta­tion where she worked.

“We came here, leav­ing ev­ery­thing at home, and we go back to noth­ing,” Lopez said. Four fam­i­lies from Marathon in­clud­ing hers planned to ven­ture back yes­ter­day to sal­vage what they can. The Keys had been largely evac­u­ated by the time Irma bar­reled ashore as a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane with sus­tained winds of up to 130 mph. Ini­tial dam­age as­sess­ments found 25 per­cent of homes there were de­stroyed and 65 per­cent suf­fered ma­jor dam­age, Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency ad­min­is­tra­tor Brock Long said.

‘Sail­boat in our back­yard’

Author­i­ties al­lowed re-en­try to the is­lands of Key Largo, Tav­ernier and Is­lam­orada for res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers on Tues­day. The ex­tent of the dev­as­ta­tion took many of the first re­turnees by sur­prise. “I ex­pected some fence lines to be down and some de­bris,” said Orlando More­jon, 51, a trauma sur­geon from Mi­ami as he hacked away at a tree block­ing his Is­lam­orada drive­way. “We were not ex­pect­ing to find some­one else’s sail­boat in our back­yard.”

A boil wa­ter no­tice was in ef­fect for the Keys late on Tues­day, while its air­ports re­mained closed to com­mer­cial flights. Sev­eral ma­jor air­ports in Florida that had halted pas­sen­ger op­er­a­tions re­sumed with lim­ited ser­vice on Tues­day, in­clud­ing Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional, one of the busiest in the United States. All 42 bridges in Mon­roe County, which in­cludes the Keys, were deemed safe and one of two washed out sec­tions of US 1 Road­way was now nav­i­ga­ble, the county said on its Twit­ter ac­count.

At the end of Is­lam­orada, roughly the half­way point of the Keys, po­lice at a check­point turned around re­turn­ing res­i­dents seek­ing to travel far­ther south and waved through util­ity crews, law en­force­ment and health­care work­ers. Author­i­ties said they were bar­ring re-en­try to the re­main­der of the Keys to al­low more time to re­store elec­tric­ity, wa­ter, fuel and med­i­cal ser­vice. US of­fi­cials have said some 10,000 Keys res­i­dents stayed put when the storm hit and may ul­ti­mately need to be evac­u­ated.

Across Florida and nearby states, some 5.8 mil­lion homes and busi­nesses were late on Tues­day es­ti­mated to be still with­out power, down from a peak of 7.4 mil­lion on Mon­day. Florida’s largest util­ity, Florida Power & Light Co, said western parts of Florida might be with­out elec­tric­ity un­til Sept. 22. The state’s largest city, Jack­sonville, in its north­east­ern cor­ner, was still re­cov­er­ing from heavy flood­ing yes­ter­day.

While dam­age across Florida was se­vere, it paled in com­par­i­son with dev­as­ta­tion wrought by Irma in parts of the Caribbean, which ac­counted for the bulk of the hur­ri­cane’s fa­tal­i­ties. It de­stroyed about one-third of the build­ings on the Dutch-gov­erned por­tion of the east­ern Caribbean is­land of St. Martin, the Dutch Red Cross said on Tues­day. Irma was a post-trop­i­cal cy­clone late on Tues­day as it drifted north as it brought rain to the Mis­sis­sippi Val­ley, the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said. It hit the United States soon af­ter Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, which plowed into Hous­ton late last month, killing about 60 and caus­ing some $180 bil­lion in dam­age, mostly from flood­ing.—Reuters

FLORIDA: A beach­front home shows dam­age from Hur­ri­cane Irma in Vi­lano Beach, Florida.—AFP

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