NOW IT'S HITTING HOME
Irma’s devastation sinks in as stunned Floridians return
Thousands of Floridians endured gasoline shortages and bumper-tobumper traffic Tuesday as they made the slow journey back south to their storm-ravaged communities — where many found they had nothing left.
“A lot of people lost everything,” Darwin Tabacco, who lives in the Florida Keys, told CNN.
“There’s homes blown off the stilts. There’s power lines down all over the place. Trees completely uprooted. People’s businesses flooded. Septic fields flooding. It’s just terrible.”
About 90 percent of the homes in the Keys were either destroyed or sustained major damage when Hurricane Irma swept through the island chain with 130-mph winds, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday.
“Basically, every house in the Keys was impacted some way,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said.
A quarter of the houses were entirely destroyed, the agency added.
“It’s going to be pretty hard for those coming home,” said Petrona Hernandez, who lives in Plantation Key. “It’s going to be devastating to them.”
While some Keys residents were allowed to return to their homes, the lower Keys — including Key West — were still closed as search-and-rescue teams scoured the islands and authorities worked to repair roads.
“We are still without water, power, sewer, gas and cell service,” said Leyla Nedin, who lives on Cudjoe Key, where the storm first made landfall, and is worried about returning home.
“My concern is that even if we get to go in to the lower Keys, our fragile infrastructure could be even more compromised.”
About 10 million residents across Florida were still without power Tuesday — and it could take up to 10 days
for electricity to be fully restored in the state, utility officials said.
The number of storm-related deaths in the continental United States has climbed to 18, and at least 37 people were killed in the Caribbean, according to The Associated Press.
Among the dead are Zhen Tain, 21, killed in a car wreck Monday in South Carolina in the midst of Irma, and Brian Buwalda, an accountant from Orlando, Fla., electrocuted by a downed power line.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said there’s “a lot of work to do” — and more than 30,000 utility workers — including those from out-ofstate companies pitching in — have been working to get power restored.
“Everybody’s going to come together,” Scott said. “We’re going to get this state rebuilt. This state is a state of strong resilient people.”
Richard Nowak, 86, returned to his trailer home in Naples, Fla., and was shocked by the damage.
“I don’t understand, it’s almost like a tornado,” he told NBC News. “[Hurricane] Wilma [in 2005] was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as this.”
In Naples, more than 300 people waited in a line for a Publix super- market to open — and they weren’t always patient.
“At first it’s like, ‘We’re safe, thank God.’ Now they’re testy,” said Phill Chirchirillo, 57, who waited more than two hours for groceries. “The order of the day is to keep people calm.”
William Rose hasn’t been able to reach family members in the Keys.
“I have no idea” if they survived, he told CNN.
He said his mom texted him just before losing cellphone service, lamenting that she had refused to evacuate. “This is terrible. I will never do this again,” she wrote. “I’m so glad you got out.”
The White House announced Tuesday that President Trump will visit Florida Thursday to survey the damage.
Meanwhile, officials abroad were addressing the devastation in their Caribbean-island territories.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he will spend “the coming days” in the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla.
French President Emmanuel Macron traveled Tuesday to the halfFrench island of St. Martin, where there were reports of mass looting, and to St. Barts.
Mobile homes (left) in a Florida Keysy trailer park lie destroyed in the aftermath of Irma. Meanwhile, a fallen seaside home in Vilano Beach (top right) sits by the shore; a couple (near right) takes a wet ride on their senior trikes in Naples; and Patty Purdo (far right) examines the damage to her mobile home.