Keys evac­uees al­lowed back in; util­i­ties lack­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - FREIDA FRISARO AND KELLI KENNEDY

MI­AMI — As the dev­as­tated Florida Keys be­gan re­open­ing to res­i­dents who fled Hur­ri­cane Irma, of­fi­cials warned the re­turn­ing is­landers to take along enough sup­plies to sus­tain them for a while be­cause no one knows when wa­ter and elec­tric­ity will be fully re­stored.

“The Keys are not what you left sev­eral days ago when you evac­u­ated. Elec­tric­ity, sewer and wa­ter are in­ter­mit­tent at best,” said Mon­roe County Mayor Ge­orge Neu­gent dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Satur­day.

Of­fi­cials re­opened U.S. 1 on Satur­day all the way south to Marathon for res­i­dents, busi­ness own­ers, dis­as­ter work­ers and sup­ply trucks. They also an­nounced plans to let the same groups have ac­cess all the way to Key West start­ing at 7 a.m. to­day.

Re­cov­ery ef­forts are well un­der­way with the Sal­va­tion Army plan­ning to serve 5,000 bar­be­cue din­ners Satur­day night in Marathon and Key West, mark­ing the first hot meals for many since Irma made land­fall nearly a week ago.

Roads were be­ing cleared and re­cov­ery cen­ters are be­ing set up in the area to help res­i­dents fill out Federal Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, in­sur­ance and small-busi­ness re­lief pa­per­work.

Of­fi­cials had ag­o­nized over the de­ci­sion to re­open the is­lands, know­ing that res­i­dents were des­per­ate to as­sess the dam­age with their own eyes, yet wor­ried about the harsh liv­ing con­di­tions for those who re­turned.

Cur­fews re­mained in ef­fect, and re­turn­ing res­i­dents re­ceived a clear mes­sage from Keys of­fi­cials — you must be self-suf­fi­cient. They en­cour­aged res­i­dents to have tents, small air-con­di­tion­ing units, food, wa­ter and med­i­ca­tions.

Of­fi­cials said their de­tailed hur­ri­cane plan didn’t ac­count for some unique chal­lenges posed by Irma, which nearly wiped out parts of the mid­dle Keys, while Key West re­mained in de­cent shape.

Get­ting Key West res­i­dents and busi­nesses own­ers to the south­ern­most point re­mained a chal­lenge as au­thor­i­ties worked to keep out tourists, gawk­ers, loot­ers and oth­ers who could ham­per re­cov­ery ef­forts.

Nearly two dozen check­points in the hard­est-hit ar­eas will be heav­ily staffed with law-en­force­ment of­fi­cers to check IDs and en­sure that only au­tho­rized res­i­dents and re­lief work­ers get through.

Mean­while, of­fi­cials said they hope to open gov­ern­ment of­fices, courts and schools in the Keys on Sept. 28.

Farther north in Broward and Mi­ami-Dade coun­ties, stu­dents in two of the na­tion’s largest school dis­tricts still don’t know when they’ll re­turn to class, forc­ing many Florida par­ents to jug­gle child care as they head into a sec­ond week of re­cov­er­ing from Hur­ri­cane Irma.

Mi­ami-Dade and Broward coun­ties had hoped to re­sume op­er­a­tions Mon­day. But dozens of schools in the two dis­tricts — which serve al­most 700,000 stu­dents — are still with­out power. An an­nounce­ment is ex­pected this week­end. In many south Florida coun­ties, school has not been in ses­sion since Sept. 6.

The un­cer­tainty put ad­di­tional stress on par­ents try­ing to re­turn to work.

For Lori Eick­le­berry, 45, who owns a psy­chol­ogy prac­tice with two of­fices in south Florida, it means tak­ing her 10-year-old daugh­ter to work with her.

“It’s chal­leng­ing, but we kept busy with ac­tiv­i­ties, some col­or­ing,” said Eick­el­berry of Co­conut Grove.

In some south­west Florida dis­tricts, classes are post­poned un­til Sept. 25.

Irma spread dam­age across the en­tire Sun­shine State. In south­west Florida on Satur­day, of­fi­cials went doorto-door warn­ing people who live near the With­la­coochee River north of the Tampa Bay area of the po­ten­tial for record-high flood­ing in the com­ing days.

Her­nando County of­fi­cials said deputies, fire­fight­ers and of­fi­cials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion used boats to get to homes along the river to urge res­i­dents to get out as the wa­ter lev­els started ris­ing, ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said a gauge at Trilby in Pasco County is at 16.3 feet, with the ma­jor flood stage at 16.5 feet.

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