Route to Keys fi­nally re­opens

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION -

MI­AMI — As the dev­as­tated Florida Keys be­gan re­open­ing to res­i­dents who fled Hur­ri­cane Irma, of­fi­cials warned the re­turn­ing is­lan­ders to bring enough sup­plies to sus­tain them for a while, be­cause no one yet knows when wa­ter and power 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,” Mon­roe County Mayor Ge­orge Neu­gent said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Satur­day.

Of­fi­cials opened 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. Sun­day.

Re­cov­ery ef­forts are well un­der way with the Sal­va­tion Army pro­vid­ing meals in Marathon and Key West — the first hot food 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 FEMA, in­sur­ance and small busi­ness re­lief pa­per­work.

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

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

Get­ting Key West res­i­dents and busi­nesses own­ers to the south­ern­most point re­mained a chal­lenge as au­thor­i­ties work 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 to en­sure only au­tho­rized res­i­dents and re­lief work­ers get through.

Fur­ther north, Broward County school of­fi­cials said classes would re­sume Mon­day.

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