Returning Keys residents must be self-sustaining, officials say
Returnees urged to bring tents, food, water, medications.
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 up 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 restore access all the way to Key West starting this morning.
Recovery efforts are well underway, with the Salvation Army serving 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 were 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 yet worried about harsh living conditions for those who choose return.
Curfews remained in effect, and returning residents received a clear message from Keys officials: You must be self-sufficient. They urged residents to bring tents, small air conditioning units, food, water and medications.
Ensuring residents and businesses owners could return while blocking tourists, gawkers, looters and others who could hamper recovery efforts remained a challenge. Nearly two dozen checkpoints in the hardest-hit areas will be heavily staffed with law-enforcement officers to ensure 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.