Re­turn­ing Keys res­i­dents must be self-sus­tain­ing, of­fi­cials say

Re­turnees urged to bring tents, food, wa­ter, med­i­ca­tions.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - NATION - By Adri­ana Gomez Li­con and Freida Fris­aro

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.

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