Of­fi­cials warn re­turn­ing Keys res­i­dents must be self-suf­fi­cient

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Freida Fris­aro and Kelli Kennedy

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 Satur­day.

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

Re­cov­ery ef­forts were 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 are be­ing set up in the area to help res­i­dents fill out FEMA, in­sur­ance and small business relief pa­per­work. Even a gro­cery store was open un­til 5 p.m. on Fri­day.

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 self-suf­fi­cient. They en­cour­aged res­i­dents to bring tents, small air con­di­tion­ing units, food, wa­ter and med­i­ca­tions.

Of­fi­cials said their de­tailed hur­ri­cane plan didn’t ac­count for some unique chal­lenges brought 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.

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

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