Florida strug­gles back to its feet

Elec­tric­ity and gas on the way; evac­uees be­gin trek home

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - John Ba­con and Ni­cole Ro­driguez

RIVIERA BEACH, FLA. Vir­tu­ally all East Coast cus­tomers of the state’s big­gest provider of elec­tric­ity should have power re­stored by Sun­day, and western cus­tomers will be fully up and run­ning a few days later, Florida Power & Light said Tues­day.

Com­pany spokesman Rob Gould said a pre­lim­i­nary as­sess­ment of Hur­ri­cane Irma’s dev­as­ta­tion in­di­cated dam­age to the elec­tri­cal in­fra­struc­ture was not as ex­ten­sive as ex­pected. That in­cluded the western coast, which took a di­rect hit.

“What we’re see­ing is en­cour­ag­ing, par­tic­u­larly on the west coast, where our main trans­mis­sion struc­tures have not come down,” said Gould, whose com­pany serves about half the state’s 10.5 mil­lion power ac­counts. He said there would be a few ex­cep­tions where dam­age was par­tic­u­larly se­vere.

About half of the state’s 21 mil­lion res­i­dents were with­out power Tues­day. Gov. Rick Scott said more than 30,000 out-of-state util­ity work­ers were aid­ing the ef­fort to turn lights on across the state.

The White House said Pres­i­dent Trump would visit Florida Thurs­day.

Irma smashed into Florida on Sun­day as a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane with 130-mph winds. The storm brought havoc to Ge­or­gia and South Carolina as well. Irma was blamed for more than a dozen deaths in the re­gion, in­clud­ing at least seven in Florida. At least 35 peo­ple were killed in the Caribbean last week.

The U.S. Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment said Tues­day that Irma vic­tims who re­ceive food stamps can use them for hot foods, nor­mally a vi­o­la­tion of the pro­gram’s rules. It also is di­rect­ing Florida and Ge­or­gia to is­sue food stamps more quickly this month.

Irma first made land­fall on the Florida Keys, then again later Sun­day on Marco Is­land on the state’s Gulf Coast. The storm roared north, flood­ing streets, top­pling trees and power lines and snap­ping con­struc­tion cranes across most of the state.

Scott said all the state’s high­way and turn­pikes were open, and a mas­sive ef­fort was un­der­way to get gas to ser­vice sta­tions. Many roads were backed up for miles as res­i­dents made the pil­grim­age back to their homes.

Author­i­ties in the Florida

Keys on Tues­day be­gan al­low­ing res­i­dents and work­ers to re­turn to the up­per is­lands in the chain — Key Largo, Tav­ernier and Is­lam­orada. The sun was shin­ing and the sky was blue, but the dam­age to the is­lands, par­tic­u­larly the lower is­lands, was cat­a­strophic.

FEMA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Brock Long said the agency was in­spect­ing bridges to the lower Keys to en­sure they were safe. He said about 25% of homes on the Keys were de­stroyed and an­other twothirds were dam­aged.

“Ba­si­cally, ev­ery house on the Keys was im­pacted,” Long said.

In Cen­tral Florida, Walt Dis­ney World opened for busi­ness in Orlando — and the Magic King­dom ap­peared un­touched. Paola Pe­droso, 28, trav­eled from Brazil with her bridal party. They stayed at a ho­tel near Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios through the worst of the storm.

“Our fam­ily and friends (back home) were scared more than us, be­cause ev­ery­body was talk­ing about it,” said Pe­droso, a white Mickey Mouse house hat and veil atop her head. “I thought it was go­ing to be a huge thing, but it wasn’t.”

In Co­coa Beach, 60 miles east of Orlando, more than 82,000 peo­ple re­mained with­out drink­able wa­ter while work­ers scram­bled Mon­day to fix breaches in the wa­ter sys­tem.

“It’s start­ing to come back, but there’s no guar­an­tees,” Co­coa City Man­ager John Titkanich said. He said it could be a few days be­fore the wa­ter is safe to drink.

“Boil your wa­ter un­til the city says don’t boil your wa­ter,” he said.

North Florida was not ex­empt from Irma’s de­struc­tion. Scott and Jack­sonville Mayor Lenny Curry viewed the flood-dam­aged city near the Ge­or­gia bor­der from the air Tues­day.

“We were shocked yes­ter­day when the flood­ing started hap­pen­ing here,” Scott said. “Thank God ev­ery­body helped ev­ery­body.”

Curry said 356 res­i­dents were res­cued by emer­gency re­sponse teams.

“It was a sight to be seen,” Curry said. “Now we just be­gin to re­build.”

The cruise in­dus­try was re­turn­ing to life. Royal Caribbean and Car­ni­val planned to re­sume sail­ings out of Fort Laud­erdale’s Port Ever­glades on Tues­day. Car­ni­val said it would re­sume sail­ings out of Mi­ami on Wed­nes­day.

In Ge­or­gia, Irma slammed some ar­eas with 6 inches or more of rain, and At­lanta had wind gusts of more than 60 mph. Dam­age and flood­ing was re­ported in some coastal com­mu­ni­ties that saw more than 500,000 peo­ple evac­u­ate ahead of the storm. Ty­bee Is­land Mayor Jason Buel­ter­man said hun­dreds of homes were flooded there.

Parts of South Carolina also saw heavy wind and rain, and his­toric Charleston was among cities deal­ing with flood­ing.

Alabama and North Carolina de­clared states of emer­gency ahead of the storm, and rem­nants of Irma were sweep­ing through sev­eral other states, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said.

Ro­driguez re­ported from Florida, Ba­con from McLean, Va. Con­tribut­ing: Gene Sloan, USA TO­DAY; Jim Waymer, Caro­line Glenn, Florida To­day; Mark Bar­rett, The (Asheville, N.C.) Cit­i­zen-Times; and the As­so­ci­ated Press


Cud­joe Key in the lower Florida Keys took the full strength of Irma as it made land­fall as a Cat­e­gory 4 storm early Sun­day. Res­i­dents be­gan re­turn­ing to the up­per is­lands Tues­day.


Mac­rina Cruz cooks the last of her fam­ily’s food on a por­ta­ble stove in Immokalee. The town lost power when the storm hit.


Wa­ter flows over the sea wall at Memo­rial Park in the River­side sec­tion of Jack­sonville.

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