After an agonizing wait to be allowed to return to their homes, the vast majority of residents are coming back to damaged homes, and one-quarter of the residential properties are likely to be considered “destroyed.” At around 7:00 am ET, authorities began letting people enter the island chain that was ravaged when Hurricane Irma made landfall in the area.
As reported by CNN, initial FEMA estimates of the damage sustained in the Florida Keys suggest that 25 percent of homes have been destroyed and an additional 65 percent are damaged. This brings the total percentage of battered properties to 90 percent.
In most areas, the availability of services remains elusive throughout the region. According to Monroe County, “water, power, sewer, fuel, medical service and cell service, are still limited.” Residents are also being advised to boil any tap water if they do have service.
Based on FEMA estimates, nearly one in four families returning to the Florida Keys will find their homes uninhabitable.
Many residents came home to find roofs torn off, and everything from toilets to personal belongings strewn about the area. Vehicles, including large RVs, were overturned and boats were beached during the storm. In some cases, houses were pulled from the concrete pillars used to support them, leaving only the pillars standing.
Rescuers and other officials appear to be making progress in the area as the floodwaters have begun to recede, allowing roadways to reopen. Members of the Florida National Guard and the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue continued to work during the early morning hours as they search for victims of the storm.
The airports in Key West and Marathon have reopened, as well as the airstrips at Naval Air Station Key West, allowing the area to receive emergency resources. At this time, commercial flight service remains suspended.
Hospitals in Key West, Marathon, and Tavernier remain closed, but the county asserts they “are working quickly to be able to receive patients.” In the meantime, two Coast Guard C-17s were loaded with medical supplies, boats, and all-terrain vehicles to allow 31 incoming medical specialists to head to Key West and provide services.
Shelters are also being opened throughout the Keys, creating distribution points for residents in need of water and food.
In a news release, the county said, “Monroe County is working quickly to restore services and make the county safe for residents and business owners in the Middle and Lower Keys to return, but this will take time.”