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Where eye of Hurricane Irma passed, scenes of destruction in the Florida Keys

The Keys reopened to its 79,000 residents, highways strewn with seaweed, coconuts, debris and appliances were and bridges declared safe, but there is no power or cell phone service.
12 Sep 2017 – 09:52 AM EDT
This trailer park in the Florida Keys was one of several largely wiped out by Hurricane Irma Crédito: AP

Displaced residents were allowed to return Tuesday to the hurricane-hit Florida Keys as officials pieced together the scope of Irma's destruction and aid rushed into the drenched and debris-strewn state.

After flying over the Keys Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott described overturned mobile homes, washed-ashore boats and flood damage. A Navy aircraft carrier was due to anchor off Key West to help in search-and-rescue efforts.

“My heart goes out. There’s devastation. I just hope everybody survived,” Scott said after landing at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport. “For our entire state, especially the Keys, it’s going to be a long road.”

His plane also flew over Southwest Florida, where Irma made landfall at Marco Island on Sunday shortly after 3:30 p.m. Asked where the worst damage was, Scott said the area between Key West and Marathon.

“We saw a lot of boats washed ashore,” the governor said. “Almost every trailer park, everything was overturned.”

It will be days or even weeks before water, sewers and electricity are restored, according to Scott.

Several trailer parks in the Middle Keys, including the Ocean Breeze trailer park in Marathon, with about 30 mobile homes, were completely wiped out, the Miami Herald reported.

Trees, pieces of battered homes, masses of storm-surge seaweed and even a few jet skis blocked their progress. Gas was unavailable and there was no cell phone service. A dusk-to-dawn curfew is in effect in Monroe County, which includes the Keys.

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With parts of Overseas Highway caked in thick layers of sea grass, bulldozers began clearing the road early Monday littered with appliances, street signs, trash bins, coconuts, coolers and countless palm fronds, the Herald reported.

A stunning 13 million Florida residents were without electricity - two-thirds of the state's residents - as sweltering heat returned across the peninsula following the storm. In a parting blow to the state, the storm caused record flooding in the Jacksonville area that forced hundreds of rescues.

Residents were also allowed to return to Miami beach Tuesday morning, where damage was limited to flooding.

Life was fast getting back to normal in Miami where flood waters had retreated Monday and power began being restored in many areas. But school was canceled across the southeast, with no date set for classes to resume inMiami.

Six deaths in Florida have been blamed on Irma, along with three in Georgia and one in South Carolina. At least 35 people were killed in the Caribbean, including 10 in Cuba.

Corey Smith, who rode out the hurricane in Key Largo, said Tuesday that the power is out on the island, there's very limited gas and supermarkets are closed. Piles of brush and branches are blocking some roads. The UPS driver said he fears an influx of returnees could overwhelm what limited resources there are.

"They're shoving people back to a place with no resources," he said by phone. "It's just going to get crazy pretty quick."

Still, he said people coming back to Key Largo should be relieved that many buildings avoided major damage.

On Tuesday morning, the remnants of Irma were blowing through Alabama and Mississippi after drenching Georgia. Flash flood watches and warnings were scattered around the Southeast.

Roughly 79,000 people live on the Keys. While tourists and most residents fled the storm’s approach, about 10,000 ignored mandatory evacuation orders, the Miami Herald estimated after its reporters toured the keys on Monday.

The Florida Keys are linked by 42 bridges that had to be checked for safety before motorists could be allowed on the farther islands, officials said. County officials placed a roadblock around Mile Marker 74 just before Sea Oates Beach, but said crews were working to restore U.S. 1 as quickly as possible.

Around the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, where Irma rolled through early Monday, damage appeared modest. And the governor said effects on the southwest coast, including in Naples and Fort Myers, were not as bad as feared.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that 356 people were rescued from flooding the previous day. On its Twitter account, the sheriff's office said it hopes "people who had their lives saved yesterday will take evacuation orders seriously in the future."

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