25% of Florida Keys buildings destroyed, FEMA says

Debris from Hurricane Irma litters the Shake A Leg Marina in Miami on Monday.. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI

Sept. 12 (UPI) — Hurricane Irma destroyed one-quarter of the buildings in the Florida Keys, Federal Emergency Management Administration chief Brock Long said Tuesday.

Another 65 percent received some damage.

“Basically, every house in the keys was impacted in some way,” Brock said.

Officials permitted some residents to return to their island homes Tuesday. The Upper Keys, including the communities of Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamodrada, were accessible, but the remainder of the 110-mile island chain, home to 79,000 people, remained closed as damage was assessed. Several areas were without water, power or communications, and all three of the islands’ hospitals remain closed, officials said.

A Facebook post by Monroe County Emergency Services, the agency covering the Florida Keys, said, “We’ve had trees down (everywhere), roads blocked from one end of this county to the other, car crashes, people hit by limbs, a large barn fire, water shortages, communications failures and even two rocket scientists who decided today would be a GREAT day to kayak down the Ocmulgee River.”

The U.S. Defense Department said it may need to help evacuate about 10,000 people stranded in the Florida Keys by Irma. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln arrived on Florida’s east coast on Monday, and its helicopters were put to use assessing the damage to the Keys.

The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority issued a notice to boil water, and small water distribution systems broke down during the storm, leading to low water pressure and widespread water outages. The agency, though, said the pipeline bringing drinking water from the mainland “appears to be intact.”

Post-hurricane storm surge in the Florida Keys was limited and it remains unclear if two reported deaths there were storm-related. Those involved in relief efforts in the Keys expect to find casualties, but Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said she expected a low count because “so many people evacuated.”

Throughout Florida, 62 percent of the state was without electrical power, affecting about 13 million people, the state Emergency Operations Center said Monday evening. Interstate 95 in Duval County and parts of Interstate 75 and Interstate 95 in Miami-Dade County remained closed because of flooding or debris. Except for Pensacola, all of Florida’s ports remain closed; Port Everglades and Port Tampa Bay have fuel tankers awaiting unloading, Gov. Rick Scott said earlier Monday.

Miami International Airport reopened Monday evening, and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport opened on Tuesday morning. Each announced a limited schedule.

Hurricane Irma dissipated across the southeastern United States by Tuesday morning. A 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center said the center was about 65 miles southwest of Atlanta and 100 miles east-southeast of Birmingham, Ala. Irma, now regarded as a post-tropical cyclone, was moving north-northwest at 10 mph with maximum sustained winds of 15 mph. Flash flood warnings are in effect for portions of the southern Appalachians, and flood warnings and predictions off heavy rainfall throughout the Southeast.

While the eye of the hurricane was 200 miles away from Charleston, S.C., it nonetheless produced a storm surge in the historic city. A 10-foot tide, 4 feet higher than normal, was reported on Monday. The wind and rainfall in South Carolina led to at least one death, downed numerous power lines and spawned several tornadoes.

Parts of Georgia lost power on Monday as Irma passed. Tybee Island and the historic city of Savannah were particularly hard hit by rains and a storm surge. Chatham County, which includes Savannah, sustained massive flooding due to the storm, a surge of 4.7 feet and a high tide, known locally as a king tide.

“We have received quite a bit of flooding in Chatham County. This was a king tide, so with that king tide and the storm surge, plus the heavy amount of rain that came in, there is considerable flooding.” Dennis Jones, director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency, said in a Monday report. Tybee Island, off Savannah’s coast and with a population of about 3,100, remained closed on Tuesday, as bridges leading to the island have not been inspected.

“We know we have many people who want to get off the island, as we have no power, and many, manty more trying to get on the island,” Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman said.

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