With the remnants of Hurricane Irma pushing inland, Floridians have begun returning to their homes, even as flooding from the storm’s powerful surge and heavy rainfall continues to spread.
Irma, which wrought havoc across the Caribbean before heaving upward to the Southeast, was downgraded from its classification as a hurricane on Monday. Now weak enough to be considered a tropical storm, the state has begun its efforts to repair infrastructure and rebuild lives.
Nearly half the residents of the country’s third-most populous state are without power as Irma grinds to a halt, with the Florida Keys being especially hard-hit.
State Governor Rick Scott told reporters at a press conference of the sheer destruction he’d seen and received briefs on.
“There’s devastation,” Scott said, adding that almost every mobile-home unit throughout the Keys had been upended and destroyed. “It’s horrible what we saw.”
Reuters reported that some residents of the Keys were angered by the state’s decision to bar them from returning home on Monday.
Meanwhile, the US Defense Department estimated that as many as 10,000 people who ignored evacuation orders may now be stranded in their homes, cut off from utilities and in need of rescuing.
Officials from Monroe County said they would reopen the road leading to Key Largo on Tuesday, which is the main island at the upper end of the chain.
Reuters reported that Miami escaped the brunt of the storm’s force, at least in regards to wind.
However, much of the city’s downtown and coastal areas remained underwater as of Monday morning.
The destruction was most apparent in neighborhoods characterized by impermanent or semi-mobile structures, such as trailer homes. The media outlet reported that the Little Haiti neighborhood – comprised largely of mobile homes – was found shredded as residents began returning home.
“I wanted to cry, but this is what it is, this is life,” said Melida Hernandez, 67, who rode out the storm in a nearby church shelter. Hernandez’s home had been split in half by a tree felled by Irma’s winds.
Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, police and city officials warned residents not to leave their homes until floodwaters receded.
“Stay inside. Go up. Not out,” said the city website. “There is flooding throughout the city.”
Even as Irma declines in its fury, Governor Rick Scott warned evacuees to be cautious and patient about returning home.
The governor cautioned that downed power lines and felled trees still litter roadways and that any mass movement of cars and people could lead to crashes, stranded drivers, and traffic gridlock.
At least 65% of all homes in the state are still without power.
Insured property losses are estimated to range between $20 and $40 billion, which, while high, is still lower than what was initially expected.