Key West CitizenSeptember 11, 2017

The Florida Keys are closed to the general public, including residents, while damage assessments continue and utilities are restored, Monroe County Emergency Management announced Monday morning. Those who arrive in Florida City to access the islands will be turned away.

The county has coordinated an airborne relief mission to bring emergency supplies and personnel to help deal with the widespread destruction left by Hurricane Irma.

The National Guard is expected to arrive Monday to conduct search and rescue missions. The Marathon airport is reportedly clear and aid is to arrive aboard military C-130 cargo planes and other air resources.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt said.
“Help is on the way.”

The Category 4 storm packing sustained 130 mph. winds plowed through the Lower Keys Sunday after making landfall on Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m. Hurricane force winds extended up to 80 miles from the storm’s eye wall to wreak havoc along the entire island chain, damaging oceanfront homes and businesses, downing trees and washing debris onto U.S. 1, the main artery of travel through the Keys.

It was the first time the island chain had taken a direct hit from a storm of that strength since Hurricane Donna in 1960. Irma came on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas Aug. 25, the first time in recorded history that two Category 4 storms made landfall in the United States during the same hurricane season.

County Administrator Roman Gastesi said Sunday evening that local, state and federal first-responders were already on the ground after being positioned in Key Largo, and county public works crews and contractors were working on clearing U.S. 1 Sunday evening. He said heavy equipment was pre-staged throughout the Keys to expedite the effort.

“It’s time to start cleaning up our paradise,” he said. “We all know this is part of the cost of living here.”

No damage assessment or report of casualties was available Monday morning. However, one person died Saturday night during a car crash in Marathon and another expired from natural causes overnight while housed at a shelter of last resort at Marathon High School.

County officials expect the body count to mount. Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said “multiple deaths” are feared.

“We are bringing in mortuary teams,” she said Monday.

According to Key West City Manager Jim Scholl, the storm surge and structural damage in Key West was not as bad as that wrought by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Irma’s worst impacts extended from Cudjoe to Marathon.

Carruthers cited Scholl’s comments from an earlier conference call, who said, “We don’t need one more mouth to feed. We don’t need one more toilet to flush or person to use water.”

The Florida Department of Transportation has dispatched five cleanup crews and four bridge inspection crews to work their way down the island chain. As they clear a bridge as safe to travel law enforcement will then take control of the bridge.

During a county conference call Monday, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority officials announced that technicians would pressurize the pipeline into Stock Island and Key West for intervals for sanitary purposes until service is restored. The water is non-potable and should be boiled for drinking purposes. FKAA also issued a boiled water order for the rest of the Keys. Major leaks from Marathon south have depleted resources, making it impossible to sustain continuous water at this time.

Florida Keys Electric Cooperative, which provides power from the Seven-Mile Bridge north to Key Largo, reported Sunday that 27,000 of its 32,000 accounts were without power. Outside assistance was to be staged in Homestead by Tuesday and would begin restoring power as soon as the roads were deemed safe for travel. A preliminary damage assessment was planned to begin Monday.

All 29,000 Keys Energy Services customers were without power as of 11:05 p.m. Saturday.

The wastewater systems are not operational in Key West or Marathon.

Preliminary reports show no land line telephone, cell phone or internet service from Marathon through Key West.

dcampbell@keynews.com
Staff writer Timothy O’Hara contributed to this report.