‘This Is The Cost of Living In Paradise’: Florida Keys Focuses On Recovery After Irma

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KEY WEST (CBSMiami) – The Florida Keys, residents and government officials, are using the first few hours of sunlight after Hurricane Irma to start recovering and rebuilding their community.

As the sun rose over the Florida Keys, everyone got their first look at the widespread damage from Hurricane Irma.

RV’s sitting on their side in Sunshine Key. Boats sitting next to houses in Marathon.

Big Pine Key, where Irma’s eye made landfall, had homes smoldering, clearly burning through the night to the ground.

No one around. No idea if anyone was inside.

Ira Konkrate, a Big Pine resident, went looking for his brother.

“We are going up to one the divisions where my brother is at. We haven’t heard from him yet. I work at Winn Dixie and that was our safe place in the area and he didn’t show up,” Konkrate said,

Konkrate was prepared to walk through this for miles to find him.  There are no phones or power within 80 miles of Big Pine.

Konkrate, though, got lucky. A friend who rode out the storm with his brother happened to ride by while he was talking to CBS4’s David Sutta. His brother was just fine.

US 1, the main road the links the Keys together, is in pieces. Huge swaths of lanes are missing.

Engineers are still surveying the damage to that and 42 bridges.

Devastation in the lower Keys, Atlantic side, is almost indescribable. Concrete block homes didn’t stand a chance in storm surge.

Mike Ryan, a Marine, was just in Houston helping rescue flood victims. He returned home Monday to find it destroyed.

“Just one of those things.  It’s just my turn I guess,” he said.

At least 5 feet of storm surge piled through his home. Despite all the widespread destruction Ryan was optimistic.

“At least I’m here to rebuild it, not 6 foot under – that’s the difference,” Ryan said.

Most residents who were told to evacuate ahead of the Category 4 hurricane heeded the warning, but others stayed. Now officials are trying to get in contact with the hundreds who stayed behind in the keys.

“We’ve heard from most people so we’re feeling pretty good about that. We haven’t heard from anybody. We are a little concerned,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi told CBS4’s Lauren Pastana and Eugene Ramirez.

There have been three reported deaths semi-related to the storm. One person died in a car accident in Marathon and two others died of natural causes.

One person reportedly died of natural causes but not many reports have come out on confirmed fatalities.

But what happens next to those who stayed in the shelters?

“The shelters are the short-term and then for example in Wilma, we brought trailers…we’ll probably be doing those things as well,” said Gastesi.

Crews are making their way back down but, as of last night,  they were only able to reach Mile Marker 39. There is a large pole blocking their way down. There are reports that Sugar Loaf Key, at about Mile Marker 16, is in ‘pretty bad shape,’ Gastesi said.

“We’re going to get those fixed up this morning so we can start this recovery process,” said Gastesi.

There is also another road block preventing people from getting down to the Florida Keys – a road block.

“All the bridges need to be cleared by FDOT, that they’re passable and that they’re in good shape. The initial inspections seemed to be okay but we’re not the pros. They’re the pros,” said Gastesi.

Gastesi said once they say it’s passable, then by that time, the streets should be clear enough for others to drive down and check on their family, friends, homes and businesses.

“Give us a little bit of time. This is the first hour or two of daylight that we’ve had since the storm passed,” said Gastesi.

As for their water supply, it will take time to inspect their aqueduct and start up their running water. There is concern over resident’s drinking water.

“We haven’t had water since yesterday or electricity in most of the keys…..hopefully they’ll have it up soon,” said Gastesi.

As for how they will get water down to everyone, Gastesi said they have crews going down on a local, state and federal level.

“We’ll get some water to them as far as the drinking water,” said Gastesi.

They are coordinating an airborne relief plan to bring supplies to Florida Keys residents.

Ground zero of the hurricane hit is between Cudjoe Key and Marathon. Gastesi said they have people there trying to clear the streets and working to rebuild the community.

“That’s known as ground zero if you will. That’s the worst spot. I am very confident that we’ll be able to handle this challenge.The keys are a very resilient community. We’ll be fine. This is the cost of living in paradise,”  said Gastesi.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott flew over the Florida Keys Monday to asses the damage from Hurricane Irma. The plane briefly stopped in Key West to drop off Coast Guard teams.

As for the economic impact, Gastesi says it’s way too early to determine that.

“Now we start the process of rebuilding our community,” said Gastesi.

Sutta reports law enforcement has been severely limited in communications. The Monroe County Sheriffs Office got radios back late last night and it’s going in and out.

Monroe County officials will open entry into Keys at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Residents must provide yellow entry sticker or proof of residency in Key Largo, Tavernier or Islamorada.

More from Giovanna Maselli
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