KEY WEST (CBSMiami) — Mariners Hospital, located in the upper Florida Keys, is reopening after Hurricane Irma hit the area hard.
It’s a welcome sight and a testament to the resilience of the area.
“I would never imagine that we would be here this fast and in this fury,” said Baptist Health South Florida CEO Wayne Brackin. “It’s a real stake in the ground for the recovery of the Keys.”
Mariners Hospital, located in Tavernier at mile marker 91.5, was forced to close ahead of Hurricane Irma. Since then, the team has been working around the clock to clean up the hospital. They had a warning to those picking up after Irma; make sure you’re wearing closed toe shoes, take a lot of breaks and stay hydrated.
Meantime, recovery in the lower Florida Keys continues to be a struggle with no power, no water and no stable communication.
Key West officials say it could be four weeks before evacuees are allowed back in. A decision on the matter is expected soon.
CBS4’s Carey Codd said Summerland Key, one of the hardest hit by the storm, remained eerily quiet. Boats are strewn around Summerland and the smell of the fuel leaking from those boats is filling the air.
From Ramrod Key, you could see home after home touched by Hurricane Irma’s powerful winds – some homes were completely destroyed. Some homes just have a wall or two still standing. At one home, a medicine cabinet was seen standing but the roof was not.
“It was a different noise. Everything was blowing in a circle,” said resident Del McCusker who stayed with his parents during the storm.
McCusker believes over several tornadoes hit the key. He said the 5-foot storm surge was just as scary, especially when a neighbor came to his house for help.
“He came over in just chest deep water and he’s taller than me,” said McCusker. “It was a fight for both of us just to open the door for him to get in.”
While some of the other homes tore apart, others stood strong.
“The concrete houses did great,” said McCusker who wonders how many will rebuild and what those new buildings will look like. “Less of it may be rebuilt just because of how much insurance costs now.”
Authorities are not allowing residents or business owners South of Mile Marker 73.
Slowly cell phone service is beginning to come back although it’s spotty.
Publix in Key West reopened for a few hours on Thursday.
“A lot of people are without water and without food so it was great that they could do this for us,” said a Keys resident.
The military continues to pass out food, water and ice to people who did not evacuate for Irma.
“We don’t have anything. The little bit we had, we lost because of no electricity. We had some in the cooler but we ate that,” said a Keys resident.
Some gas stations began to open, although for some it was a three-hour wait in line.
From the air and on the ground, an army of military support, power supplies and food are making their way to the Keys.
People’s personal items and pieces of their home are strewn about carelessly, showing the unforgiving nature of a storm like Irma.
“It’s like camping in the hottest place you can. Everybody is coming together. We’re getting water out to people, bringing ice in and we’re making due,” said McCusker.
There is a boil water notice in the Florida Keys. It’s one of the reasons they have six distribution centers for food, water and ice. The American Red Cross is reportedly setting up shelters.
Winn-Dixie in Big Pine Key is offering free ice to residents starting at 1 p.m. on Friday. A tractor-trailer full of ice will be parked outside the store located at 251 Key Deer Boulevard. Residents will get a 40 pound box of ice for free while supplies last.
The Port of Key West remains closed due to damage from the storm. Boaters are being asked to avoid the waterways around the Florida Keys until conditions improve.
Residents eager to return should be on the lookout for a comprehensive reentry plan set to be announced on Saturday.
For those who want more info on recovery efforts, click here.