MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Florida Keys has reopened.
Monroe County officials say all residents and business owners of the lower keys will be allowed to return Sunday morning.
However, they did have a warning for anyone coming back; the Keys are not as you left them when you evacuated.
Residents will need to bring their own supplies and be self-sufficient.
Key West Mayor Craig Cates understood the balance between wanting to bring people back but making sure it was safe.
“We knew it was important to get our residents back but we wanted to make sure it was safe first,” Cates said. “We needed some grocery stores open, we needed more electric, more water and we needed trees on the highways cleared and no power lines down. We worked around the clock to get that done and now we feel like we’re ready to let the residents back.”
The roadblock at the southern end of Marathon, just before the 7-mile bridge, has been keeping residents out since last weekend when Irma thrashed the chain of islands.
Soon US1 heading into Key West will be full of cars that have people anxious to return home and see what is left following the devastating storm.
“They’re gonna come back thinking that things are back to normal and they’re really not,” said Key West business owner Al Phillips.
City Manager Chuck Lindsey said it was a difficult decision on whether to allow residents and business owners to come back home.
“We have to balance the need to get our folks home so they can start mitigating damage, and then also the safety,” Lindsey said.
Cates is also concerned about the sudden influx of people.
He says it’s time to allow people back in, but they need to realize that life isn’t going to be the same.
“I hope they just don’t pour in here and start asking for services because they’re not here yet,” Cates said. “We want them to come back and they’re gonna have to be self-sufficient and get their houses back together, get them cleaned up so they can live in them.”
He also said that he expects people to be responsible and understand the situation.
“We expect them to come down here as adults, make adult decisions and take care of themselves,” he said.
Some residents will come home to find their homes destroyed or unlivable.
Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi explained that the situation is one that officials are prepared for.
“We have to provide housing for them if their houses are destroyed so there will be some challenges there, something that we’ll work with and work through it,” he said.
Gastesi said displaced residents will stay in hotels and ‘Tent Villages’ that he described as “very comfortable. They’re air conditioned and have kitchens, they have everything that you need.”
Residents need to remember that all of Monroe County remains under a curfew for safety and security reasons.
The checkpoint for entering the Keys, at Florida City, will close at 8 p.m. to ensure everyone has enough time to get to their destination before the curfew.
In the Upper Keys and Middle Keys, to mile marker 47 (north end of the Seven Mile Bridge), the curfew is 10 p.m. to sunrise.
In the Lower Keys and Key West, it remains dusk to dawn.
Anyone out after the designates times is subject to arrest.