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FLORIDA KEYS (CBSMiami) – Hurricane Irma hit the lower Florida Keys hard with dangerous winds gusts and life-threatening storm surge as those who stayed were told to hunker down.

The man who helped with the evacuations in the Florida Keys said he did not believe many people stayed behind in the Conch Republic.

“I really don’t think there was that many people left,” said Monroe County Admin. Roman Gastesi.

Gastesi left early Saturday morning ahead of Hurricane Irma.

While some decided to stay behind, he believed most residents heeded evacuation warnings.

“I think folks listened to us,” said Gastesi. “Residents keep looking at the size and strength of the storm and I think they did the right thing.”

The sheriff of Monroe County, who was fleeing the storm, had to answer a call for a deadly car crash heading to the Florida Keys as others were evacuating.  He reportedly did not want to leave the person’s body on Overseas Highway – where the crash occurred – so he stayed behind and was not able to leave the Florida Keys.

“He’s at Marathon High School,” said Gastesi.

For those who stayed behind in the shelters of last resort, Gastesi said he heard back from a number of them.

“We’ve heard from many folks,” Gastesi said. “Alive and well and their spirits are OK.”

Winds of 130 miles per hour struck the Florida Keys as Irma hit – along with storm surge of about 5 to 10 feet.

Gastesi said no matter what happened to their beloved home, “We’re going to be okay. We’re going to rebuild.”

Crews were already headed back to the keys to survey and clean up the damage.

“Our first responders and our public works crews and our contractors are out clearing out the streets,” Gastesi said.

But Gastesi’s urged residents not to drive back just yet.

“FDOT must all inspect all 42 bridges and get a clearance before we can allow folks to reenter the Keys,” he said. “I know that’s really frustrating. I know folks really want to come down and check out their properties.”

Gastesi said by Sunday night he’ll receive an initial assessment and have an even better idea on Monday.


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