TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – It’s going to be a long and winding road to recovery for the Florida Keys following the damage and destruction brought by Hurricane Irma.
Gov. Rick Scott wants the Florida Keys “open for business” by Oct. 1.
“So many people make money off of tips and things like that, so we’ve got to figure out how we get our tourists back as quickly as we can,” Scott said Monday during an interview on U.S. 1 Radio 104.1 FM, a station based in the Lower Keys. “My goal is that by the first of October, we’re open for business. And we’re going to do everything we can to help the locals to do that.”
Only residents and relief workers are being allowed into parts of the Keys more than week after Hurricane Irma swept through the state, first making landfall Sept. 10 up the chain of islands from Key West.
Electricity is still being restored. Boil-water notices remain in place where water is available.
Issues including the availability of hotel rooms and temporary housing must still be addressed as up to 10,000 people may have lost their homes in the Keys, Scott said.
But the Keys are a large part of the draw to Florida’s $100 billion a year tourism industry, which accounted for 1.4 million jobs last year.
“Florida is the Keys,” Scott said. “When people think about Florida, the first thing they think about is the beautiful Florida Keys and the wonderful people in the Florida Keys. And I want all of them back in their homes as soon as we can. And also, back in their jobs. But we all know we have to do this safely.”
Three shelters remain open in the Keys.
The Florida Department of Transportation has removed debris from U.S. 1 and completed bridge inspections.
Schools are expected to start reopening next week.
Scott had earlier said that the Florida Highway Patrol is escorting relief supplies, including food to supermarkets; the Florida National Guard has stationed 270 personnel for food and water distribution in the Keys; and the Salvation Army has served more than 13,000 hot meals from a staging area in Marathon.
Restrictions remain on operations at the Port of Key West — closed since Sept. 8.
“Our goal is to fully open the Port of Key West for all navigational needs as soon as possible, but we first have an obligation to ensure safety of the port and vessels in order to protect all marine and maritime interests,” Capt. Jeffrey Janszen, commander of Coast Guard Sector Key West, said in a prepared statement.
Scott has made four trips to the Keys, including a flyover on Sept. 11, a day after Hurricane Irma made its first landfall in Florida at Cudjoe Key — less than 30 miles northeast of Key West.
Scott’s goal for the Keys restoration came as nearly 400,000 homes and businesses throughout the state remained without electricity because of Irma.
In the Keys, 18,561 of the 63,773 homes and businesses, or about 29 percent, were still without electricity as of noon Monday.
Collier County, where the powerful and deadly Irma made its second landfall, also had 29 percent in the dark, 70,546 of the 245,911 homes and businesses.
Most of the Collier County customers are served by Florida Power & Light, which last week anticipated getting power back by the end of the weekend to most of its customers in eastern parts of Florida, and set a Sept. 22 deadline for restoring power to customers in the company’s western counties, which include all or parts of Manatee, Hardee, Sarasota, DeSoto, Charlotte, Lee, Hendry, Collier and Monroe.
The company still had nearly 225,000 out as of noon Monday, including 46,610 in Miami-Dade County and nearly 12,000 in Broward County.
Highlands County, with 24,256 of the 62,465 of electric customers still without power, was at 39 percent in the dark. The majority of Highlands County is served by Duke Energy Florida, which had 106,876 customers without power as of noon Monday.
Duke had expected to restore power to most of its coverage area this past weekend but did not project a date for electricity to come back on in Hardee and Highlands counties, which it described as “severely impacted” by Hurricane Irma.
Seminole County lawmakers issued a statement Monday expressing frustration with the pace of Duke’s restoration of electricity in their county and inviting company representatives to a legislative delegation meeting Tuesday.
“Eight days after Hurricane Irma blew through our districts, the struggle for residents and businesses to get back to normal continues to be painfully exacerbated by the lack of power,” said the statement sent by Rep. Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican who is the delegation’s chairman.
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.
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