By Ted Scouten

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Grocery shopping in Big Pine Key is very different these days.

For many, getting food means going to a disaster relief site like one set up by a non-profit group that moved in to help.

“It’s just amazing,” said resident Judy Rothdeutsch. “I tell my family, gosh, you don’t need to worry about us. We have everything we need. It was totally amazing, the ice, the water, the food. What else do you need?”

Senator Bill Nelson does have an answer: the Keys need jobs and people to fill them.

“The economy can’t come back if you don’t have the workers here to make it come back and, of course, the keys depend on tourism,” said Sen. Nelson.

Governor Rick Scott was in town, as well, touring shelters. He’s also worried about service industry employees and where they’re going to live.

“My big concern right now is housing,” he said. “We got to get our economy going again. A lot of people get paid by the hour, get paid by tips, so we got to get the economy going again.”

Much of the housing for people in the service industry was wiped out when Irma slammed into Big Pine and areas between Marathon and Key West.

“We really do need a solution because this is isn’t something that’s going to be fixable over night,” Samari Aragon. “We need a long-term solution.”

Aragon works in a restaurant in Key West, but lives in Big Pine. Her place was flooded, so she was sleeping in a tent on her roof. She knows first-hand that if her co-workers don’t have a home, the economy will suffer.

“I think if we have something temporary, like FEMA trailers or even just tents, or a little community that could set us up, I think it would really be a nice push forward for the community,” she said.

Senator Nelson said he’s already spoken to FEMA and was told trailers will be sent. In the meantime, Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent said there’s a temporary fix.

“We’re setting up base camps at Sugarloaf, Marathon, that we can transition those needing immediate housing, then transition them into hotels and/or mobile homes,” he said.

On Wednesday, Nelson, along with Sen. Marco Rubio, asked President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to provide aid to Puerto Rico, another area hit hard.

“It is important that the federal government stands ready to assist in the difficult days after Hurricane Maria passes, when hope must be available to combat despair. Because of your foresight, our family, friends, and neighbors in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will emerge from yet another major hurricane this month ready to rebuild and recover,” the Senators’ letter to the president stated.

Meanwhile in the Keys, progress is being made in bringing them back.

The Florida Keys Electric Coop, which covers Key Largo to the south end of the Seven Mile Bridge, reports that they have restored power to nearly 98 percent of its customers. Marathon only has 6 streets without power.

Keys Energy Service, which covers the rest of the Keys, reported that it has restored power to 76 percent of its customers. About 7,000 customers remain without power, mostly in some of the hardest hit areas around Cudjoe Key and Big Pine Key.

The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority reports “great progress.” Water service has been restored to Baypoint and Blue Water Key; Crane Boulevard and adjacent neighborhoods; Sugarloaf Boulevard to Cayman Drive; and Big Pine Key.

The boil water notice has been lifted for Stock Island, Key Haven and from Jewfish Creek to Adams Cut in Key Largo. The rest of the Keys remains under a boil water notice.

Monroe County still is under a curfew. It’s 10 p.m. to sunrise from Key Largo to Marathon. It’s sunset to sunrise for the hard hit Lower Keys, excluding Key West. And it’s midnight to sunrise for Key West.

Due to the lack of need, Key West plans to close its two food and water distribution locations at the end of Wednesday.

Monroe County’s Key West International Airport will resume commercial service Wednesday. Delta Airlines and Silver Airlines resumed service Wednesday and American Airlines will start service Thursday.


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