Hurricane Irma destroyed a quarter of the houses in the Florida Keys, where it first made landfall in the United States as a Category Four hurricane, the US emergency response chief said yesterday.
“Some of the initial estimates are — and this is why we asked people to evacuate, largely from storm surge — 25 percent of the houses in the Keys initially have been destroyed and 60 percent have been damaged,” FEMA director Brock Long said.
“Basically every house in the Keys has been impacted some way or another,” Long told a news conference.
Millions of Florida residents were without power yesterday as the remnants of Irma spun northwest into the southeastern US, drenching the region and causing rivers to overflow.
Most of the Sunshine State appeared to have dodged forecasts of catastrophic damage despite dire early warnings.
But Irma’s overall death toll jumped to at least 40 after Cuba reported that 10 people had been killed there over the weekend.
Irma roared ashore as a powerful Category Four hurricane when it hit the far southern Florida Keys on Sunday, tearing boats from their moorings, uprooting palm trees and downing power lines, after devastating a string of Caribbean islands.
By the time it hit the US mainland the storm had been downgraded, and by late Monday it had weakened further to a tropical depression.
Across the Caribbean, hard-hit island residents struggled to get back on their feet as Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States increased relief efforts.
French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to the region yesterday to tour devastated French territories, joining the Dutch king who had arrived in his country’s Caribbean territories on Sunday.
In Florida, the damage in most cases were not as bad as feared.
“If this had been a Category Four hurricane the whole scenario would have been completely different,” said Bob Lutz, a 62-year-old business owner.
About 15 million people in Florida were without power, however, and Governor Rick Scott said the island chain had suffered widespread damage.
“It’s horrible what we saw,” Scott said after flying over the island chain aboard a Coast Guard helicopter.
He said the water, electricity and sewage systems in the Keys were non-operational, and that trailer parks had been “overturned.”
“We now go through the much longer phase, which is the recovery phase,” said Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez. “And believe me, folks, some of this is going to take a while, especially power restoration.”
Most Keys residents evacuated from the low-lying tourist archipelago, known for its fishing, scuba diving and boating, before Irma struck.
The storm felled trees and left debris and vehicles strewed across the streets. But concrete homes appeared to have withstood the powerful gusts.
Authorities were allowing residents and business owners in the upper part of the Keys to begin returning yesterday.
“Returning residents should consider that there are limited services. Most areas are still without power and water. Cell service is spotty. And most gas stations are still closed,” Monroe County authorities said in a Facebook post.
Irma’s maximum sustained winds dropped to 56 kilometers per hour, and the storm’s eye was in western Georgia.