(TNS) - Eight people are known to have died in the Florida Keys during or because of Hurricane Irma, authorities said Wednesday.
Two people died in Key West; the other six in other parts of Monroe County.
“The deaths are both storm-related and due to natural causes,” said Cammy Clark, the county’s public information officer.
Also, 40 people were injured during the storm.
Irma ripped through Cudjoe and Big Pine with end-of-the-world fury, destroying homes big and small.
Trailers were shredded, ocean waters rushed through the ground floor of beachside houses and RVs were overturned, leaving much of the area ravaged almost beyond recognition.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said Mark Lum, 57, who rode out the powerful storm on Cudjoe Key, huddled with his dog Cruzan inside a concrete bunkerlike bath house in the Venture Out development. “You live here in a resort, everything’s nice and pretty, and the next day it’s all gone.”
Hurricane Irma has destroyed a quarter of the homes in the Florida Keys and badly damaged many more, federal officials said Tuesday.
“Basically every house in the Keys was impacted in some way or another,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said.
The storm is blamed for 13 deaths in Florida, four in South Carolina, two in Georgia and at least 37 people in the Caribbean.
Lum, when asked what the storm sounded like on Sunday, said, “Death. That’s what it sounded like to me. We were close to it. When the 150s hit us, then the 170s, (mph) I’m telling you I never want to experience that again.”
The trickle of residents and business owners who were allowed back to the Upper Keys on Tuesday found incalculable damage.
Debris was everywhere, swept from the Atlantic to the bayside. Much of U.S. 1 was littered with boats, five-foot-tall refrigerators, coolers, abandoned cars, mattresses, propane tanks, campaign signs, tin sliding from marina sheds, plastic toilets.
There is no electricity and no shade. The green canopy that moderated the searing summer heat is gone.
In Tavernier, Mariners Hospital was shuttered, the parking lot empty. A large door was blown off the covered dock facility at the Tavernier Creek Marina. At Marathon International Airport, one small plane was flipped over, the wheels of another broken off.
Docks at Bud & Mary’s Marina in Islamorada were destroyed. At the Sunshine Key RV Resort and Marina in Big Pine Key, dozens of RVs lay on their sides. Others looked as if they had been exploded, their insides scattered.
Only a couple of convenience stores with generators were open Tuesday. Two gas stations south of Key Largo had gas, but lines were long and tensions high. Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies had to be called in to direct traffic at the pumps after one deputy said fights broke out.
Those resorts which were not totally blasted were being used to house hundreds of first responders who have been trucked in to help out. Scores of power crews, tree services and heavy equipment operations continued to flow south from Florida City.
“This area was hit really hard,” said Capt. Jeff Arnold, who headed a FEMA California Task Force 1 team that searched demolished houses in Cudjoe Key Tuesday for victims who may have been killed or trapped inside. “But it looks like people did the right thing and got out.”
At the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center, Julie Cheon said that more than half of the 17 million gallons of water a day pumped to the Keys from Miami-Dade County is being lost through leaks in broken pipes that branch off from the main line.
Residents who live below Mile Marker 74 past Islamorada are still waiting to hear when the roadblock will be lifted for them.
But Karen Andrei and her husband, Ron, know what they can expect. They survived the storm by leaving their home on Cudjoe Key for shelter in the Glad Tidings Tabernacle in Key West.
When they returned to Cudjoe on Tuesday, Karen Andrei said, “It looks like a war zone.”
Near the Andreis’ street in Venture Out was a 30-foot boat that was tossed from a canal to teeter on a sea wall. Across the way was an oceanfront house that had been cleaved by the wind to provide a cutaway look at the inside. In a linen closet, the towels remained neatly folded.
“When you think that people lived here at one point, you can’t believe it,” said Ron Andrei, 58, a retired air traffic controller from the Midwest. “When I look around, emotion washes over me. I’m so grateful that we survived and there have been no fatalities of people we know.”
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