A damaged coastal house in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Irma passed the area. (Reuters)
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ISLAMORADA, Florida – Residents who returned to the Florida Keys archipelago yesterday found Hurricane Irma had shredded mobile homes like soda cans and coated businesses with seaweed, while the death toll rose for the second major hurricane to hit the United States this year.
Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record before it arrived in the United States, killed 43 people in its rampage through the Caribbean and at least 12 in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
On Islamorada Key, one of just three islands where authorities allowed people to return yesterday, the aluminum walls of trailer homes had been ripped open by the storm, exposing insulation, bedrooms and kitchens to the sunlight.
At the Caloosa Cove Resort and Marina, concrete pilings meant to hold the dock in place had been knocked sideways and three manatees lolled in the water, drinking from an outflow pump that was spitting water from the side of the dock.
Marilyn Ramos, 44, spent the morning cleaning away the sand and seaweed that had covered her Cuban restaurant Havanos when she arrived early yesterday.
Local authorities told around 90 000 residents of Miami Beach and people from some parts of the Keys they could go home but warned it might not be prudent to remain there. Irma arrived in the Keys on Sunday with sustained winds of up to 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour).
“It’s going to take some time to let people back into their homes, particularly in the Florida Keys,” said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The island chain curves southwest from Key Largo to Key West, linked by bridges and causeways along a nearly 100-mile (160-km) route.
More than six million homes and businesses were still without power in Florida and nearby states. Florida’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light, said western parts of the state might be without electricity until September 22.
Irma destroyed about one-third of the buildings on the eastern Caribbean island of St Maarten en route to Florida, the Dutch Red Cross said yesterday.
Several major airports in Florida that halted passenger operations due to Irma began limited service yesterday, including Miami International, one of the busiest US airports.
Insured property losses in Florida from Irma were expected to run from US$20 billion to US$40 billion, catastrophe modelling firm AIR Worldwide estimated.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a New York investor conference that the storm would ultimately boost the economy by sparking rebuilding.
“There clearly is going to be an impact on GDP in the short run, we will make it up in the long run,” Mnuchin said. “As we rebuild, that will help GDP . . . . It won’t have a bad impact on the economy.”
Several of the deaths caused by Irma occurred as people started cleaning up and making repairs.
A 55-year-old man died Monday in Tampa, Florida, while using a chainsaw in a tree during storm clean-up, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said.
A man died in Worth County, Georgia, on Monday while repairing the roof of a shed during heavy winds, a National Weather Service report said.
Another man was found dead in Winter Garden, Florida, after being electrocuted by a downed power line.
One man in South Carolina was killed by a falling tree limb and another died in a traffic accident, officials said. A city employee in Columbia, South Carolina, died Monday after being critically injured in a car crash.
Irma was downgraded to a tropical depression on Monday and was due to dissipate yesterday evening, the National Hurricane Centre said. (Reuters)