HURRICANE IRMA – THE AFTERMATH

Destruction and an unknown number of deaths in the Keys; power outages statewide; and flooding yet to come, as Floridians begin life after Irma.

COMPILED FROM WIRE
AND STAFF REPORTS

Here’s a recap of post-Irma information from around the state.

A home in Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys was destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
(MIKE STOCKER/SUN-SENTINEL/TNS)

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.

In the Middle and Upper Keys – on the more savage right side of Irma’s 130-mph winds – the damage and storm surge appeared far more severe.

Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt, calling the destruction a looming “humanitarian crisis,” said a huge airborne relief mission mounted by the Air Force and Air National Guard was already in the works.

Among the services coming to the Keys are “disaster mortuary teams,” he told a conference call on Sunday afternoon.

Disaster area
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.

Hollywood deaths
Eight people died in a Hollywood nursing home that had no air conditioning after Irma knocked out power. The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the eight deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills Wednesday afternoon.

Police said 115 seniors were also evacuated after sweltering for days – the center’s backup generator does not power the air conditioner, the facility’s administrator, Jorge Carballo said through a representative Wednesday.

Nursing homes like Hollywood Hills are the places licensed to take the sickest disabled and elder Floridians – people who can’t walk, are in the last stages of dementia or can’t breathe on their own. They are also among the most vulnerable when a hurricane knocks out power, officials said.

South Florida recovers
Operation return-to-normal was in full swing across Miami-Dade and Broward counties Tuesday. Damage from Irma, though widespread there, was not in most instances severe, assessments still underway suggest.

However, it’s going to be a while before every street is cleared, every home has electricity, every person is housed and air-conditioned, and the kids are back in school.

Damage in Orlando
Surging waters spawned by Irma’s heavy rains caused flooding in several parts of Central Florida on Tuesday, even as power was slowly being restored and the massive cleanup effort began.

About 400 people, including nursing home residents with special needs, were evacuated Tuesday from Good Samaritan Society’s flood-prone Kissimmee Village. The 425-acre gated retirement community south of Kissimmee flooded at the highest level ever, county officials said.

The storm also may cost Orlando International Airport as much as $20 million, according to an early estimate by Phil Brown, executive director for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. He said the airport suffered substantial storm damage, including some from flooding.

Jacksonville still flooding
The storm also triggered surprisingly severe coastal flooding farther north in Jacksonville, where Irma’s surge coincided with high tide and heavy rain.

The St. Johns River rose to almost six feet, and rain totals reached 11 inches. Water containing raw sewage and other substances is expected to percolate into creeks and rivers that feed the St. Johns and raise its level before it flows through Jacksonville.

Environmental impacts
Millions of gallons of poorly treated wastewater and raw sewage flowed into the bays, canals and city streets of Florida. More than 9 million gallons of releases tied to Irma had been reported as of late Tuesday as inundated plants were submerged, forced to bypass treatment or lost power.

Such overflows, which can spread disease-causing pathogens, are happening more often, as population shifts and increasingly strong storms strain the capacity of plants and decades-old infrastructure.

$18 billion in damages
Insured losses from Irma could total $18 billion in the U.S., far less than anticipated when it was a Category 4 storm, but still among the nation’s worst.

Karen Clark and Co., a Boston-based company that analyzes risk, estimated total losses, including the Caribbean, at $25 billion. Florida accounts for most of the $18 billion, followed by Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.

The estimate covers damage to buildings and their contents, other insured structures, and vehicles and the disruption to business. It does not include crop losses or losses covered by the nation’s flood insurance program, Clark said.

Irma falls just outside the top 10 list and above the $15.4 billion Clark estimated for Harvey’s losses.

The 1926 Miami hurricane still ranks as the worst in the U.S., according to Clark’s tally, with losses in today’s dollars totaling $150 billion. That’s followed by the 1928 hurricane that struck Lake Okeechobee at $77 billion, the 1900 hurricane in Galveston at $60 billion and 2005’s Katrina, which generated $59 billion in insured losses, she said.

Jenny Staletovich, Andres Viglucci and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald; Mike Clary of the Sun Sentinel; and Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Ari Natter of Bloomberg News (TNS) all contributed to this report.

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