Fears of 'Humanitarian Crisis' in Florida Keys as 5 Are Killed and 5.8 Million Remain Without Power After Irma
Florida is feeling the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma, the category 4 storm that hit the U.S. mainland early Sunday — and they're not out of the woods yet
The worst of Hurricane Irma has passed Florida, but officials still don’t know the full extent of the damage across the state. The system, which was downgraded to a tropical storm Monday morning, is being blamed from five deaths so far. More than 5.8 million are without power across the state.
Meanwhile, authorities are warning that it’s still not safe for evacuees to return home. Storm surge, debris and downed power lines still present a danger to large swaths of South Florida and the Gulf Coast.
Destruction in the Keys
Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt called the destruction in the Keys a looming “humanitarian crisis” in the Florida Keys, according to the Miami Herald.
The storm hit Cudjoe Key with ferocious 130 mph sustained winds and blasts of even greater brutality, causing major flooding and littering roads with debris such as coconuts and small boats.
Yeorgo Kapriris, a resident of Summerland Key, told the Miami Herald that he witnessed “trees snapping” and “roofs getting ripped off” from the intense winds in the early morning hours of Sunday.
“The water came up about five feet,” he said. “We lost our van. We lost everything.”
Larry Kahn, editor of the Keynoter and an editor for FlKeysNews.com, reported that a shelter set up at a high school in the Middle Keys city of Marathon was running out of food, had no running water and lost power as about 50 people took refuge there.
“[A deputy] told me everyone could be in this building for days,” he said. “Everyone here seems to be just walking around in a fog.”
Their surroundings were submerged.
“Everything is underwater, I mean everything,” said Kahn.
Kahn also said a man staying at the shelter died of natural causes.
“He was staying in one of the classrooms,” he said. “Police came up, along with a couple of nurses who are here, actually, got everyone out of the room and sealed it off.”
WATCH: Drone Captures Crowd Walking Along the Shore in Tampa During Moment of Low Tide
5 Fatalities and More Feared
After ravaging the Keys, Irma made landfall again Sunday afternoon on Marco Island, south of Naples, as a category 3 storm.
At least five deaths in Florida were attributed to Irma, according to ABC News.
The outlet reports a Monroe County (which includes the Florida Keys) man was killed after losing control of a truck that carried a generator as winds whipped at tropical-storm strength. Another person was found dead in a home in Shark Key on Sunday.
Two others, a sheriff’s deputy and a corrections officer, died in a car crash in the torrential rain in Hardee County, while one person died in a single-vehicle crash in Orange County.
The full extent of the damage and death toll is not yet known.
Florida’s State Emergency Response Team reported that 58 percent of Florida electricity customers — about 5.8 million accounts — are without power, as of early Monday morning.
Emergency responders implored citizens to stay in place and resist venturing outside until crews can assess damage and confirm that it’s safe to leave their homes.
Miami Documents the Damage
Residents of Miami took to social media to show the destruction ravaging their city.
Matthew Spuler, who has been documenting the severe rain and winds from a sky-rise on Instagram, shared a video that showed the flooded streets in the downtown part of the city. The footage showed waves crashing and palm trees being blown around wildly.
“There is no seawall whatsoever,” Spuler narrates. “It’s amazing. It’s underwater.”
Cranes also threatened the city’s high rises, with two collapsing in Miami and another in Fort Lauderdale due to the high winds, reports the Miami Herald.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said the city should consider stricter codes for cranes following the first accident Sunday morning.
“It’s development in the future versus tropical storms or hurricanes,” he said, according to the outlet. “We just cannot gamble on the wind.”
A manatee was stranded on land Sunday after Irma’s winds drained waterways around Tampa Bay, reports Fox 13. Concerned citizens and law enforcement carried the beached animal back to deeper water, but other manatees weren’t as lucky.
Michael Sechler shared a photo of a stranded sea cow on Facebook, writing that he called every service he could think of to no avail.
“My friends and I couldn’t move these massive animals ourselves, and we called every service we could think of, but no one answered,” he wrote. “We gave them as much water as we could, hoping the rain and storm surge come soon enough to save them.”
Flamingos at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay were filmed moving to a secure location along with 12,000 other animals as the theme park was closed to the public.
Continuing Its Path
The National Hurricane Center reclassified Irma as a tropical storm on Monday morning as it moves into Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Irma is moving to the northwest at 18 mph with sustained winds of 75 mph.
Another hurricane, Jose, strengthened to an “extremely dangerous category 4” storm, the National Hurricane Center said on Friday.