Hurricane Irma aftermath: Return to Florida Keys comes with warnings on conditions

As residents in the Middle and Lower Keys were told they could return home from their Hurricane Irma evacuation almost two weeks ago, city and county leaders warned of the camping-like conditions that include no potable water and in some areas a lack of power.

“We understand that people are anxious to return to their homes and to begin damage assessment,” said City Manager Jim Scholl. “But they need to be prepared for some discomfort.”

Key West lost power for several hours Saturday morning.

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said if you’re not part of the solution please stay away for now and if returning, bring camping supplies and your own food and water.

“Be prepared to camp for weeks,” Ramsay said. “If you don’t have to come back yet to save your home or cannot add to the rescue effort, stay away. Stay away if you don’t have enough supplies to live off the grid.:

County Commissioner Heather Carruthers posted on Facebook a suggestion that “if you have kids or pets, if you or anyone in your family has health problems, if you know your place is secure, if you do not have special skills that will be helpful in this recovery, please do not return to the Keys or Key West for a few days.”

Lower Keys Medical Center is not fully functioning, Carruthers pointed out, adding that she was not speaking on behalf of the county, just sharing her personal opinion.

“There are dangers associated with debris, unforeseen structural weaknesses, electricity and limited water that is not potable,” she said.

Here are some warnings for Key West residents:

▪ Do not drink the water. Monroe County remains under a boil water order until further notice and water should only be used for sanitation purposes.

▪ Supplies are in short demand. Returning residents are urged to bring supplies, including food and drinking water.

▪ Key West remains under a curfew from dusk until dawn.

▪ The Port of Key West is closed to all vessel traffic outside of those authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard.

▪ Electricity has not been restored to all residences. People can expect intermittent outages even in areas where power has been restored.

Monroe County this weekend is re-opening to returning residents from the Upper Keys to the Seven Mile Bridge for residents, business owners, disaster workers and supply vehicles.

The Lower Keys and Key West was scheduled to open at 7 a.m. Sunday, also to residents, business owners, disaster workers and supply vehicles.

The dusk to dawn curfew in the Lower Keys will be enforced during the return. People may not return after dark, said Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Becky Herrin.

A checkpoint will remain in effect at Florida City. Law enforcement will be letting through residents with reentry stickers as well as those who have ID with a Keys address.

Also, the city authorized the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League to reopen the homeless shelter on Stock Island Saturday at 6:30 p.m. The shelter has water and power although no food will be served, said SHAL executive director John Miller.

Located at 5537 College Road, behind the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter is open to all adults 18 & over. No children or pets are allowed.

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