WHAT’S HAPPENING: Irma death toll rises; recovery cost soars
MIAMI – Hurricane Irma laid waste to beautiful Caribbean islands and caused historic destruction across Florida. The cleanup will take weeks; recovery will take months. Some islanders just want out. And after a huge exodus from the Florida peninsula, traffic remains heavy on southbound highways as people return home to uncertain situations, many without power or water in sweltering heat and humidity .
BY THE NUMBERS
– People still without electricity: 9.5 million – just under half of Florida’s population – and 600,000 in Georgia.
– Time it will take for full restoration of power: 10 days or more.
– People in shelters in Florida: 110,000.
– Money raised by Tuesday night’s star-studded “Hand in Hand” telethon for Harvey and Irma victims: $44 million. Potential cost of damage to privately insured property in U.S. and the Caribbean: $55 billion.
IMAGES OF IRMA
The images captured by Associated Press photographers show the depth and breadth of Irma’s devastation in a way that words cannot.
THE DEATH TOLL
The confirmed death toll from Hurricane Irma stood at 57 Wednesday morning. With the electrocution of a utility worker in the British Virgin Islands, at least 38 people were killed across the Caribbean. In the U.S., 19 deaths were reported in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Also, police are conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths of six residents of a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, that lost power in the storm. As in other disasters, Irma poses particular risks to the elderly .
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE FLORIDA KEYS?
The lower Keys remain off-limits as crews check 42 bridges on the only highway to the mainland. County officials are pushing back against an initial estimate by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that 25 percent of homes were destroyed and nearly all the rest heavily damaged. Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers says “things look real damaged from the air, but when you clear the trees and all the debris, it’s not much damage to the houses.” Search-and-rescue teams haven’t found casualties in door-to-door searches, but they’re not entering shuttered homes.
The Dutch, British and French governments are getting heat from islanders who say their recovery efforts have been slow and disorganized. French President Emmanuel Macron, overnighting on St. Martin before surveying St. Barts on Wednesday, said islanders have a right to be “very very angry.” He’s pledging to evacuate survivors who want to leave, support those who want to stay, and rebuild the French territories with hurricane-proof infrastructure. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says Anguilla’s ordeal was “absolutely hellish” and British troops and police are in place to help residents and restore order. Authorities say more than 100 “very serious” offenders escaped from a damaged prison during the storm.
President Donald Trump plans to visit the Naples, Florida, area on Thursday, “to make sure the troops that he’s put in place are doing their job,” said his homeland security adviser Tom Bossert. The federal government is helping people secure shelter with money for rent, hotels or pre-manufactured housing, he said.
Irma’s economic toll on Florida alone already includes nearly $250 million in preparation and recovery expenses by 31 state agencies. Agriculture officials are warily eyeing storm damage to citrus crops, and markets are bracing for a temporary spike in food prices nationwide after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. AIR Worldwide estimates Irma’s damage to privately insured property in the U.S. will range between $20 billion and $40 billion, with damage in the Caribbean between $5 billion and $15 billion.
THEME PARKS REOPEN
Walt Disney World theme parks and Universal Orlando Resort have reopened, and the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, planned to reopen Wednesday. But many other destinations in the state and the Caribbean affected by Irma and other storms remain off-limits to visitors, in some cases with extensive damage or power outages that will take days if not weeks to resolve. Florida Keys tourism spokesman Andy Newman said travelers should postpone trips there until “the destination is ready to receive visitors.”
IRMA BLEW YOUR VACATION?
Travel Expert Pauline Frommer of Frommers.com and the famous Frommer’s travel guidebooks shares her tips on getting refunds and more. Airlines canceled thousands of flights, and while most of the affected airports have reopened, untangling air travel will take time. Hotels, cruise lines, private rentals and other tourism services all have their policies when it comes to an “act of God” like Irma. Frommer urges patience, along with persistence.
SORRY, THEY WON’T ARREST YOU
A group selfie by some Florida police officers has Facebook users inquiring if they’re single. Some even offered to get arrested. The Gainesville Police Facebook page said the three officers were “getting ready to do some work” as Hurricane Irma lashed the state. More than 100,000 comments followed, most praising their good looks. The department later asked people not to call 911 seeking their personal attention.
A Florida nun took a chainsaw to clear trees downed by Hurricane Irma around Archbishop Coleman Carrol High School near Miami. Sister Margaret Ann is the school’s principal and she wore a full habit while ripping away limbs. Miami-Dade police posted video on Facebook and praised her acts of kindness. Some commenters are worried though, saying no one should use a chain saw with loose fitting clothes.