Hurricane Irma destroys 25 percent of homes in Florida Keys

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Residents were returning Tuesday to some islands in the hurricane-hit Florida Keys as officials pieced together the scope of Irma's destruction. (WLS)

With 25 percent of the homes in the Florida Keys feared destroyed, emergency workers Tuesday rushed to find Hurricane Irma's victims - dead or alive - and deliver food and water to the stricken island chain.

As crews labored to repair the lone highway connecting the Keys, residents of some of the islands closest to Florida's mainland were allowed to return and get their first look at the devastation.

"It's going to be pretty hard for those coming home," said Petrona Hernandez, whose concrete home on Plantation Key with 35-foot walls was unscathed, unlike others a few blocks away. "It's going to be devastating to them."

But because of disrupted phone service and other damage, the full extent of the destruction was still a question mark, more than two days after Irma roared into the Keys with 130 mph (209 kph) winds.

All customers who lost electricity on the eastern side of the state will likely have power restored by the end of this weekend, Florida Power & Light said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is schedule to visit Florida on Thursday.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Irma's impact on Florida, southeast

DEATH TOLL RISES


State officials are raising the death toll in Florida from Hurricane Irma to 12 from the previous seven, raising the total to 55.

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, said six people died in car crashes, four while engaged in storm preparations, one was electrocuted by a downed power line, and another had a cardiac issue.

Carbon monoxide expelled by generators has killed one man in South Carolina and sent two people to the hospital in Florida.


RESIDENTS RETURN TO KEYS

Two days after Irma made landfall on Cudjoe Key, authorities and residents were finally able to reach some of the Florida Keys on Tuesday.

What they found was devastating: Based on initial estimates, 25 percent of the houses on the chain of islands have been destroyed, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday. Another 65 percent suffered major damage.

Around 7 a.m. ET, police began letting residents back into the ravaged island chain. Upon leaving the Florida mainland, Key Largo is the first town in what is known as the Upper Keys, the easternmost third of the island chain that includes Tavernier and Islamorada.

"Basically, every house in the Keys was impacted some way," FEMA Administrator Brock Long said.

It's still not clear how many casualties Irma caused on the Keys. Transportation officials are trying to determine whether bridges between the islands can withstand any weight.

The Florida Department of Transportation is repairing two sections of road that were washed away by Irma -- one at mile marker 37 and the other at mile marker 75 -- but believe they will finish later Tuesday.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Irma devastates the Caribbean
GAS REMAINS SCARCE IN FLORIDA

Florida gas stations are still hurting for fuel Tuesday as the state continues to recover from Hurricane Irma.

About 43 percent of gas stations in Florida are dry, according to the crowdsourcing platform GasBuddy.

But the shortages are worse in several major cities around the state. In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region, for example, about 60 percent of stations don't have fuel. Same for Gainsville.

About half of the gas stations in Tampa, Orlando, Tallahassee and Fort Meyers were also without fuel, according to GasBuddy. Shortages are likely to remain until ports in Florida's major cities reopen. The state has few refineries of its own and tankers and barges will have to deliver virtually all of its fuel.

"As long as the ports are closed, the normal flow of fuel -- it's just not there," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. "Until the normal flow of fuel returns, I think we're still at risk for seeing these numbers lift."

NO ELECTRICITY

Customers on the west coast of Florida -- where Hurricane Irma made its final landfall -- will likely have power restored by September 22.

It's a long wait for those sifting through what's left of their homes in the oppressive heat, bombarded by high humidity and relentless mosquitoes.

But residents like William Rose have bigger concerns. Rose still can't reach his family on the Florida Keys, where about a quarter of the islands' houses are annihilated.

He's not sure whether his mother, stepdad, grandmother and aunt survived Irma's wrath.

"I have no idea, but I'm trying to stay positive," Rose said.

Before the Keys lost cell phone service, Rose received a text from his mother, who chose not to evacuate.

"This is terrible. I will never do this again," the text read. "I'm so glad you got out."

VIDEO: FLIGHTS TO FLORIDA SLOWLY RESUME
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Residents were allowed to return Tuesday to some islands in the hurricane-hit Florida Keys.



Most commercial airports in Florida reopened Tuesday, but activity was limited and hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed as the state recovered from Hurricane Irma.

Limited flights were starting to fly to Florida, but airlines expect to be at full capacity in the new few days. American Airlines, which has a hub in Miami, is offering one-way $99 fares until the weekend.

At O'Hare International Airport, many Floridians were headed home, worried about the damage that they would find.

"I have no idea. I have security cameras but they when off-line when the power went. I hear it's flooding everywhere," said Jeremy Walraven, who was planning to return Tuesday.

Marybeth and Ross Matheson own a restaurant in Miami that is reopened Tuesday, even though they were not back yet.

"The fact that our house is OK doesn't mean that all of my staff are OK," said Ross Matheson.

CHICAGO AREA HELP FOR IRMA VICTIMS

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Donations were collected Tuesday at the Crestwood Police Department for the victims of Hurricane Irma.



On Tuesday, donations were collected at Crestwood Police Department in the southwest suburbs.

"I had to help. I brought blankets and sheets. I went to the Dollar Store and got tooth brushes and shampoo, things like that," said Delores Friel.

The scene has become familiar in the Chicago area over the last few weeks since Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast. Now, people want to help Floridians impacted by Irma.

The big challenge was getting the supplies to Texas and Florida so Crestwood has partnered with the Illinois Trucking Association.

Officials in the village of Orland Hills is still looking for a truck. They have 16 palates worth of items that are sitting at their community center.

"The issue has been trying to find trailers. If we can find someone who can donate a trailer to take this to Florida, the village of Orland hills would really appreciate it," said Glen Bilina, the Orland Hills recreation director.

CARIBBEAN MEDICAL STUDENTS ARRIVE IN U.S.

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Busloads of medical students from the Caribbean are staying in the Q Center, a conference center in west suburban St. Charles, after Irma devastated Sint Maarten.



Busloads of medical students from the Caribbean are staying in the Q Center, a conference center in west suburban St. Charles, after a Category 5 Hurricane Irma devastated Sint Maarten.

The students, who attend the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine in the Dutch territory, have been arriving in waves since the hurricane hit the tiny island five days ago.

The U.S. military evacuated the students from Sint Maarten, where some students used their medical expertise to help people injured on the island. Some of the students, who hail from across the U.S., had never experienced a hurricane.

"I honestly can't believe I'm here. It's still a dreaming," said student Tina Sharma. "I feel like I'm trying to wake up."

"Getting here now, it feels weird being back because it's a normal atmosphere but what's normal here is not normal to what we've seen," said Rory Eschete, student.

For days the novice medical students and medical school staff treated sick and injured islanders. Finally aboard a military flight Tuesday morning, and now on dry ground, the reality of surviving Irma as a team is sinking in.

Copyright 2017 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Associated Press and WLS-TV contributed to this report.

Related Topics:
weatheru.s. & worldhurricane irmahurricaneFlorida

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