Irma’s remnants hit Georgia and South Carolina as Florida struggles with cleanup
Largely drained of fury but still spitting rain, former Hurricane Irma’s gusty remnants snarled air travel, spawned floods and knocked out power Tuesday in a domino row of Southeastern states, even as the storm’s main U.S. target — Florida — staggered under the blow it was dealt over the weekend.
Storm-related woes stretched from the Florida Keys, the archipelago off the state’s southern tip, to Florida’s northeastern corner, where the city of Jacksonville was cleaning up after record flooding and coping with a continuing high-water threat.
For the record:
3:44 a.m. Sept. 28, 2022An earlier version of this article identified Michael Calhoun, Florida’s adjutant general, as a major. He is a major general.
Some residents of the Keys came home Tuesday to a primitive, pared-down version of their former lives, with most returnees finding they lacked basic necessities such as electricity, running water, sanitation systems or cellphone service.
Only those living in the less-affected islands closest to the mainland were allowed to return, and some didn’t stay long. An estimated 85% of homes in the Keys were either damaged or destroyed, according to preliminary federal assessments.
Up north in Jacksonville, more than 350 people were plucked to safety from floodwaters, the sheriff’s office said, warning people to take heed of any further evacuation orders.
“There are so many areas you’d never have thought would have flooded, that flooded,” said Gov. Rick Scott, who visited Jacksonville on Tuesday. “Thank God everybody helped everybody here.”
Across the state, millions struggled to cope with power outages, fuel shortages and a massive cleanup that was still in its earliest stages. President Trump planned to visit the hurricane zone Thursday, the White House said without disclosing an itinerary.
Despite causing such widespread damage, Irma was blamed for relatively few fatalities on the U.S. mainland, after killing at least 36 people on its rampage through the eastern Caribbean last week.
But the toll was rising. A spokesman for the Florida governor reported 12 deaths in the state. There have been four fatalities in South Carolina and two in Georgia, according to the Associated Press.
Florida’s storm-imposed isolation was easing. Although gasoline was still hard to come by in much of the state, frustrating motorists, Miami International Airport reported that it was gradually resuming service Tuesday but advised people to check with airlines to make sure their flights were actually scheduled.
As far away as Atlanta, hundreds of flights were canceled Tuesday at Hartsfield-Jackson airport, the world’s busiest in terms of passenger traffic, where gusts up to 64 mph were reported.
In Florida, the port of Tampa reopened Tuesday afternoon to big ships, which will allow fuel tankers to make much-needed deliveries.
An army of work crews was mobilized to try to restore electricity, which was cut for nearly three-quarters of Florida’s homes and businesses, crippling commercial activity and hampering recovery efforts.
Florida’s electricity cutoffs affected 15 million people, Christopher Krebs, an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, said at a briefing in Washington on Tuesday — a figure extrapolated from utilities’ reports that nearly 6 million customers had lost power, with each account representing more than one person.
Other estimates were lower, in the neighborhood of 10 million affected — still half the state’s population — and the numbers were fluctuating as some repairs were carried out more quickly than others. Utility crews were working around the clock, officials said, including an additional 30,000 workers from out of state, the governor told reporters.
Some progress was being reported, though. Florida Power and Light said it hoped to have service restored to many of its customers on the Atlantic Coast in the next five days, although damage was worse — and will take longer to fix — on the Gulf of Mexico side.
In South Carolina, utility officials reported progress in halving the number of outages from a peak of about 250,000 customers affected. But some of those gains were wiped out by fresh power cuts in the state and elsewhere as the remains of the storm moved north.
In signs of nascent normality, curfews were being lifted in storm-stricken Florida cities and cruise-ship passengers were disembarking after voyages extended by the storm.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but everybody’s going to come together and get this state rebuilt,” Scott, the governor, said.
The peninsula’s major population centers on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, including Miami in the east and Tampa-St. Petersburg in the west, suffered considerably less damage than feared as the storm’s track veered away from them.
But parts of the Keys, a fragile archipelago linked to the mainland by a single roadway and 42 bridges, faced a longer road to recovery.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, William B. “Brock” Long, said Tuesday that by initial estimates, a quarter of the homes in the Keys were destroyed and an additional 60% damaged. In all, “basically every house in the Keys was impacted,” he said.
One of those who chose to ride out the hurricane in Key West was 90-year-old Shirley Ross Block. Speaking by phone, she recounted her fears during the storm that roofs might fly off — including hers — but they held, she said.
Block initially thought the evacuation order wasn’t necessary, but changed her mind when confronted with the aftermath: power outage, rationed running water and dwindling propane for generators. If everyone had stayed, she said, “there would be all the more people in dire straits now.”
Trailer homes at the Sea Breeze trailer park in the Florida Keys town of Islamorada were destroyed by Irma.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Tom Ross inspects the damage to his three-story condominium building in Islamorada.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The remains of a boat in Islamorada.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Brooke Gilbert, 15, and her father, Mike Gilbert, look at the ruins of her grandparents’ condominium building in Islamorada.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Laura Gilbert retrieves the mailbox from her father’s condominium in Islamorada after it was swept away during the storm.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Sand and debris block access to trailer homes in Islamorada.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Greg Garner embraces neighbor Linda Nettles in front of his longtime family home that lost part of its roof after Tropical Storm Irma hit Sullivan’s Island, S.C.(Mic Smith / Associated Press)
Israel Alvarado, 25, tries to open a gate blocked by fallen tree branches to retrieve a generator in Bonita Springs.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Rescue workers help a couple evacuate their flooded home in Jacksonville.(John Raoux / Associated Press)
Charlotte Glaze, left gives Donna Lamb a hug as she floats out some of her belongings in floodwaters in Jacksonville,.(Dede Smith / Associated Press)
Ron Colby, 70, leaves his flooded Bonita Springs home after staying during Hurricane Irma. He said he was OK with the wind but that at 3:30 in the morning the water started to rise.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A dresser floats by Gilberto Diaz in his Bonita Springs neighborhood. Originally from Guatemala, Diaz has lived in Florida since 1994.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
In Bonita Springs, floodwaters reached waist deep in some areas on Monday, flooding homes and cars.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A block from the ocean in Naples, the water was still a foot deep from storm surge. Homeowner Terry Clontz put up a “no wake” sign because people were driving by too fast, pushing water farther onto his property.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Floodwaters surround a marina in Key Largo on Monday following Hurricane Irma.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Mobile homes in Key Largo, Fla., lie in ruins on Monday after Hurricane Irma.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Floodwaters surround Gilbert’s Resort in Key Largo on Monday.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Kelly McClenthen returns to see the flood damage to her home with her boyfriend, Daniel Harrison, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Terry Thompson is relieved. He rode out the storm in his home in Riverwood Estates in Naples. Although the Naples area of Florida was hit hard by Hurricane Irma, damage wasn’t nearly as bad as anticipated.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A woman leaves her flooded home the morning after Hurricane Irma swept through the area in Fort Myers, Florida.(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
People tend to a car that flipped over on Cape Coral Parkway during Hurricane Irma, in Cape Coral.(Gerald Herbert / AP)
A man clears the drain next to his house in Estero, Fla., during the lull in winds as the eye of the hurricane passes over.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Evacuees use flashlights so others can maneuver around the stairway at Hampton Inn and Suites in Estero, Fla.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Guests gather in the lobby of Hampton Inn and Suites in Estero, Fla., to watch the hurricane gusts.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Darla Talia Ferro, 40, and her two parakeets ride out Hurricane Irma in the lobby of Hampton Inn and Suites in Estero, Fla.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
John Krowzow, 74, wades in floodwater to check out his homes in Corkscrew Woodlands, a park with 640 senior mobile home units in Estero, Fla.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Peter Moodley wades through floodwater in downtown Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Two men walk through a downed tree as Hurricane Irma’s full force strikes Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A woman films the damage from a house whose roof was blown off near downtown Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A vehicle drives through debris caused by Hurricane Irma, in Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Weather reporters in downtown Miami jump and cling on to illustrate the force of the winds caused by Hurricane Irma.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Weather reporters do a stand-up as the force of the winds caused by Hurricane Irma hit Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A cargo truck is tipped over by the wind caused by Hurricane Irma in Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Storm surge floods the Brickell neighborhood of Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Streets are empty in downtown Miami as the wind picks up speed during Hurricane Irma’s approach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Koenig, 63, of Estero, Fla., and her dog, Baeley, sit by the window at their Estero hotel so Maria can keep an eye on the storm on Sunday.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Glen Sinatra, 69, from Naples, says he feels lucky to be at a hotel in Estero instead of a shelter. He’s nervous about the storm and says he’s trying not to worry his children about the conditions.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Jimmy Alfano, of Ft. Myers, holds onto Alec Hoskins who is autistic, while watching the storm gusts through the window of their Estero hotel with Frank Pairs.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A car sits abandoned in storm surge along North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard as Hurricane Irma hits the southern part of the state.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The metal canopy at a gasoline station is overturned by high winds brought on by Hurricane Irma.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Youssef Ezzou, left, and Fadel Beznbachir roam outside to check out the conditions in Miami as Hurricane Irma nears the mainland.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A construction crane whose arm broke off towers over a building as high wind blows through downtown Miami on Sunday.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A man and woman run to safety in Miami as winds from Hurricane Irma bear down on Sunday.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Storefronts in Miami are damaged as Hurricane Irma’s winds hit Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Dustin Terkoski, Palm Bay Police officer surveys the scene after a possible tornado touched down at Palm Pam Bay Estates.(Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel)
A man braces against the wind by the Miami River on Sunday as water levels surge.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A man stands by the Miami River as the water level surges on Sunday.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The waves on the Miami River begin to surge Sunday as winds pick up speed upon Hurricane Irma’s approach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Brian Williams, of Maryland, fights the winds in downtown Fort Myers.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Trees fall as winds pick up speed early Sunday as Hurricane Irma approaches Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A TV reporter braces against the wind as Hurricane Irma approaches Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The outer bands of Hurricane Irma start to reach Florida on Saturday, with clouds over the Miami skyline.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images )
People wade through a flooded street in Havana after Hurricane Irma battered central Cuba.(YAMIL LAGE / AFP/Getty Images)
Thousands wait Saturday to enter a storm shelter set up at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., south of Fort Myers.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Jean Turner, 79, waits to get into a shelter with a few of her belongings as rain begins to fall Saturday in Estero, Fla.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Sherri Bourdo, 32, and Anthony Guidry, 40, look out over the water in Naples, Fla, in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Irma.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Lisette Toroella and Tatiana Morera play on the beach as storm clouds approach in Miami Beach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Adam Todd, does a handstand while skateboarding down a virtually empty Ocean Drive in Miami Beach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Abby Jenkins walks against the wind with her luggage and umbrella to get to safety, in Miami Beach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
James Sampero surfs in the churning ocean as Hurricane Irma approaches.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Cubans wade through the rubble from a collapsed building in Havana on Saturday.(Yamil Lage / AFP/Getty Images)
A woman and child use a blanket as protection from wind and rain as they walk in Caibarien, Cuba. Hurricane Irma battered Cuba on Saturday with deafening winds and unremitting rain, pushing seawater inland and flooding homes before turning toward Florida.(Desmond Boylan / Associated Press)
Annette Davis plays with her son Darius, 3, while staying at a shelter in Miami on Saturday after evacuating from their home in Florida City ahead of Hurricane Irma.(David Goldman / Associated Press)
Residents walk through rain brought on by Hurricane Irma in Caibarien, Cuba. The powerful storm battered Cuba on Saturday and continued its march toward Florida.(Desmond Boylan / Associated Press)
Palmetto Ridge High School is a shelter for people with special needs near Naples, Fla. Many seniors plan to ride out the storm there.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Francesca DeLuca, age 20, will be waiting for 10 hours for her flight back to Milan, Italy. She had been visiting a friend in Miami by herself, but the area where she was staying is under mandatory evacuation. At Miami International Airport, the last flights will be this afternoon with the airport closing tonight at 6pm. Most travelers are taking flights to anywhere they can find.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Boats that can’t be evacuated are tied off in canals to protect them from Hurricane Irma on in Key Largo, Florida. The entire Florida Keys are under a mandatory evacuation notice as Hurricane Irma approaches the low-lying chain of islands south of Miami.(Marc Serota / Getty Images)
Hundreds wait in line on Friday at Home Depot in Miami to get supplies line sheets of plywood, and anything else they can find, to board up their homes. Police were on the scene to keep things orderly.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
In the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, Fritz Drinks, whose family is from Haiti, helps load sandbags at Little Haiti Hardware and Lumber. Many people in the area are refusing to evacuate in advance of Hurricane Irma.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
In downtowm Miaimi, people wait to get on a bus headed to Orlando under a mandatory evacution plan. Preparations are underway for Hurricane Irma as the storm makes its way toward Florida.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Stores are boarded up in Miami Beach in advance of Hurricane Irma.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Preparations for Hurricane Irma are underway in Miami Beach as the storm makes its way toward Florida.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Genaro Dacosta, 65, of Miami Beach loads sandbags in advance of Hurricane Irma. He says he can’t evacuate the area because he has a monkey.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
An aerial photograph taken and released by the Dutch Department of Defense on Wednesday shows damage from Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, St. Maarten.(Gerben van Es / AFP/Getty Images)
Juan Negron, third from left, prepares to start up a power generator in front of what’s left of his damaged property in Culebra, Puerto Rico, after the passage of Hurricane Irma.(Carlos Giusti / Associated Press)
Residents come out to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Irma in Nagua, Dominican Republic.(Tatiana Fernandez / Associated Press)
People on Thursday look over damage from Hurricane Irma on a sand-covered street of Marigot, near the Bay of Nettle, on the island of St. Maarten.(Lionel Chamoiseau / AFP/Getty Images)
Inmate trustees from the Brevard County Jail fill sandbags for Meritt Island, Fla., residents in advance of Hurricane Irma.(Brian Blanco / Getty Images)
Motorists leave Key Largo, Fla., ahead of Hurricane Irma.(Alan Diaz / Associated Press)
Much of the recovery work in the Keys so far has simply been fixing washed-out roads and preparing landing strips for emergency-response flights. Planes are able to land now at two airports in the island chain, in Key West and Marathon, said officials in Monroe County, which encompasses the Keys.
All three of the archipelago’s hospitals were shuttered, but officials hoped to reopen at least one, in Tavernier, soon, and food distribution points and shelters were being set up at locales including Key West and Cudjoe Key, where the hurricane made landfall on Sunday.
The aircraft carrier Lincoln was dispatched to waters close to Key West to aid in the rescue effort in the islands.
Four hundred miles to the north in Jacksonville, the stench of wastewater hung in the air and city officials were busy cleaning up debris left by the receded floodwaters. In the Talleyrand neighborhood, Eugene Hawkins’ home stayed dry, but neighbors on lower ground were hit by flooding.
Hawkins, 40, lives close to a power plant, and as a result rarely loses electricity in storms, he said. This time, though, the neighborhood suffered a 12-hour outage, and the road near his house was partially closed by a sparking transformer — a microcosm of the power woes statewide.
Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, Florida’s adjutant general, said there were 8,000 members of the Florida National Guard on the ground and 16 aircraft in the air, pushing ahead with search and rescue where needed and recovery elsewhere.
After Irma came to life last week as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes recorded, the storm’s worst fury was reserved for a string of Caribbean islands, many of them territories of France, Britain and the Netherlands.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch King Willem-Alexander were in the devastated area Tuesday, with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expected as well — all of them offering support but fending off angry accusations of a less-than-robust initial response to the disaster.
Halper reported from Jacksonville and King from Washington. Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston contributed to this report.
4:50 p.m.: The article was updated with a new death toll, damage estimate in the Florida Keys and other details.
2:05 p.m.: The article was updated with Trump’s planned visit, Tampa Bay open for ships again, a decrease in power outages in South Carolina, flight cancellations in Atlanta, comment from Key West resident.
10:35 a.m.: This article was updated with details on damage and recovery in the Florida Keys and projections on the restoration of power on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
9:25 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting.
The article was originally published at 5:25 a.m.
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