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Shocked residents return to Irma-ravaged Florida Keys

  • Published at 07:46 pm September 13th, 2017
Shocked residents return to Irma-ravaged Florida Keys

Evacuees from Hurricane Irma were early on Wednesday returning to the Florida Keys, where sunrise will give them a first glimpse of devastation that has left countless homes and businesses in ruins.

Categorised as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, Irma claimed more than 60 lives, officials said.

At least 18 people died in Florida and destruction was widespread in the Keys, where Irma made initial US landfall on Sunday to become the second major hurricane to strike the mainland this season.

A resort island chain that stretches from the tip of the state into the Gulf of Mexico, the Keys are connected by a bridges and causeways along a narrow route of nearly 160km.

The Keys had been largely evacuated by the time Irma barrelled ashore as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 215kmh.

Initial damage assessments found 25% of homes there were destroyed and 65% suffered major damage, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said.

No power, no water

With over 15 million people without electricity in Florida, one million in neighbouring Georgia and 20,000 in South Carolina, authorities launched a massive effort to restore power.

"We're having over 30,000 individuals from out of state helping us get our power back on," Governor Scott told reporters while touring flood damage in the northeast city of Jacksonville.

Scott said the authorities had rescued more than 300 people in Jacksonville, a city of 880,000 hit by flooding on Monday.

Before reaching the US, Irma tore through a string of Caribbean islands, going from tiny Barbuda on Wednesday to the tropical paradises of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Macron, Johnson visit Caribbean

French President Macron and Britain's Foreign Secretary Johnson meanwhile visited their nations' hurricane-hit Caribbean territories.

The region was the worst-hit of one of the most powerful storms on record as residents and holidaymakers became increasingly desperate.

"Even from the plane I saw something I have never seen before," Dutch King Willem-Alexander told public newscaster NOS. "I have seen proper war as well as natural disasters before, but I've never seen anything like this."

Macron's plane touched down in Saint Martin as anger grew over looting and lawlessness in the French-Dutch territory.

Johnson was visiting the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, where Britain has sent nearly 1,000 military personnel to help both with security, and what he described as an "unprecedented" relief effort.

British junior foreign minister Alan Duncan told parliament that 100 high-risk prisoners escaped in the territory during Hurricane Irma, which threatened a "complete breakdown of law and order." He did not disclose how many were still at large.

Source: Reuters, AFP
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