Irma's U.S. death toll rises; residents start to return to Florida coast

Elias Hubbard
September 13, 2017

Some 6.7 million homes and businesses in Florida and nearby states still had no power on Tuesday after the pummeling from Hurricane Irma, as utility companies scrambled to get the lights back on in one of the biggest power restoration efforts in USA history.

As of late Monday, the death toll was around 40.

A HOUSE-TO-HOUSE search began yesterday after the strongest Atlantic storm in history led to at least 40 deaths in the USA and the Caribbean.

"This is likely to be one of the largest and most complex power restoration efforts in US history", said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, an industry trade group.

St Martin - divided between France and the Netherlands - and Saint Barthelemy were also hit on Wednesday.

France's state-owned reinsurer CCR estimates damage on the two islands at $1.4 billion.

French President Macron and Britain's Foreign Secretary Johnson were visiting their hurricane-hit Caribbean territories on Tuesday.

Last month, Hurricane Harvey devastated much of coastal Texas and killed more than 70 people.

Just east of Puerto Rico, it is home to roughly 28,000 people and includes British billionaire Richard Branson's Necker Island.

The governor said the state had five emergency shelters open Monday night and they had about 80 people in them at midnight.

Around 20,000 people were evacuated in the Dominican Republic, the eastern part of Hispaniola island, which is shared with Haiti.

At its St. Lucie nuclear plant about 120 miles (190 km) north of Miami, FPL reduced power at Unit 1 because of salt buildup from Irma in the switchyard, NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said.

Authorities said 5,000 houses flooded, while 8,000 families were declared disaster victims after their homes were severely damaged or destroyed.

Irma arrived on Marco Island - which measures about 24 square miles and is located in the southwestern part of Florida - Sunday afternoon with howling wind gusts measuring up to 130 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Some 6.5 million people, about a third of the state's population, had been ordered to evacuate southern Florida.

Yet Murphy warned that residents shouldn't rush back if they don't have to - the island still doesn't have water or electricity. All around the region, more than 7 million homes and businesses lost power at one point from Irma's passage, the brunt of the outages occurring in Florida.

The most heavily impacted areas were the 31822 ZIP code near Hamilton, with almost 1,500 customers without power, and the 31907 ZIP code of east Columbus, with a little over 1,100 customers without power.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 utility workers from out of state, sent to inspect and fix power lines, were staying in Broward County in cramped conditions at BB&T Center, home to the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers, said Gus Beyersdorf, 40, of De Pere, Wisconsin.

Recovery operations are ramping up around Florida and beyond, even as the weakened vestiges of Irma dump rains across the South in such states as Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.

The condition of the main thoroughfare through the Keys is of particular concern as Big Pine Key sits between mile markers 29 and 36, making it impossible to know the extent of damage on that island, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist Bill South.

Hillsborough County will remain in a state of emergency another week, a move created to remind residents to stay alert and to allow funding flexibility for relief efforts.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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