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Some Florida Keys Residents Allowed To Return Home


This past weekend was the first time that some people who live in the Florida Keys were finally able to return home since Hurricane Irma, but many of those homes don't have power or running water. NPR's Greg Allen has been talking to residents at the Florida Keys, and he joins us now from the city of Marathon. Hi, Greg.


CHANG: So Marathon was on the more powerful side of the storm when Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys. What's been the damage there?

ALLEN: Well, you know, it made landfall in Cudjoe Key, which is about 30 miles down toward Key West from here, with 130-mile-per-hour winds, which were, you know, damaging. But the - what really did the damage here I think more than anything, was the storm surge. You have on the southern edge of Marathon Key a whole bunch of homes that are built right on the water, beautiful views.

But many of these are older, one-story homes. And when that four-foot storm surge came in, it just washed through everything, just tore out the whole interiors. You see on the streets refrigerators, coolers, chairs, all kinds of things on the side of the road. Many of these older homes on the water were solid construction, but their interiors are just destroyed now.

We visited with a fishing guide named Scott Collins. The storm surge ripped off the shutters of his house and washed away his shed, all of his fishing gear and everything his family left behind.

SCOTT COLLINS: Everything was jammed into the front of the house in just one giant pile. It actually went through the living room and against the front of the house into the kitchen. The granite countertop, a piece we can't even move to see what's under it, actually moved this way, out somehow.

CHANG: So these people who are coming back to Marathon - are they finding that the town is even ready for them? We know that they're having power problems, running water problems.

ALLEN: That's right. And I think officials here have encouraged people not to come back until they have all the services available. There are a few portable medical shelters, medical facilities available. But you go just across the bridge from Marathon Key over to a small community. There's a trailer park called Sunshine Key. And it's not a pretty sight there. We visited, and trailers are everywhere. They're up-ended. Some are on their sides. Others are just rubble. It's pretty much deserted now.

We did come across one man who was working on his trailer. He'd had just a broken window. His trailer had moved off its blocks a little bit, but he thought he'd be able to repair it. But the rest of the trailers there are just uninhabitable. And you see that throughout the Keys. Trailer parks in particular took a big hit in the storm.

CHANG: Will the hardest-hit areas be able to return to normal anytime soon, or could it be just months and months?

ALLEN: Well, some I've talked to here in Marathon think it might be years before this town gets back to the way it was. Because of that whole section of the island and all those homes have to be rebuilt and with contractors being booked up the way they are, there'll be a lot of work here for contractors. But it's going to take some time to get this all done.

CHANG: Yeah.

ALLEN: I think some of the people we talked to said they plan on rebuilding in these kind of two-story construction where - that's built up on stilts. Homes that were built that way in the Keys did very well. They were, you know, concrete block homes. And the bottom part - the water washes in and washes out. And so that's what the - many say they're going to rebuild.

But one of the issues here is this is a - largely a tourist economy. And Scott Collins, the fishing guy we spoke to earlier - he said he's not going to leave because his job's here. But many others now who work in restaurants and other things may move. He's seen it after other big storms.

COLLINS: They may not want to, but they're going to not be able to stay here because they've - they haven't been paid since before the storm. And now they're - whatever they used to do before in the service industry, they're closed. They don't know when they're going to reopen. They may not have a place to live. They just can't recover. They got to, you know, pull up and leave town. And it definitely thins out a lot of people when you get something like this.

ALLEN: Collins is raising an important issue here for the Keys as it rebuilds - whether there will be affordable housing available for the people who live and who work here.

CHANG: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Marathon Key, Fla. Thank you very much, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "HEDRON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.