10,000 may need evacuation from ravaged Florida Keys

PHOTO/CNN

(CNN) – Officials were struggling Monday to reach the majority of the Florida Keys — namely, the stretch of islands west of Key Largo — amid early indications that Hurricane Irma showed the archipelago little mercy.

The Keys are closed to the public, including residents, and several areas remain without water, power and communications Monday morning, officials said.
There were conflicting reports about damage to the pipeline that provides drinking water from the mainland, but the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority issued a statement saying “the transmission main appears to be intact.”
 However, the widespread water outages and low water pressure throughout the Keys appear to be a result of problems with smaller distribution systems, the authority said, explaining it had issued a precautionary boil-water notice.
Things were looking so dire that an estimated 10,000 people who rode out the storm in the Keys may require evacuation, the US Department of Defense said. The island chain is home to about 79,000 people.
Irma’s eye passed over Cudjoe Key, about 20 miles east of Key West, Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said. There was a great deal of storm surge between Cudjoe Key and Marathon Key, but it wasn’t as severe as during Hurricane Wilma during 2005, she said. Irma also appears to have caused less structural damage than Wilma, she said.
Two people died, but it’s unclear if the deaths are storm related. Rescuers expect to find some loss of life as they make their way into the island chains, Carruthers said, but “I don’t think it would be significant because so many people evacuated.”
The USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, arrived on Florida’s East Coast on Sunday and was expected to be in Key West Monday afternoon to assist with operations, officials said.
Efforts to access battered locales and provide relief supplies have been stymied by Irma’s destruction, according to officials and local media reports.
The airport in Marathon requires significant cleanup, and Key West’s airport has yet to reopen. Accessing the Keys via boat is too dangerous because the near-shore waters are littered with debris, including unmoored boats and navigational markers. And US Highway 1, which runs from the Florida mainland to Key West, is underwater at mile markers 29 and 75, and blocked by a large pole at mile marker 36.
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.
“It’s the worst storm I’ve ever seen,” said South, who rode out Irma in a Key West bunker built to withstand 220-mph winds.

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