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Nearly 25 Percent Of Homes Destroyed In Florida Keys After Hurricane Irma

Sep 12, 2017
Originally published on September 12, 2017 3:19 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In the Florida Keys today, some people were able to go home and see the damage that was done by Hurricane Irma. One of them was Bill Quinn who owns a trailer park in the Keys.

BILL QUINN: It's just a concrete slab. It's - the only thing left in the trailer is a frame. And there's not even a stick hanging up on the frame itself. There's not a screw in it. There's nothing.

MCEVERS: In its preliminary assessment, FEMA says only 10 percent of the homes on the Keys escaped without major damage, and about 25 percent were destroyed. NPR's Greg Allen traveled from Miami to the part of the Keys that reopened to residents today. And he is with us now from Key Largo. Hi there, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So just tell us what you saw on the way in.

ALLEN: Well, we came down from Miami and drove down to - from - through Key Largo, down through a series of islands and communities, down to the island of - the community of Islamorada - got down as far as the mile marker 75. That's an area where one lane of the oversized highway was washed out. And right now crews are working to repair it. And beyond that, they're not allowing residents past there into communities that are hurt more badly, and there's other infrastructure damage.

But we did see lots of relief convoys going in, trucks filled with supplies, heavy equipment, crews, utility crews - all that kind of things. But all along the way, we saw evidence of storm surge - debris, freezers from bait shops right on the road. You see Jet Skis lying on their side. That kind of stuff's all over the overseas highway when you drive down here. And you see also evidence of Irma's winds. Some gas station canopies were all twisted and turned and bent.

MCEVERS: How bad would you say the damage is?

ALLEN: Well, the section we were in from Key Largo down is - it's about like Miami. You see lots of trees down, you know, fences, lots of damage from wind. But here, the one thing you see everywhere is evidence of storm surge. Clearly, you know, we saw 3 - to 2, 3 feet - 4 feet came in. But most structures don't seem badly damaged. But they all got waterlogged from that.

We visited a mobile home park in Islamorada - or what's left of it. It's a park called the Sea Breeze, where it was - fared a lot worse. It's a diverse place, this mobile home park. It's not fancy, but the people there - they love it. There's people that can enjoy boating, fishing, all the water without spending a lot of money. And a lot of the mobile homes there were 50 years old or older. But it's still on one of the most beautiful spots of Florida. So you see kind of a unique place. Here's what one of the homeowners, Rick Peterson - how he described the scene now.

RICK PETERSON: Trashed. It looks like a bomb went off on the ocean side.

ALLEN: Right. There's, like, just rubble. I mean, I see sticks and wood.

PETERSON: There was four trailers between this one standing and the water - all gone, leveled. Yes, it's just pure devastation. I don't know who this one belonged to.

MCEVERS: Wow. I mean, how about some of the houses that were more sturdy? How did they fare?

ALLEN: Well we know that, beyond where the roadblock is in the upper Keys, by Key west, then south of there - or north of there - the damage is much worse. And the section we saw - the homes that were concrete-block construction, which is required down here. They were - did much better. But they all got that storm surge - you know, around 4 or 5 feet. So they all had that issue to deal with.

The question now for many of these people is, when it's time to rebuild, will there be places like these mobile home parks, the Sea Breeze? Or will it all be condos and nice houses for people who have a lot more money? But what about the people who work in the Keys and the tourists in the fishing industries, you know, who love living here? And they need a place to live while they live and work here. Here's what Sea Breeze owner Bill Quinn had to say about that.

QUINN: We're the people that are serving you your coffee in the restaurants. And we're the ones building your sheds. And we're the low-income housing. We're the people that do the work for the rich people, you could say. So there's no need to take it away. We just need to rebuild.

ALLEN: The people at the Sea Breeze are hoping that they're going to be able to stay there and rebuild. But most of them are - they own their mobile homes but are renting the pads from a big real estate company. So we'll have to see. Another issue here is marinas. We saw a bunch - a couple of marinas that had a lot of damage to them. And that's going to be a major hit to the recreational and the commercial fishing industry, which are also places that provide a lot of jobs down here in the Florida Keys.

MCEVERS: NPR's Greg Allen in Key Largo, thank you very much.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.