ISLAMORADA, United States -- Residents of the Florida Keys ravaged by Hurricane Irma, which has left at least 12 dead statewide, discovered scenes of desolation as they returned home Tuesday amid a massive operation to restore electricity to millions of people still without power in three southern US states.
As emergency workers picked through the rubble, Irma’s death toll in Florida rose from an earlier figure of two. The storm has now killed at least 50 people across the Caribbean and the United States.
Shattered mobile homes, grounded sailboats and jumbled mounds of debris greeted Keys residents as police began lifting roadblocks to the islands following the passage of Hurricane Irma.
“We don’t have much left,” Patty Purdo, a 55-year-old waitress, said as she surveyed her home in the wreckage of the Seabreeze trailer park on the island of Islamorada.
European leaders visited the storm-ravaged Caribbean meanwhile amid criticism over relief efforts and the White House announced that President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, would visit Florida on Thursday.
Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said Irma caused major damage in the Keys, a 120-mile (195-kilometer) string of islands off Florida’s southern coast known for boating, scuba diving and fishing.
Ninety percent of the archipelago’s homes have been destroyed or significantly damaged he said.
The islands had been all but cut off since the storm struck early Sunday as a Category Four hurricane, and bore the brunt of Irma’s damage while the rest of the Sunshine State fared relatively better.
“Most areas are still without power and water. Cell service is spotty. And most gas stations are still closed,” authorities in Monroe County, which includes the Keys, said in a Facebook post.
An incredulous off-duty police officer shared video footage of the nun in action which went viral on Twitter.
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.
“He needs to come to look around, so that he realizes the horror here,” local resident Peggy Brun told AFP.