Residents return to Upper Keys to find mobile homes, other structures destroyed

About 25 percent of homes destroyed in Keys, FEMA official says

ISLAMORADA, Fla. – U.S. Highway 1 reopened at 7 a.m. Tuesday to residents and business owners in the Upper Keys.

Hundreds of Keys residents parked their vehicles along U.S. 1 Monday in Florida City and stayed there through the night to make sure they were able to assess the damage to their homes by Tuesday morning.

The road will only be open through mile marker 73, because crews are still working to clear roads down to Key West and make sure all bridges are safe to travel on.

The first driver in line to get to the Keys told Local 10 News reporter Ian Margol that he got there at 1 p.m. Monday.

He said that he has friends who stayed in the Keys during the storm and they told him that there was power in his neighborhood. But he said he didn't know whether he had any flooding in his home or other damage.

Margol said tempers were boiling over somewhat as people waited to get home.

He said Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies and Miami-Dade police were in the area to keep the peace.

Those who were getting impatient told Margol that they felt there was a lack of communication from police while they were waiting to get through to the Keys, but Margol said it appeared that law enforcement was doing the best it could to keep order while crews worked to clear roads to make it safe for people to drive through the Upper Keys.

Those coming back Tuesday must have a yellow re-entry sticker or show proof of residence to return.

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said initial estimates indicate that 25 percent of houses in the Florida Keys have been destroyed and 65 percent have major damage. 

Margol spoke to a man in Islamorada who said that he was the only person in his mobile home park to stay there during the storm. His home was among those that was destroyed.

"My home is gone -- completely gone, and we're trying to get back on our feet as quickly as possible," Bill Quinn said. "I mean, this is going to be a massive effort to get back on our feet, but we want to get there as quickly as possible."

Quinn said his community is asked FEMA for assistance.

He said he did not stay inside his mobile home during the storm, but stayed at a safer building next door.

"The property I was staying at was right next door to where my mobile home was, and I could have seen my mobile home from the property had I had the visual, but it was blocked by wind and rain, and it was just pretty terrifying," Quinn said.

Quinn hopes that his community receives help soon from FEMA, because many of them have nothing left.

"It's down to the slab," he said about his mobile home. "There's not even a stick sticking up off of the frame.  It's completely gone."

Another woman cried as she showed Margol what was left of her home.

"It's devastating. It's gone," she said. "We don't have a home anymore."

Margol asked her what she was expecting to see.

"Where I stayed, we were fine. Not like this," she said. "So I was hoping for the best, I guess."

She said she lost cellphone service and hasn't been able to get in touch with friends who live in Marathon and Key West.

Key Colony Beach Mayor John DeNeale said many people in the Keys also still do not have power, water or phone service. 

He said the Florida Department of Transportation is working to make sure the Keys' 42 bridges and 120 miles of highway are safe.

The American Red Cross is bringing in more than 30,000 meals, water and other supplies for residents. 

The U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard will also bring in supplies, fly rescue missions and fly out refugees soon, DeNeale said. 

About the Authors: