Florida Keys residents still rebuilding after Irma worry about upcoming hurricane season

Residents want to know where FEMA money is

KEY LARGO, Fla. – Residents in the Florida Keys are worried about the upcoming hurricane season, angry about the cleanup work that remains and frustrated with insurance claims that haven’t been paid out. 

It's been six months since Hurricane Irma and debris remains an issue -- not on land, but in canals.

The waterway at Key by the Sea near Marathon Airport remains full of debris, trailers, appliances and part of a roof. 

The rebuilding effort hasn't been easy and patience is running thin. 

At a meeting with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and county leaders on Wednesday, homeowners expressed frustration with the slow pace of federal aid. 

"We have entire streets like our street, no one has a roof and we're going into another hurricane season and there's no FEMA money -- FEMA is gone -- FEMA is not returning phone calls," one resident said. 

County officials said they're waiting for FEMA disaster money to begin clearing hundreds of canals in some of the hardest hit areas of the Lower Keys. They said a lack of affordable housing also remains a concern. 

"I'm like many Americans," one Keys resident said. "I live check to check. I'm a retired NYC firefighter and I moved down to the Keys for all the reasons you've been discussing." 

FEMA officials said they've paid more than $62 million in temporary rental assistance and plan to end the use of travel trailers in June, the start of hurricane season.  

"If all the old affordable units are replaced by expensive housing, there will be nowhere for people to live down here and, ultimately, no one will visit, because there will be no one to work at the restaurants or the other services offered to visitors," Rubio said.  

The Category 4 storm slammed the Keys in September and the county estimates a lack of permanent housing could force folks to leave for good. 

Even those who want to stick it out say dealing with insurance claims has been a nightmare and could drive them out as well. 

"There is application issues, documentation issues and FEMA was burned in the past, and they are being very cautious and you can't blame them for that," Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.  

"Congress has passed the money -- it's there," Rubio said. "We fought hard for that money. It's just a question of having it sent. Literally, just having the money sent."

FEMA has expressed concerns with the number of people still living in the travel trailers, which the county estimates is now less than 200 families.