Since Hurricane Irma swept through Florida over the weekend, efforts to recover from the most powerful storm to ever hit the state are just getting underway. Residents are still without power, and many structures were severely damaged. In the meantime, visiting Florida in the wake of Irma remains unsafe in many areas, and officials warn no one knows how long it may take for rebuilding efforts to fully restore areas hit by the hurricane.
Power outages and shortages of basic necessities remain rampant. As of Thursday, authorities were still advising residents in the lower Keys to stay away, warning it’s not safe enough to return.
Hurricane Irma left millions without power, and many streets and highways across Florida are still flooded. In some areas, residents are only now beginning to return to their homes to assess the damage. As of Thursday, 3.8 million people remain without power. In central Florida, power may not be restored until next week. In Sebring, 70 miles north of Tampa, 82 percent of the county’s utilities customers were still without power on Thursday, CNN reported.
On the west coast, where the storm made landfall, residents won’t have power restored until Sept. 22, while power on the east coast is expected to be restored by the weekend for those who lost it in the storm. Some without power are desperately seeking generators, waiting in long lines and disregarding the cost. Access to gasoline remains limited.
Although one company reports restoring power to 2.5 million of its 4 million customers, affected cities may still struggle to restore water and sewage systems. High-trafficked tourist beaches in western and eastern coastal Florida have been washed away. Buildings may also be damaged, making visiting Florida potentially unsafe for months. Debris covers many streets, blocking traffic and preventing access to certain areas.
Another issue facing Florida residents and first responders is a lack of air conditioning, making the sweltering 90 degree heat and humidity dangerous. Eight patients died at a nursing home Wednesday following an air conditioning outage. An investigation into their deaths is now underway.
“I'm going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place," Florida Governor Rick Scott said. “I am also asking available first responders to immediately check in with the health care facilities in their area to make sure nursing homes and assisted living facilities are able to keep their residents safe."
Florida residents and business owners have said they worry about the immediate decline in tourism the storm will cause, especially affecting vacation spots in the Florida Keys and some areas of southern Florida, as well as small businesses. Kevin Murphy, chair of the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, spoke at the White House this week about the future of Florida’s economy after Irma, saying:
Disney, Universal, all the big parks, they’ll survive just fine. It’s all of the smaller tour operators, the people that make their living on taxi rides, gator boat rides, they’re really going to be hurt. Since our economy is built on small businesses, there’ll be a huge impact, the housekeepers, all those people living paycheck to paycheck. For them this is devastating.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visited Naples and Fort Meyers, meeting with hurricane victims and helping distribute supplies.
There, Trump said, "We’re going to see some of the folks and make sure they’re happy." He also met with first responders, saying, "People thought thousands and thousands of people may have their lives ended, and the number is a very small number, which is a great tribute to you."
At least 34 people reportedly died in the United States as a result of Hurricane Irma.