FEMA: Irma destroyed about 25 percent of houses in Florida Keys

MIAMI — Initial estimates indicate 25 percent of the houses in the Florida Keys have been destroyed and 65 percent have major damage, said Brock Long, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s administrator.

“Basically, every house in the Keys was impacted some way,” Long said Tuesday.

He said the numbers are early estimates and could change.

Irma left a trail of devastation throughout the Southeast, killing at least five people in the U.S., flooding major cities including Jacksonville, Florida, and Charleston, South Carolina, and leaving millions without power.

On Monday night, Irma was downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression as the storm lumbered 95 miles south-southwest of Atlanta. Irma is expected to turn toward Alabama and then into western Tennessee.

Even with Irma’s weakening, the tropical depression is still expected to bring heavy rainfall across a widespread area, as it flooded parts of coastal Georgia and South Carolina, including Savannah and Charleston, on Monday.

The Weather Prediction Center warned Tuesday of possible flash flooding and heavy rainfall in parts of North and South Carolina.

Irma, which stretched 650 miles from east to west, affected at least nine states, turning streets into rivers, ripping down power lines, uprooting trees and cutting off coastal communities.

Jacksonville grappled with a record storm surge on Monday, prompting the Coast Guard to deploy boats to rescue residents.

Meanwhile, evacuees in Florida were anxious to return and see how their homes weathered the storm. But officials urged patience.

“Check with local officials before returning home to make sure you can safely do so,” Gov. Rick Scott said Monday. “Don’t think just because this thing passed, you can run home. We’ve got downed power lines all across the state. We’ve got roads that are impassible still across the state. We’ve got debris all over the state.”

He said that standing water remains an issue over the entire peninsula.

Irma triggered evacuation orders for 5.6 million people before it made two landfalls in the Florida on Sunday.

The full extent of the damage is still unknown. Officials said they were working to clear roads and bridges.

“Stay off the roads, stay off the streets, let us complete our assessment, clear the roads of water, power lines, trees and then you can get out there and determine what happened to your individual property or your neighborhood,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler told evacuees.

Officials were struggling Monday to reach areas of the Florida Keys, as some of the islands were difficult to access.

Although access to the Keys is closed to the public, Monroe County will reopen access points to residents and business owners in Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada early Tuesday.

Thousands people who rode out the storm in the Keys remain there without water, power and communications.

In signs of gradual restoration of services, many of Florida’s airports are scheduled to¬†reopen to limited operations on Tuesday.

Florida Hospital, a health provider in the state, announced its plans to reopen many of its facilities that were impacted by Irma on Tuesday or Wednesday.