Power crews from across the country are steadily making life in Florida more bearable, bringing light and air conditioning to more patches of the state that had been rendered nearly uninhabitable by Hurricane Irma. Still, about 1.68 million electric customers — about 16 percent of Florida's homes and businesses — were still without service at Friday afternoon, and Winn Dixie said it will give free ice and water to thirsty Tampa residents. Rains in the forecast for Friday and Saturday prompted one county to call for voluntary evacuations as the flooding threat lingers. In Broward County, the lack of power has already been responsible for the heat-related deaths of eight residents in a steaming nursing home in Hollywood, and elderly residents of another powerless facility in the region were evacuated to buildings with air conditioning.
Including the nursing home deaths, at least 27 people in Florida have died because of Irma, and the storm has claimed seven other lives in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, bringing the U.S. death toll to 34 Friday, most of them occurring after the storm had passed. In the Caribbean, which Irma hit as a Category 5 storm, 38 people have died. Sporadic looting has been reported. President Trump and Vice President Pence visited the region Thursday.
Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration issued an emergency moratorium against the nursing home where the deaths occurred, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. The moratorium "immediately prevents this facility from admitting any patients until it is lifted, and it is necessary to protect the lives and the safety of frail elders," the agency said in a news release.
Watch: Hurricane Irma's Destructive Journey By The Numbers
All nursing home patients were evacuated, and many were treated for dehydration, breathing difficulties and other heat-related conditions. (For more hurricane information and local news from Miami, click here to sign up for real-time news alerts and newsletters from Miami Patch or click here to find your local Florida Patch. If you have an iPhone, click here to get the free Patch iPhone app.)
In a statement Friday, the Florida Department of Health said it was the nursing home's responsibility to ensure its patients were safe.
"It is 100 percent the responsibility of health care professionals to preserve life by acting in the best interest of the health and well-being of their patients," the agency said. "Let's be clear – this facility is located across the street from one of Florida's largest hospitals, which never lost power and had fully operating facilities. The tragic and senseless loss at Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center is the subject of a criminal homicide investigation by law enforcement."
ENVIRONMENTAL, HEALTH CONCERNS
New concerns were raised Friday after millions of gallons of untreated sewage spilled from a treatment plant on Virginia Key, one of the areas hardest hit by the storm. Across the entire Miami-Dade County area, officials reported seven different spills releasing potentially contaminated water into the environment. Officials advised people not to swim at Miami-area beaches until waters could be tested for a variety of pollutants. More than 100 pollution events across the state have been reported by local governments to the state Department of Environmental Protection in the hurricane's aftermath.
In Manatee County, where electrical service has yet to be restored to many homes, wastewater pump stations were not working. Officials there asked that residents not flush toilets, take showers or do laundry because the wastewater has no place to go and will back up in homes.
Public health officials have warned that standing water left behind in both Florida and Texas, which endured massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey, is a perfect breeding ground for Zika virus-carrying mosquitoes.
Eleven cases of Zika have been confirmed this year in the Houston area alone, although none of these were locally transmitted, and Florida has reported 33 symptomatic cases. Zika virus is a disease spread to humans primarily through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The infection often occurs without causing any symptoms.
As of Friday, about 10,000 Floridians remained in shelters, including about 200 in a shelter of last resort in Miami-Dade County that is housing about 200 people who can't get back into their homes in the hard-hit Florida Keys. Tampa Bay residents desperate to find ice and water are in luck. Winn-Dixie is giving away 40,000 pounds of ice and 1,500 cases of water at various stores on Friday and Saturday. Semi-trucks will be in the store's parking lots handing out the ice and water for free while supplies last
The potential cost of damage to privately insured property from Irma in the United States and the Caribbean is $55 billion.
LONG HAUL AHEAD IN THE KEYS
The Keys, a vacation paradise for visitors from around the globe, suffered a terrible blow from the storm. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, about 25 percent of the islands' homes were destroyed as the hurricane made landfall early Sunday morning. Another 65 percent of homes have suffered major damage.
Displaced residents and business owners from Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada have returned for first glimpses of the damage. People from the Lower Keys faced a longer wait with a roadblock in place where the highway to farther-away islands was washed out by the storm. Road repairs were promised in the coming days.
While the Upper Keys have reopened for residents to return, officials say that it is unsafe for people to return from Marathon to Key West. Also, anyone in the Middle or Lower Keys who knows of a pet in distress is asked to call the Florida Keys SPCA emergency hotline at (305)-304-5964.
Watch: The Florida Keys Are Reeling From Hurricane Irma Devastation
"We know people are anxious to return but we can't put an artificial timeline on when it will be safe to return," Monroe County Health Department Director Bob Eadie said Thursday. "Now it is not safe for people to come to the Middle Keys. We don't want to create a health crisis."
Monroe County school officials said Friday that most schools in the Keys would be in the "very near future," even as they acknowledge "tens of thousands" remain evacuated from the island chain and "resources are scarce."
The hurricane destroyed both homes and dreams in the Keys, known for inviting turquoise waters and powdery sand, but also for powerful hurricanes.
"It's great here if you're rich, but for the rest of us it's a struggle," a sobbing Tim Stanton, who dropped out of a more traditional life in Pennsylvania to come to the Keys and forge his own path, told the Associated Press.
Now "it's going to be a while before it's paradise again," he said. "I had just scraped up enough to buy a car. Destroyed."
The cleanup task ahead is massive, Patrick Garvey, another displaced Keys resident, told AP. He lost everything in the storm, and isn't sure he can put his life back together, despite what he calls the pevailing "pioneering spirit in the Keys."
"Affordable housing here is trailers. And if you lose your trailer, you can't put another one on the lot, according to the local building code. They were grandfathered in," Garvey said. "It's tough for the working class. There's a high cost of living, but low wages."
Donations to help residents of the Keys are pouring in, but in some cases only add to the chaos. Monroe County officials said Friday only non-perishable donations on pallets would be accepted, including bottled water, electrolyte drinks, baby goods, cleaning products, nonperishable foods and tarps.
A South Florida health care provider said Thursday it would provide free medical care to evacuees from the hard-hit Florida Keys, where drinking water supplies were cut off, fuel was running low and all three hospitals on the island chain were shuttered.
CELEBRATIONS, POWER COMING BACK
Besides more residents regaining power, another bright spot is in Miami Beach, where the city will end its midnight curfew with a Friday night party. The "Break the Curfew" event will be held from 9 p.m. to midnight at Bodega on South beach. "Miami Beach is back in business. And our nightlife scene is unparalleled," city leaders said in a call for residents to come home, and tourists to visit.
And speaking of celebrating, Spider-Man creator Stan Lee plans to attend MegaCon Tampa Bay for the first time to help one of the largest charitable superheroes in the state. MegaCon, the Southeast's largest fan convention, announced Thursday that Lee will appear at the Tampa Bay event Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 to help support Feeding Florida. The convention will also donate $5 per ticket for 2,000 of the admission tickets sold online to the state network of food banks.
The number of Florida Power & Light customers without power continues to drop as the utility hopes to restore power to all customers on the eastern side of the state by Sunday and for all other customers by Sept. 22. Some 763,900 customers remained without power in the state's eight most southern counties as of early Friday morning, according to a Patch analysis. Similarly, crews are working to get the state's cell phone towers back up, but 13.4 percent of Florida cell sites are still offline Friday, down from 18.1 percent a day earlier.
In Georgia, utility officials said Friday that power should be fully restored by Saturday. About a million people lost power when by-then Tropical Storm Irma rolled through the state.
Soggy Tampa-area residents need to keep an eye on already full rivers, the National Weather Service said Friday, with more rain expected, adding to ongoing concerns about flooding. "Many area rivers continue in moderate to major flood stages as a result of high rain totals from Hurricane Irma," the agency's Friday morning Hazardous Weather Outlook report said. "Most have crested or are near crest or will crest during the next couple of days."
RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
As Irma's death toll has increased, so have stories of neighbors helping neighbors and random acts of kindness by complete strangers as the massive cleanup task continues. Nothing captured weary residents' attention more than Sister Margaret Ann, who picked up a chainsaw outside of Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Miami and started tearing through the debris. An off-duty Miami-Dade County police officer saw the chainsaw-armed nun and posted a picture on the department's Facebook page. The police department said "these acts of kindness remind us that we are #OneCommunity" in Miami-Dade County, which has a combined system of governance.
In Georgia, neighbors helped free a suburban Atlanta woman who went into early labor while trapped in her home. A tree fell on the house of Heather Yavaliollah and her husband, Mehrvarz, but the Yavaliollahs figured they could wait out the storm and begin cleaning things up. But on Tuesday, a month before her due date, Heather's water broke. When her husband raced outside to get a chainsaw, word spread that Yavaliollah was in labor, and people who also live on the street began to assist.
"My wonderful neighbors saw me outside, they kind of knew the situation so they started grabbing limbs as I was cutting them off and helped move them to the street, so very thankful to them," Mehrvarz Yavaliollah told WAGA TV.
And from Missouri, well outside the storm's path, a couple earned honorary Tampa residency status after they drove to Florida with 100 cases of water and diapers for families in need as part of their volunteer work with the North Carolina-based Avery's Angels Gastroschisis Foundation. "They drove all the way here, stayed long enough to send their best wishes, drop off their gifts and turned around to head home," Tampa police said. The Myers' donation came as Hillsborough County continued to collect supplies for residents whose lives were upended by Irma.
RAIN IN FORECAST, MORE FLOODING POSSIBLE
Friday and Saturday could bring more showers to the Tampa Bay area, where residents anxiously checked for roof leaks following the battering that the storm brought earlier in the week, and more rain is expected Sunday for large parts of southern Florida.
Pasco County emergency officials asked some residents to consider evacuating voluntarily from the Lake Worrell Acres, Bass Lake and Cranes Roost areas as post-Hurricane Irma flooding woes linger. Weather forecasters are calling for rain overnight, Friday afternoon and evening, and again on Saturday.
Irma took a terrible toll on Pasco County homes and businesses. According to preliminary damage estimates released Friday, some 390 homes and 94 businesses sustained some damage. Of the homes, four were complete losses and 56 sustained major damage.
Some state roads are still closed in parts of the state, and Florida officials urged drivers to check on the status of the roads they use in their commutes before heading out. The Florida Department of Transportation on Friday says several state roads are still either fully or partially closed due to Hurricane Irma-related impacts.
LIFE SLOWLY RETURNING TO NORMAL
Sarasota, sweltering for days in the heat and humidity, will be able to get some cool relief this weekend in yet another sign that life is returning to normal. The city said Friday that it will open two public swimming pools before the weekend is over. Miami-Dade County and Florida public health officials lifted precautionary swimming advisories for most county beaches on Friday. But the agency left advisories in place for three beaches in Key Biscayne and Sunny Isles. Additional tests were pending.
Florida International University, closed for the past week, said Friday it would reopen its Miami campus but that the Biscayne Bay Campus remains under a boil- water order.
A boil-water order was lifted for residents who live on Sarasota's barrier islands, including Bird Key, St. Armands Key, Lido Key and Coon Key.
Orlando schools will reopen also reopen Monday, district officials said.
Floridians hopscotching around road closures got some good news Thursday when state transportation officials said flooding concerns along the Santa Fe River have decreased and busy Interstate 75 will not be closed. But several Florida highways remained closed or partially closed due to Irma-related effects, state transportation officials said Friday.
As thousands of Floridians head home after evacuating to other states, AAA is seeing an increase in the number of roadside assistance calls. The organization's Josh Carrasco told Patch that AAA received 13 percent more calls on Tuesday than on the same date last year. His No. 1 tip for returning drivers: "If you're traveling down I-75 to get back home, be sure to pack your patience," he said, noting that the 70 mph speed limit has been cut in half at times this week because of congestion.
Miami International Airport said it would be closer Friday to returning to a full flight schedule. Flights were operating at 66 percent of normal schedules Thursday, up from 50 percent Wednesday. There were 629 flights scheduled for Thursday, and full flight operations by all airlines are expected this weekend.
Cellphone service is returning to Florida, and the latest figures from the government showed only 18.1 percent of cell sites in Florida were out of service as work continued Thursday. AT&T has set up a free charging station for Hurricane Irma evacuees in the Miami area, and anyone in the city without power may visit any of its company-owned retail stores to charge their devices free of charge.
In Jacksonville, where massive flooding occurred, the Coast Guard said Friday it was barring boating by unauthorized watercraft in a zone near Black Creek in the St. Johns River in Clay County. The safety zone was implemented to keep the public safe and limit further Hurricane Irma flood damage to homes along Black Creek.
But Jacksonville is coming back online. Schools will be back in session Monday in Duval County following an inspection showing the schools are safe. "We understand many families are still working to recover from Hurricane Irma and know that schools may be the safest place for students during this time," the district said in a statement.
MOST VULNERABLE PUSHED TO THE BRINK
With recovery in full swing, Floridians were keeping a close eye on storms developing in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Jose had weakened from hurricane status by Thursday afternoon but was expected to gain strength once more by the weekend.
Storms are a particular concern for some of Florida's most vulnerable residents — people who live in extreme poverty, had little before the storm and now have even less. Irma peeled open the roof on an Immokalee couple's mobile home, leaving the parents of 18-month-old twins to worry not only about shelter during the storm but also how they'd rebuild their lives afterward. Another mobile home, owned by Larry and Elida Dimas and rented to to migrant workers, was also destroyed.
"I don't want the help," Larry Dimas, 55, told the Associated Press, his chin quivering as he spoke. "But I need it."
Disaster unemployment assistance is now available to Florida businesses and residents whose employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted as a result of Hurricane Irma. Residents in dozens of counties have until Oct. 16 to apply for the benefits. Also, the state said Friday it would waive driver's license and motor vehicle fees for several weeks.
Auxiliary power sources are considered must-have equipment in hurricane and other storm-prone areas, but generators can be deadly if improperly used. Three people in Orlando died early this week from carbon monoxide poisoning blamed on generators.
If you're interested in helping to rebuild the area affected by Hurricane Irma, there is a list of charities and organizations where you can donate at the end of this article.
A Lakeland woman who ran a generator in her house after losing power from Hurricane Irma didn't know the carbon monoxide emitted was deadly, authorities said. Her 7-year-old daughter, Terryn, died in the home, while her mother, Shashunda Wilson, recovers in a Miami hospital. Authorities have ruled the death an accident. It was "the first time she had used one, and she was not aware that it could not be in the home," the Polk County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.
Polk County lifted mandatory curfews, imposed to control looting and other crime after the storm knocked out power. Lights are back on in most areas now.
Officials in Pinellas County extended a state of emergency by another seven days on Thursday.
With so many cars damaged by Hurricane Irma and other weather-related events, it's likely that some of these vehicles will find their way onto a used car lot near you. AAA says shoppers can avoid buying a flood-damaged car with a little research and a keen sense of smell. "Many parts of a car are difficult to clean and dry because they are hard to access. Door locks, window mechanisms, wiring harnesses, heating and air conditioning components and many other small devices are tucked away in hidden spaces," says AAA's Josh Carrasco. "Initially, these items may operate properly following a flood only to fail at a later date due to contamination."
Watch: Coast Guard Footage As Crews Rescue A Sailor And His Dog
While much of the state's east coast could have power back by Sunday, Florida Power & Light says restoration in other areas could take until Sept. 22. Rob Gould, vice president and chief communications officer for FP&L, said the power should be on for most customers along the state's eastern coast by the end of this weekend, the Associated Press reports.
Gould said it would take until Sept. 22 to put the lights and AC back on along the state's western coast where the damage was most severe. Areas hit by tornadoes and the worst flooding might take longer.
How do utilities determine who gets their power back on first? They start with vital services such as hospitals, police and fire stations, then move on to utilities, communications providers, then big stores like supermarkets and home improvement stores, and finally, residential areas.
Like humans, animals also got displaced in the storm. Also like humans, they're not happy about it. In light of that, wildlife and health officials are warning people to be aware what might be lurking under rocks, in drain pipes or elsewhere.
In a sign that normalcy is returning, Disney World and its Florida theme parks are open for business along with SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatic Orlando and Discovery Cove.
In Key West, the home of Ernest Hemingway and its pride of 54 six-toed cats survived the storm unscathed, according to a report from the Orlando Sentinel. It's one of the area's most famous attractions.
Up and down the Florida peninsula, work crews cleared downed branches from streets while homeowners emerged from their cocoon-like shelters to witness the calm after the storm. Some restaurants, bars and supermarkets reopened to grateful patrons who waited in lines to trade war stories and enjoy the brilliant sunshine once again.
While many cities still have curfews in effect, some cities, including Miami, have lifted the orders to stay off the street.
"Everybody is just happy to be out and about," observed one clerk at a Publix store in Boca Raton. There, shoppers lined up for deli subs but were disappointed to find that the store had run out of ice. Many were still without power and unable to make their own.
The lingering power outages presented an issue with traffic signals. In Pinellas County, police asked drivers to use caution. There, some 300 traffic signals are not working because of the widespread power outages.
Having no electricity meant that many residents have had no air conditioning for days with temperatures approaching the 90s. "It's unbearable," said Sandra Pagan, who rode out the storm in her Fort Myers home. "We can't sleep at all. It's so hot."
Some law enforcement representatives, though, hoped that folks who stayed behind and disregarded evacuation orders learned a lesson from Irma.
Hillsborough County has extended the state of emergency another week. The declaration will remain in effect until Tuesday, Sept. 19.
While there are countless stories of rescues and residents helping out each other, there were also tales of thievery and looting across the devastated southeastern United States. That included reports that some businesses were unfairly cashing in on people's desperation. The U.S. Attorney's office announced it will criminally prosecute companies that fix prices, rig bids, or allocate customers. Meantime, the Federal Trade Commission will investigate and take action against companies and individuals who violate the consumer protection laws.
Miami-Dade County Police have arrested looters, as have police in other Florida towns. But it's likely no criminal suspects have been as publicly shamed as some in Miami. Police photographed them in their holding cell and posted the picture on the police department's Facebook page. The agency wrote: "Thinking about looting? Ask these guys how that turned out."
The suspects in the photo may have been arrested in connection with the looting of a Foot Locker store, FOX5 reported. Miami-Dade police said 28 people were arrested for burglary/looting by Monday morning. Residents are asked to report looting or any criminal activity by calling 305-4-POLICE.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn issued a harsh warning to looters in Tampa. "If you don't need to be out, don't go out... We will be — let me underscore this — we will be very aggressive with anybody that we find looting. There is nothing worse than taking advantage of your fellow citizens at a time like this."
In Tamarac, police said Thursday that a man let alcohol do his thinking and tried to take a fire truck for a spin. Firefighters were busy on a medical call when they heard the truck's air brakes release and saw the man sitting in the cab. He couldn't figure out how to get the vehicle in gear and fled wearing one of the rescue vests stored in the truck, Gina Carter of Broward Sheriff's Office told Patch.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Florida's professional hockey teams —the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers, along with the NHL and the NHL Players' Association — announced a joint donation of $2.7 million to hurricane relief efforts to those affected across the state by Hurricane Irma.
More help is coming from Big Storm Brewing, which will raise a glass to the Lightning's silver anniversary with a new craft brew that will be available throughout the region later this month. Portions of the proceeds from the first night's sales of Lightning Twenty Five on Friday, Sept. 15, at taprooms in Odessa and Clearwater will go toward Hurricane Irma relief efforts.
And the Sarasota Police Department began collecting hurricane relief supplies Sept. 14 to help recovery efforts in the Florida Keys. The police department, in partnership with Suntex Marinas/Marina Jack, Voigt Borthers Construction, Terry's Plumbing and Larry and Linda Twill, will continue to accept donations daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. until three collection trailers are full.
The hurricane renewed debate over American Red Cross disaster relief work. The Red Cross is among the charities recommended by Charity Navigator
Charity Navigator's president, Michael Thatcher, says the Red Cross "is under pretty intense scrutiny" and he hopes the result is improved accountability. "It's a hard job to be able to ramp up quickly and deploy volunteer resources and expert resources at the drop of a hat," he said. "Are they perfect? No. I would love to see them do better, but I definitely want them to hang around."
Lots of charities and organizations, including the Red Cross, are offering assistance in many forms to the victims of Irma. Find the one you'd most like to donate to and give what you can. There are tons more on Charity Navigator.
- Team Rubicon
- American Red Cross
- All Hands
- Volunteer Florida
- South Florida Wildlife Center
- Brigid's Crossing Foundation
- Global Giving
This article includes reporting from the Associated Press.
Lead image, Associated Press: President Trump visits Naples, Florida, and residents of a neighborhood hit hard by Hurricane Irma.
Source : https://patch.com/florida/miami/hurricane-irma-3-1m-customers-without-power-nursing-home-deaths-plus-moments-hope6978