Keys residents struggle among debris as rescuers arrive

BIG PINE KEY, Fla. (WSVN) – In many neighborhoods within the Keys, Hurricane Irma’s destructive path could be seen for miles — torn down homes and trees spread far and wide. Some houses were even picked up and tossed around by the strong winds.

“I can tell ya it’s like a bomb went off in there,” said resident Helena Myers, who struggled to hold back tears. “It’s hard for everybody coming back.”

Residents said many areas were unrecognizable. “You couldn’t tell there was a road there,” said a resident. “There’s so many places missing. I didn’t even know where I was at.”

There’s always the possibility those who did not leave Big Pine Key remain trapped or even worse, but residents are confident almost everyone evacuated.

Debris has made it hard to get to some homes, so a group of residents have set up little campsites. “All that’s left is tile floors, and there’s houses two blocks over that have those houses blocked in their front yards, covering up the entire house,” said resident Alexis Pauline.

There is currently no power, but AT&T cell service has begun to return in limited spots. Temporary cellphone towers have been set up so residents can make calls to family members and let them know that they’re OK.

In a deserted neighborhood in Big Pine Key, most of the houses are missing the second floor. When the homeowners return, they’ll see what destruction was left behind.

“They have nothing to come to,” said resident Nanette Guastella. “We don’t need the people to come because there’s nothing to come to, and it’s gonna cause more chaos, more than we are.”

Some, like Donna Allison, rode out the storm and are getting the help and essentials they need, like food and water.

“Oh, my God, it was bad, bad,” Allison said choking up. “Don’t ever stay in your home if you’re disabled. Get out because you’re gonna die.”

She described what she heard and saw during the storm. “And then the whistling starts again and the howling and the water starts coming up and moving my bed over,” she said. “The walls are going in and out, and it just won’t stop. It’s just going and going and going for hours and days, it felt like.”

There are so many other people like Allison in Big Pine Key who are stranded at their homes.

Florida Fish and Wildlife officers brought Allison food and water and an AT&T worker brought her ice.

Other crews showed up in the area to help clear debris on the roadways, making recovery efforts easier. FEMA and the National Guard have set up stations on the side of U.S. 1, where people can get water and food.

Other residents that finished their hurricane supplies turned to a nearby Winn-Dixie. A line of people could be seen waiting outside the supermarket for some time.

“We’re waiting in line right now because we’re trying to get some water,” said a resident. “Some bread, eggs — anything we can get right now.”

The manager at this Winn-Dixie took shelter during Hurricane Irma inside the store and knows how important it is to service as many people as possible.

“We’ve got volunteers on cash registers,” announced the manager to the crowd of residents waiting outside the store. “Volunteers throughout the store.”

While relief workers and volunteers continue to help rebuild the Keys, some residents remain thankful for one thing. “We’re alive,” said resident Kim Hildebrandt. “It was scary. But we’re alive.”

Many of the other supermarkets are expected to reopen Friday.

Once a day, the FWC and other authorities will do welfare checks when they meet people like Allison to make sure they are OK.

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