Road to Recovery: Keys residents work to clean up Irma debris

(WSVN) - Hurricane season is finally over, but after getting slammed by Hurricane Irma, the Florida Keys is still on the road to recovery.

If you drive through the Keys, you’ll notice that even though it’s been three months since the destructive storm, there’s still so much debris.

Lifelong Keys resident Lenore Baker said looking at all the debris makes her depressed. “I just got sick of looking at it,” she said. “It’s all over the place. Everywhere you look is garbage.”

Lenore, feeling fed up, put out a call on Facebook and people started showing up.

The first time they met, there were a dozen volunteers. This past Sunday, almost 100 people turned out to pick up debris.

“We’ve cleaned up our yard,” said Keys resident Jody Kearney. “We’ve cleaned up our street, we drive by this everyday and we needed to clean it up.”

“This is our home, we want it back to normal,” said Sandy Whetze.

During Hurricane Irma, some areas in the Keys were under 10 feet of water, so a lot of the debris people are working to pick up in their own yards actually floated there from homes from across the highway.

“We have found everything from dive tanks, to wood, to pictures,” said Jim Sharpe.

“There are piles, peoples’ houses in piles on the side of the road,” said Baker. “It’s terrible.”

Many of the residents are frustrated it has taken the county crews so long to clean up the mess.

Monroe County commissioners said when the state got involved, things got complicated – contractors started competing with each other and that led to delays.

“In this particular case, problems were created unintentionally,” said Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent, “but they were created, and this is taking longer to get done than we had hoped for.”

The hope now is to have most of the Irma debris hauled away by February.

“There is a lot of politics involved,” said Baker. “There is a lot of people who is going to pay for what, quite frankly, I don’t care about that, and most of these people don’t care about that either. We just want progress. We want to see it get done.”

Many people in the Keys lost almost everything from the hurricane — their homes and their jobs.

“Quite frankly, this is giving a lot of people something to do and they feel better about this,” said Baker.

Lenore said picking up trash is like therapy and helps them realize “Keys life” will eventually get back to normal.

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