1 year later, Keys residents reflect on post-Irma recovery

BIG PINE KEY, Fla. (WSVN) — As they observed the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Irma’s path of destruction across the Sunshine State, Florida Keys residents said progress is evident, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The Category 4 storm ravaged the Florida Keys with 130 mph winds, rain and a storm surge that left homes almost totally underwater.

Days after the hurricane, a 7News crew was the first at Cudjoe Key, where Irma’s eye hit. A sign outside a house read, “SOS we here need water.”

“Just in case a helicopter or anybody — but nobody has shown up. No one has come,” said the homeowner, Alex Mari.

Mari was stranded, and he recorded cellphone video during the storm of the water rising around his house.

A year later, he is still making repairs and waiting on a new roof.

“[I was in a] very desperate spot. I was the only one in the block,” he said, “but then you guys came around. But really, at that time, there was no one coming around.”

Cudjoe Key looks a lot better now, but there are still blue tarps everywhere.

Just north of there, on Big Pine Key, the recovery is not happening as fast. Some homes look like the hurricane just hit. In other spots, the houses have been torn down; all that remains are foundations.

Fishermen’s Community Hospital remains closed. That entire building will have to be rebuilt. so for now, doctors and nurses are working out of trailers in the parking lot.

7News cameras captured trailers all over the area that are still recovering, including outside of businesses that are rebuilding. Residents in FEMA trailers said they are unable to find anywhere affordable to rent because so much of the housing was taken by the storm.

Big Pine Academy lost 65 percent of its classrooms.

“We had to gut everything down here because it was so full of mold,” said Cathy Hoffman, the school’s principal.

She showed 7News a room that is now used for storage.

“We are not even allowed to use this room,” she said.

They are still making repairs to the school’s main building. In the meantime, they are using portable classrooms.

At one point, school leaders thought they would have to close down, but then their determination kicked in.

“We just didn’t think we could keep it going,” said Hoffman. “When I saw how many volunteers were here, I thought, ‘If you close the school, that is just going to be a kick in the gut to the community.’ So we worked hard to keep this school open.”

Monroe County leaders estimate that between 10 and 20 percent of the population in the Keys actually left after Hurricane Irma because of a lack of affordable housing. It could be years before they come back.

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