South Florida Officials Begin To Assess Damage From Hurricane Irma
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Irma might not have hit quite as hard as people had feared, but the storm has upended lives, especially along the coast, where there's widespread flooding and damage. Florida Governor Rick Scott says people need to stay alert.
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RICK SCOTT: Don't put any more lives at risk. We already went through this horrendous storm. Don't put your life at risk because of downed power lines, debris, impassable roads.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The hardest hit areas are Jacksonville and the Keys, where people may not be able to return for weeks. Almost 7 million homes and businesses in Florida are without electricity. That includes most of Miami-Dade County. NPR's Kirk Siegler starts our coverage there.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The violent surge of ocean water that turned the palm-tree-lined boulevards of Miami's Brickell district into raging rivers has receded, and this is the sound that's taking its place...
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SIEGLER: ...Crews in hardhats using chainsaws to clear downed trees and brush from the mud-strewn streets. Nearby is Dean Richardson.
DEAN RICHARDSON: This road was flooded. The water was up here over the sidewalk. Well, there's a drain there. It's probably clogged. So I unclogged it, and look; water's gone.
SIEGLER: Richardson is helping his wife clean up around a small historic museum she runs on the waterfront. His early read - no serious damage, just a big mess.
RICHARDSON: And it takes hours and hours and hours to undo what you've done to prepare. But I'll take it.
SIEGLER: This upscale neighborhood home to Miami's financial district is starting to hum again - hardly any cars but lots of police, gawkers and people streaming live videos to update worried relatives. Victor Balbuena spun down here on his bike hoping to check on some friends over in Miami Beach, but it's still cut off.
VICTOR BALBUENA: Well, so far it's a lot of mess.
SIEGLER: He moved here recently from Puerto Rico and is used to hurricanes.
BALBUENA: I will say we prepared. Like, we stored a lot of water. We got our grill, so we're going to grill. So I will say just the mosquitoes.
SIEGLER: Mosquitoes and oppressive heat. Most people don't have power. It's muggy. The temperature won't dip below 80 tonight. Couple blocks away along the shore, I'm dodging piles of palm fronds and foul-smelling standing water. It's clear it's going to be a while before things are back to normal in Miami.
Looks like most of the fishing boats and small yachts in this small marina I'm walking along the shoreline here are damaged, if not total losses.
One's sunk completely. Bernice Boursier came out for a look.
BERNICE BOURSIER: You see all the boat out in the water. All the harbor is broken. And it looks like a cemetery. It's terrible.
SIEGLER: Boursier lives on the 31st floor of the apartment tower above us and didn't leave for the storm. She was worried she'd have a hard time getting back into Miami. A lot of the city did empty out by Saturday before the forecast showed Irma shifting west.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).
SIEGLER: So there's one thing you hear almost everywhere today. This could have been a lot worse. Sure, there were tornados, destructive winds, but it wasn't as devastating as everyone was dreading. About 30 miles southwest of Miami where suburban development has taking over the wetlands and farmland, people were fearing the worst from Irma.
OK, so we're in Homestead. It's a former farming area that's been heavily developed and in fact was hit really hard during Hurricane Andrew.
At an apartment complex with many Creole and Spanish-speaking residents, I meet Ada Lopez as she's sweeping mud off the stairs to her second-floor apartment.
Is your house OK?
ADA LOPEZ: Yeah - a little bit of water but not too much damage.
SIEGLER: Lopez moved all of her pictures off the wall and pushed an air mattress and her couch in front of her screen door and was safe and mostly dry while the hurricane passed.
LOPEZ: That's the only problem I have now - no power.
SIEGLER: Lopez says she's keeping her spirits up, staying positive and just waiting for the power to come back. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.