Florida Keys

While tourists return to the Keys, more than 600 buildings lie in ruins

Hurricane Irma destroyed 675 residential and commercial structures in unincorporated Monroe County and damaged thousands of others, according to a preliminary assessment by county government staff.

“Some are saying it’s worse than that,” county Mayor George Neugent said.

Of the 675 structures, 465 were on Big Pine Key, the assessment says. Eighty-one were on Cudjoe Key. Houses also were crushed on Big Coppitt Key, Geiger Key, Little Torch Key, Lower Sugarloaf Key, Ramrod Key, Stock Island, Rockland Key, Sugarloaf Key, Summerland Key and Scout Key.

Twenty-three houses were destroyed in Key Largo and 10 on Conch Key.

The assessments were done by county staff employees going house to house, looking at the exteriors. Inspectors did not enter the buildings.

The report says 583 structures had “major” damage and 2,739 sustained “minor” damage. Overall, 10,009 houses were “affected” by the Category 4 Irma that landed Sept. 10 and 3,884 were not affected in the unincorporated areas.

Meanwhile, Key West has reopened its doors to tourists on the back of advertising and cruise ship stops. While Key West had some damage, the major destruction was elsewhere along the island chain.

County building inspectors are still evaluating damage to structures and placing placards on those that have “major damage” (those get an orange placard attached to the front that say “unsafe structure stay out”) and “destroyed” (they get a red placard that says “dangerous keep out”).

County information officer Cammy Clark says if residents find one of these placards on their property, call 305-453-8816. County employees can help obtain the inspection reports and pictures. That’s important information for insurance companies or the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the process of recovery.

If a home has an orange placard, people need to retain a licensed contractor to make improvements to help remedy unsafe conditions or must be qualified as an owner builder and bring a home back to a habitable state.

If a home has a red placard, building inspectors that inspected the home have indicated that it is beyond repair and demolition is necessary.

County inspection teams are also inspecting structures in cooperation with the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative and Keys Energy Services, the Florida Keys’ two power companies. If your structure is posted with an orange sticker that says “do not reconnect any utilities such as water, gas or electric,” contact a licensed electrician so your electric connections can be restored or you must be qualified as an owner builder eligible to make the repairs. Obtain permits from the building department so power can be restored once safe.

Larry Kahn: 305-440-3218

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