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The long road from Irma: Residents struggle to go home

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2017-09-12 Alan Gomez
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Video provided by CBC News

MIAMI BEACH -- Fear over Hurricane Irma quickly turned to impatience to get back home on Monday as residents struggled to return to their homes throughout South Florida. 

As the sun emerged on Monday morning, residents of the barrier islands that surround Miami pleaded with police to let them get home. 

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine forbade residents from driving back onto the island to give his crews time to clean up roadways, remove downed power lines and clean up the island. Cars won't be allowed until noon Tuesday, but that didn't stop thousands of drivers from trying. 

Pedestrians walk by a flooded car on a street as Tropical Storm Irma hits Charleston, S.C., Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. Photos: Hurricane Irma strikes the U.S.

Edras Maeda, 27, who works and lives on South Beach, waited in a long line of cars being turned around by police on the Venetian Causeway. He said friends who rode out Irma on the beach told him people were looting empty apartments, making him angry that he couldn't protect his. 

"I've heard people are going through apartment buildings checking doors, pushing to see if they can get in," Maeda said. "I'm worried."

Miami Beach police did allow residents to get back home on foot, creating a surreal scene of people walking across miles-long bridges between mainland Miami and the islands pulling luggage and carrying bags. 

Naples Estates trailer park in East Naples, Fla., on Sept. 11, 2017. © Rodney White, The Orange County Register, USA TODAY Network Naples Estates trailer park in East Naples, Fla., on Sept. 11, 2017. Maor Aflalo walked under a blazing sun, pulling his suitcase in hopes of reaching his convenience store before anyone got inside. 

"This is ridiculous," he said. "I went to Orlando. After five days being evacuated, to have to walk home, that's crazy."

Sian Clements was making her second walk to Miami Beach on Monday afternoon. She helped her mom take their two dogs and one cat back to Miami Beach on the first trip. They then walked back several miles to their car parked near the police checkpoint and huffed it back home a second time with clothes and supplies. 

"I get it. They want it to be safe," said Clements, 23, a pharmacy student at a local college who was getting sun burnt in the process. "But they should let us back on already. A whole day is a long time with no hurricane."

A lot of work is being done to pave the way for residents to return home. Out-of-state emergency crews already started arriving in southeast Florida early Monday morning to begin the hard work of cleaning up after Hurricane Irma.

A team of linesmen from DTE Energy in Michigan spent the past few days slowly making its way down the eastern coast, staying in Orlando and Sunrise, Fla., before arriving in Miami on Monday.

The team of 65 workers riding 27 trucks were preparing to start reconnecting power lines knocked down by Irma. About 75% of Florida Power & Light's 1.1 million accounts in Miami-Dade County remained down by 10 a.m. Monday.

Sidney Kinnard, the manager of DTE's team, said the cross-country tours are normal for his linesmen.

"It's in their blood," Kinnard said. "We get bad storms in Detroit. People come help us, so we help them."

The pay sure helps. DTE workers get double pay when working storms. But Kinnard said the work is hard since most of them are sleeping on cots and eating military-style MRE's (meals, ready-to-eat).

"It really is about a sense of pride for us," he said.

 

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