Tempers boil over after residents denied entry back into the Florida Keys
Hurricane Irma is gone, you live in the Florida Keys and you want to go back home.
Well, you can’t — not yet at least. The two roads entering Key Largo from Miami — U.S. 1 and Card Sound Road — are closed due to storm debris. Officials say it’s unclear when they will reopen.
If you don’t have friends or family you can stay with, you have one shelter available: The Darwin Fuchs Sunshine Pavilion (Tamiami Park) at 10901 Coral Way — 26 miles north if you take Florida’s Turnpike.
“Right now that is the one site where they are advised to go to if they need shelter,” said county spokeswoman Stephanie Severino.
Severino said the shelters closer to the Keys in South Miami-Dade are either already closed or closing soon.
“As the shelters die down, those [evacuees] that remain will be sent to Tamiami Park as we try open the public schools as soon as possible,” she said. “So all Monroe residents should be going to Tamiami Park.”
Monroe County residents were ordered to evacuate last week as Irma inched closer to South Florida and the Florida Keys. On Monday, as weather conditions improved, those living in the Florida Keys tried to get back home, only to be stopped by police at Card Sound Road and the Overseas Highway. The roads were filled with storm debris and live wires, making them impassable, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Late Monday, residents and business owners from the Upper Keys — including Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada — will be allowed to return beginning at 7 a.m. Tuesday, according to a Monroe County Facebook post. They will have to show proof or residency to return.
Still, that didn’t help those stuck Monday in Florida City, trying to return to the Keys.
When Key West’s Alex Otela was told he couldn’t get off the mainland, he tried getting a motel room in Homestead to wait out the roadblock.
“But everywhere I go, they say, 'No people, no people,’” Otela said.
“I talked to a police officer. He said we could be here a week. For a week,” he added. “So, I'll just sit here. Everyone will just sleep in the car.”
Amber Roelof, who is five months pregnant, tried to keep in good spirits. She and her fiancé Shelby Bentley fled Cudjoe Key Saturday morning. Irma made landfall at Cudjoe Key early Sunday, devastating the Key.
After riding out the storm at a friend’s home in Hobe Sound, they arrived in Florida City at 1 a.m. Monday and faced the roadblock.
“We’ve been sitting here ever since,’’ Roelof said. “I'm pregnant and I'm hungry," she said, taking yet another spoonful of peanut butter from a jar.
They haven’t heard from friends who stayed behind on Cudjoe Key.
“I hope we have somewhere to go to,’’ Bentley said.
David Goodhue is a staff writer at The Reporter, McClatchy's newspaper in the Florida Keys.