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Key Largo takes big steps toward recovery but Hurricane Irma’s bruises still remain

The entry-gate office at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier seems intact – until the reality sets in that Hurricane Irma’s storm surge and winds shoved the building more than a dozen yards out the park gate and into a neighbor’s yard.
The entry-gate office at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier seems intact – until the reality sets in that Hurricane Irma’s storm surge and winds shoved the building more than a dozen yards out the park gate and into a neighbor’s yard.

Welcome signs of normal life returned to Key Largo by Thursday, but with visible evidence of Hurricane Irma’s battering by wind and surge still dominating the island landscape.

Publix and Kmart were open in Trade Winds Plaza, offering supplies, food and a glorious blast of cool air conditioning to residents soaked with sweat from making repairs and cleaning debris.

Winn-Dixie and CVS stores were open in Tavernier and Key Largo, along with the Key Largo Walgreens. Stores generally were closing around 5 p.m.

Gas lines shrank or as more convenience stores and stations had both power and fuel.

Florida Keys Electric Cooperative crews working to restore power to most of Key Largo were joined by workers from out-of-state utilities.

A crew from Michels Power of Brownsville, Wisconsin, labored Thursday to reinstall a half-dozen power poles laid flat along the way to the Harry Harris neighborhood off mile marker 92.

At least a half-dozen homes in the Harry Harris community on the Atlantic side suffered severe damage from surge flooding, repair crews reported.

Irma’s hurricane winds toppled untold numbers of towering trees, many landing atop Key Largo homes. Other trees remained but many were stripped bare of all foliage.

Side streets still required careful navigation among the fallen trees and downed lines.

Residents who escaped the worst stepped in to help those who did not.

"Keys are stronger than Irma!" proclaimed a spray-painted sign outside Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore shop on Key Largo.

Alongside it was Jessica Smits’ newer sign: "Free Hot Dogs!"

Smits set up a grill and started cooking. Other volunteers pitched in with water, energy drinks, snacks and mosquito repellent.

"I just really wanted to give something back to the community that’s done so much for me," Smits said.

"My job was destroyed" when the waterfront Island Grill restaurant suffered extensive damage, Smits said. "So this was something I could do to help people."

"Island Grill will be coming back, better than ever," Smits said.

So will Key Largo.  

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