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Paradise has seen better days. The Florida Keys are battered, if not entirely bowed

Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

ISLAMORADA, Fla. -- People here like to throw around the word "paradise," but these days Route 1 down the spine of the Florida Keys cuts through a jagged tableau of destruction.

Felled palms, splintered trailers and homes, and piles of trash -- boats, furniture, appliances and other assorted debris -- line the roadside, testament to the force of Hurricane Irma as it careened through the islands.

Shuttered doors and tangles of broken branches conceal resorts with resonant names such as Kon-Tiki, the Banyan Tree, La Siesta and the Green Turtle Inn.

Many residents were returning to their homes Tuesday for the first time, as police allowed access to the northern swath of the Keys. Many expected the worst, and that is what they found amid rubble that glistened beneath an unforgiving tropical sun.

"I moved here because I wanted paradise -- and I got it, at least for a month," said Laura Costello, 52, a former South Pasadena, Calif., resident who was found walking through the ruins of the Sea Breeze trailer park in Islamorada, a few miles south of Key Largo.

The Keys had perhaps taken the heaviest blow from Irma -- federal authorities estimated that 85 percent of the homes were damaged or destroyed -- but the storm left its muddy footprints all over Florida and into Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. It was still plodding north on Tuesday, spreading rain over a widening swath of the Southeast. In its wake was a massive cleanup job, complicated by fuel shortages and power outages; an estimated 15 million people in the Southeast lacked electricity.

In Florida, there was significant damage as far north as Jacksonville, which sustained its heaviest flooding in decades.

President Donald Trump planned to visit the hurricane zone Thursday, the White House said, without disclosing an itinerary.

The death toll from the storm was rising, with 12 fatalities in Florida, four in South Carolina and two in Georgia, according to The Associated Press. The storm killed at least 36 people on its rampage through the eastern Caribbean last week before hitting Florida with full force on Sunday.

By Tuesday, Islamorada looked like a malevolent giant had come stomping through, wreaking havoc on people's homes and personal possessions. Gnarled chunks of aluminum siding were thrown about with wood beams, many with protruding nails, and other pieces of former residences.


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