Irma recovery in full swing in South Florida, but many still desperate for power, ice

Airports and causeways reopened. Curfews were lifted or shortened. Fuel shipments began to flow again into Port Everglades by the millions of gallons. Versailles in Miami’s Little Havana was back to serving its own kind of fuel, cafecitos, out of its famous window.

And electrical service was steadily restored to critical facililties, homes and businesses, though surely not fast enough for the hundreds of thousands of power-less, sweltering South Floridians growing impatient for a spot of cool air or an icy drink as the temperature hit 90.

Operation return-to-normal was in full swing across Miami-Dade and Broward counties on Tuesday, the second day after Hurricane Irma pounded the region with hours of sustained tropical-storm winds and hurricane-strength gusts that knocked out power, knocked down trees and knocked daily life sideways for millions.

The good news is that it’s all mostly temporary. Damage from Irma, though widespread, was not in most instances severe, assessments still under way suggest.

The not-so-good: It’s going to be a while, maybe quite a bit, before every street is cleared, every home has juice, every person is housed and air-conditioned, and the kids are back in school.


The line outside Versailles Restaurant ion Little Havana on Tuesday.

Carol Rosenberg Miami Herald

The state medical examiner also confirmed one-storm-related death in Broward without providing details. That’s in addition to 11 other fatalities across Florida, most occurring in accidents during preparations for Irma or in its aftermath.

There was also unwelcome news for neighbors of a condo tower under construction in Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood, where a crane crumpled during the storm. City officials ordered two residential buildings across the street from the Gran Paraiso construction site evacuated because the crane could not be secured.

In addition, about 50 residents of a senior-citizens tower in Miami’s Civic Center neighborhood that was badly damaged by Irma were being taken Tuesday evening to a shelter.

The picture remained grim to the south in the Florida Keys, hit by Irma’s full Cat 4 brunt. Evacuees were allowed back but only into the Upper Keys. Gauging the full scope of damage was still a work in progress, but the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said “initial estimates” were that a quarter of all Keys houses were “destroyed” and 65 percent suffered some damage.

Caution and patience were the order of the day, government officials told South Floridians, even as they urged businesses that could to reopen, and lifted or trimmed back curfews to ease the way back to normalcy. Miami-Dade, Miami and Key Biscayne canceled curfews, while Miami Beach, Doral and Coral Gables shortened theirs to start only at late night.

“People need to start getting back to normal,” Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said. “Our goal right now is recovery and restoration, and that means that we need to get people back to work, get essential personnel back to work, get relief for the people who worked for the five days through the storm and get the businesses back up and running.”

How fast that can all happen depends to a large degree on Florida Power & Light, the utility company that provides electricity to most of South Florida.

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Carr & Duff Electrical Construction, working with FPL, reconnects a main power line at 17534 Collins Ave. on Tuesday in Sunny Isles Beach.

David Santiago

In a morning briefing, FPL officials said most of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties should see power restored by this weekend, with the possible exception of areas hit by tornadoes, flooding or severe damage.

But that still left many without.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday in Miami-Dade, 623,530 customers had outages, out of 1.1 million customers in total, according to FPL data. In Broward, 448,750 had no power out of 933,300, and in Palm Beach 361,140 of 739,000 were out. That’s more than 1.4 million homes and businesses without power, including about half of the homes in the three-county South Florida region.

Sharief urged residents to “give it a couple of days” as crews worked to clear streets and restore electrical service.

In the meantime, bulk ice was a much-in-demand commodity, but supply was as scant as snowfall in South Florida. And it’s likely days before ice plants shut down by lack of power can go back on line, pass water-quality inspections and begin cranking again.

When public schools in Miami-Dade and Broward might reopen was unclear. And that decision, too, hinges on when power is restored to school buildings.

Officials in both school districts said classes won’t restart until Monday at the earliest. Miami-Dade school administrators say they expect to settle on a date after getting a power-restoration timeline from FPL on Thursday. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said preliminary inspections of more than 250 schools show that buildings suffered minor to moderate damage “but no catastrophic impact at any site.”

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Beck Jumaev and Selina Garciatake take selfies at Haulover Beach in the Hurricane Irma aftermath on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 in Miami Beach.

David Santiago

Broward Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said all schools and district offices will be closed through Friday, primarily because of power outages at more than half of all schools

“Our goal is to reopen schools on Monday, Sept. 18, pending the restoration of power,” Runcie said Tuesday afternoon.

Aside from getting the lights back on, perhaps the best news for many South Florida motorists who have faced long lines to refuel at gas stations is that the crunch, which started days before Irma ever hit, is finally easing.

Port Everglades, the entry point for gasoline and other fuel shipments for the region, reopened to shipping Tuesday afternoon. Five of its 12 petroleum terminals also were open and supplying fuel to local gas stations. Five additional terminals were expected to return to service soon.

“The trucks are rolling. They’re coming in and filling up with gas,” said Ellen Kennedy, Port Everglades spokeswoman.

The Fort Lauderdale port opened to shipping traffic at 12:30 p.m. Among the first arrivals was the petroleum tanker Oregon Voyager, carrying 12 million very welcome gallons of gasoline, jet fuel and ethanol.

PortMiami, where sailboats and other debris blocked the navigation channel, had hoped to reopen to shipping traffic as well, but late Tuesday afternoon it still hadn’t been given the all-clear from the U.S. Coast Guard. Several cruise ships were waiting outside Government Cut to enter PortMiami, said spokeswoman Andria Muniz-Amador.

In Miami, the port tunnel came through Hurricane Irma in “perfect” condition, she said, and was open to truck and vehicle traffic Tuesday. Trucks were delivering cargo to the Seaboard Marine terminal, she said.

All three major airports in the region were also open. Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International reopened Tuesday with limited schedules. MIA expects to see that percentage increase daily until it reaches full operations, possibly by this weekend.

Many businesses, in particular restaurants and grocery stores, began re-opening as soon as power came back on — while some more-enterprising spots operated on generators — to cater to Miamians eager for a hot meal, cool drink and replenishment.

The waiting line was out the door at Versailles and sister restaurant La Carreta across Southwest Eighth Street, at Jimmy’s Diner in Miami’s Upper East Side and at the Bay Supermarket on Normandy Isle in Miami Beach.

At Jimmy’s, the phones weren’t working and neither were the credit-card readers, so it was strictly cash-only. No matter.

There were eggs, sausage and bacon ready for the people who flocked to the neighborhood stalwart looking for their first cooked meal in days on Tuesday morning.

“We’re always open,” said waitress Shorty Collins, who’s been at Jimmy’s 49 years. “So long as it don’t blow us away, we’re here.”

On Tuesday, she might have been speaking for all South Florida.