Tensions flare at checkpoint as Florida Keys residents pine to go home

Tensions flared Wednesday afternoon at a police checkpoint as frustrated Florida Keys residents ran into a checkpoint in Islamorada blocking them from going to their homes in the Middle and Lower Keys.

Several cars loaded with families, pets and even elderly relatives who had evacuated pleaded with officers to let them through. Some residents waited for hours in the hot sun. At one point, officers warned that their cars would be towed if they did not leave the checkpoint by the evening.

A Monroe County spokeswoman said cars would not be towed unless they were blocking the roadway. It was still unclear Wednesday evening when the public would be allowed to travel freely on the Overseas Highway, the only road in and out of the Florida Keys.

Keys residents have not been allowed to return to their homes south of Mile Marker 73 because authorities have yet to fully inspect the hardest-hit area and restore enough services to allow an influx of people.

Hurricane Irma made landfall Sunday morning in Cudjoe Key, about 20 northeast of Key West. The damage was worst in the islands north of Cudjoe, such as Big Pine, Summerland and Little Torch.

About 2,000 of 10,000 Keys residents ignored evacuation orders and stayed on the 110-mile-long island chain for the Category 4 storm. The storm wiped out electricity, sewer services and cell-phone services on the island chain, which complicates the return of residents eager to see their businesses and homes.