Residents of the Lower Florida Keys were finally allowed to return home Sunday morning, more than a week after they were forced to flee the wrath of Hurricane Irma.
Many have been waiting for local officials to tell them it was safe to come back.
Some have no idea what they’re coming back to for all they know, their home and belongings are gone.
Elvira Vega told CNN her family’s home on Marathon Key was “done” and she was nervous about returning. Her brother had stayed behind to ride out the storm and had sent Vega pictures of what was left of her family’s house.
“My brother definitely said, ‘Do not come home,'” she told CNN. “My sister got a phone call from her friend and said, ‘If you don’t need to, don’t come home. It’s a horrible scene,’ they said. It’s worse than pictures can show.”
Now, Vega is left to grapple with the reality that she and her family have no home. And she’s not alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has estimated that 25 percent of the houses in the Florida Keys were destroyed by Irma.
“Coming home and explaining to my son that we no longer have a home, it’s the hardest thing,” she told CNN.
Last week, officials allowed residents to return to the Upper Keys, which were not as hard-hit by Irma as islands such as Marathon and Big Pine Key that lie further west.
Monroe County officials began letting residents head back to the lower Keys and Key West at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, but cars started lining up at the first of two checkpoints on the south Florida mainland around 11 p.m. Saturday, according to a Race Trac gas station attendant near the checkpoint.
Authorities have kept parts of the Keys closed until now because they were worried about what would happen when residents returned en masse to find they were without power or running water.