Irma’s Wrath Leaves Florida Keys Reeling with Onerous Recovery Ahead

MIAMI — Thousands of Florida Keys homes might be destroyed. There’s no power, phone service or safe drinking water. Thousands might have to be evacuated. And the island chain’s economy is at risk.

The Conch Republic is reeling more than anywhere else in Florida after Hurricane Irma. And it could get worse.

“Five or six days without electricity, without water and without fuel to get out. It’s going to start to get a little hairy,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who toured the Keys after the storm made landfall Sunday in the Lower Keys. “You’re really alone down there.”

With September mortgage payments due in days, Rubio and his Democratic counterpart, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, say lenders should consider giving homeowners a break on their monthly payment now that lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are offering storm survivors mortgage relief for as long as a year.

“I will urge the Department of Housing and Urban Development that they work out not only federally financed mortgages but lean on the banking industry to have some forgiveness or suspension of monthly mortgage payments for a period of time to allow people to adjust back to their normal situation so they can pay their mortgages,” Nelson said.

Both Nelson, Rubio and the congressman who represents the area, Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, also back tax breaks for storm survivors and small business assistance. Curbelo, who toured the Keys with Nelson and Rubio on Monday, said Key West wasn’t as badly damaged as feared. But the Lower Keys were badly damaged.

“The big pain here is going to be financial in nature,” Curbelo said. “All these restaurant workers and hotel employees are going to be out of work for at least a week. That’s where we’re going to feel the greatest pain from the storm.”

Rubio said he wondered about “the long-term impact, like the bait shop down there that goes two months without revenue. Can they survive? Will they be here even when the Keys reopen? So we have to think of that aspect of it. Temporary housing. Everything in between. I think restoring power and water to the Lower Keys is going to be a lot harder than people realize because of the unique nature of the damage.”


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