IRMA: Florida highway mayhem…TRAFFIC

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Hurricane Irma blazed a trail through Florida Sunday and Monday, and as a result, on Tuesday, highways are gridlocked as southern Floridians return home to assess the damage.

The estimated 6.5 million Floridians still without power will be hurting this week without air conditioning, as temperatures are set to rise in Irma’s wake. Each day expects to see highs exceed the 90s.

But most citizens were grateful at the speed with which the storm passed.

In one report, Carin and David Atkins of Pinecrest, Florida, were waiting out Irma on Monday, planning to leave their Atlanta hotel Tuesday morning to head back down the Florida peninsula with their two children. They live just outside Miami. However, seeing that power hasn’t returned to their area, they have now booked a hotel halfway home in Cape Canaveral.

“I’ve called to confirm they have power,” David Atkins said, adding that some businesses near their home have power, as well.

Miami dodged the worst of the storm, which maintained a westerly track across Cuba past the east coast of Florida before turning northward late Saturday night, but it still suffered intense storm surges and hurricane force winds.

The Atkins have lived without power for extended periods before. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma left their area without power for 47 days.

The Keys and Florida’s southwestern tip were greeted by the eye of Irma early Sunday, with many areas taking heavy damage. Officials say more than a quarter of homes in the keys have been destroyed.

As it became more evident throughout Friday and Saturday that the west coast would be in line with Irma’s entire path, many citizens in the Naples, Fort Meyers, and Tampa Bay metropolitan areas made the decision to evacuate north.

Stephanie Clegg Troxell wound up near Nashville, Tennessee, where her family caravan included three cars and a trailer, five adults, five children, 13 dogs, three mini-horses and a pet pig. The trek from New Port Richey, Florida, north of Tampa Bay, took more than 17 hours, beginning last Wednesday.

“We don’t know when we’re leaving, and now, there’s another hurricane coming,” Troxell said, referring to Jose, which was offshore. “I’m trying to sneak out when it’s not 30-miles-per-hour-plus winds.”

Some citizens are reaching their financial limits in staying away from home so long.

“Staying here, it’s been, like, a financial strain,” said Rea Argonza, who traveled with her husband and five children from St. Augustine, Florida, to two hotel rooms 500 miles away near the Wake Forest University campus. “We’re up to almost a thousand dollars now. I do believe this whole expedition is going to be almost $3,000.”

The Keys are absolutely destroyed, with citizens returning to find their homes unlivable.

On Tuesday, Corey Smith, who rode out the hurricane in Key Largo, said the power is out on the island, and that there’s very limited gas and supermarkets are closed.

“They’re shoving people back to a place with no resources,” he said by phone. “It’s just going to get crazy pretty quick.”

After flying over the Keys Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott described overturned mobile homes, washed-ashore boats and flood damage. A Navy aircraft carrier was due to anchor off Key West to help in search-and-rescue efforts.

At least 11 deaths in the U.S. have been connected to Irma, with an additional 35 in the Caribbean. Seven of the U.S. deaths happened in Florida, three in Georgia and one in South Carolina.

See photos of the damage below:

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