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Aid rushed to hurricane-scarred Florida in wake of Irma

Jean Chatelier walks through a flooded street from Hurricane Irma Picture: David Goldman/AP
By Jennifer Kay and Doug Ferguson

Aid is being rushed to hurricane-scarred Florida as officials piece together the scope of Irma's destructive path and displaced residents wait for word on hard-hit areas including the Florida Keys.

It was difficult to get detailed information on the condition of the island chain where Irma first came ashore over the weekend because communication and access were all but cut off by the storm's arrival as a Category 4 hurricane.

After flying over the Keys on Monday, Florida governor Rick Scott gave this assessment: "It's devastating."

Authorities are letting residents and business owners to return to Upper Keys islands close to the mainland, but people from the Lower Keys face a longer wait.

Elsewhere, areas such as Tampa Bay had braced for the worst but emerged with what appeared to be only modest damage. Early on Tuesday, the remnants of Irma were blowing through Alabama and Mississippi after drenching Georgia.

A US navy aircraft carrier was due to anchor off Key West to help in search-and-rescue efforts.

Drinking water supplies in the Keys were cut off, fuel was running low and all three hospitals in the island chain were closed. The governor described overturned mobile homes, washed-ashore boats and rampant flood damage.

About 13 million Florida residents were without electricity – two-thirds of the third-largest US state – as tropical heat returned across the peninsula following the storm.

In a parting blow, the storm caused record flooding in the Jacksonville area that forced dozens of rescues.

Six deaths in Florida have been blamed on Irma, along with three in Georgia and one in South Carolina. At least 35 people were killed in the Caribbean.

More than 180,000 people huddled in shelters in the Sunshine State and officials warned it could take weeks for electricity to be restored to everyone.

The governor said it was too early to put a dollar estimate on the damage.

During its march up Florida's west coast, Irma swamped homes, uprooted trees and flooded streets.

Around the Tampa-St Petersburg area, damage appeared modest, and Mr Scott said damage on the south-west coast, including in Naples and Fort Myers, was not as bad as feared.

But he predicted that recovery could take a long time in many areas.

"I know for our entire state, especially the Keys, it's going to be a long road," he said.

He said the navy dispatched the USS Iwo Jima, USS New York and the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to help with relief efforts.

The Keys are linked by 42 bridges that have to be checked for safety before motorists can be allowed in, officials said. The governor said the route also needs to be cleared of debris and sand, but should be usable fairly quickly.

In the Jacksonville area, close to the Georgia border, a storm surge brought some of the worst flooding seen there, with at least 46 people pulled from swamped homes.

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