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Thursday
Sep142017

Irma death toll rises to 31 across three states

ABC News(TAMPA, Fla.) -- The death toll from Hurricane Irma continued to climb Thursday in the United States, with at least 31 dead across three states.

The latest death blamed on Irma was announced on Wednesday night by the Polk County Sheriff's Office, which said a 7-year-old died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a generator was used inside her home.

In Florida, 24 people have died in connection with the storm, including a weather-related car accident in the Florida Keys and the eight people who died after Irma knocked out air conditioning at a nursing home in Hollywood.

Officials in Monroe County, Florida, which includes the Keys, said that seven others died in the county during Irma, but it was unclear how many of the deaths were storm-related.

Four people died in South Carolina and three in Georgia, officials said.

The county said search-and-rescue teams are going door to door Wednesday in the hardest hit areas of the Keys and that military personnel are helping with the search.

Patrica Morrow, a resident of Islamorada, a village made up of multiple islands that are a part of the Keys, works as a housekeeper and stayed on the Keys during the storm, taking refuge at her employer's Islamorada home.

"We knew that it was going to harder to come back home to see what we had left, so we felt safe here, to be honest," she said.

She described the storm as "surreal."

"The water [was] just taking everything out, there was sand everywhere, there were people's belongings just flowing down the canal ... I still can't believe the water that rushed through this island," she told ABC News. "The wind was just scary ... stuff that you just wouldn't imagine blowing away, was blowing away."

"You can definitely feel when the eye of the Hurricane got over Marathon (a city on the Keys) because the winds got violent and the windows started shaking for a good 10 minutes. But the after that the wind didn't die down for the rest of the day," she said. "It was really scary. To think people stayed in homes that maybe weren't as sturdy as this one, it's scary. It's heart-wrenching."

"We lost some things, but we're alive," she said. "Our house, the structure is unstable now, but we're fortunate enough we have most of our belongings and memories. You can replace little things, but you can't replace life. It's going to take a while to get things back to normal."

As many as 25 percent of homes in the Keys were destroyed, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Tuesday evening, and as many as 65 percent of homes suffered major damage.

According to FEMA, 90 percent of homes in the Florida Keys suffered some damage.

Officials from Monroe County were quick to counter FEMA estimates on Tuesday night, saying no official estimates of damage percentages or costs have been made.

"Things look real damaged from the air, but when you clear the trees and all the debris, it's not much damage to the houses," Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said in a statement released by the county Tuesday night.

In a statement today the county said "Monroe County Inspectors have begun Damage Assessment inspections of the outside of private structures, beginning in Key Largo."

Keys residents are now returning to their homes, with the Florida Department of Transportation saying all 42 bridges along U.S. 1 -- the only road into and out of the Keys -- have been inspected and cleared.

The storm wiped out power to the Keys, but crews are quickly working to restore services.

Keys Energy Services, which covers the South end of Seven Mile Bridge to Key West, has restored power to about seven percent of its customers, the county said Wednesday, and Florida Keys Electric Coop, which services the rest of the Keys, has about 30 percent of its service area restored.

Sean Sims, a resident of Islamorada, told ABC News he evacuated for the storm and has since returned to his home, which has little damage. But for now, he said he is living in an RV because he doesn't have power or air conditioning.

But Sims, a 15-year resident, isn't worried about how other Keys residents will fare in the recovery process.

"We're not going to wait for anyone to come down here and do it for us -- Keys people are pretty resourceful. They're going to start cleaning up themselves and piecing together," he said. "They've been through [hurricanes] before. And this is one of the worst ones down here, but it will come back stronger than ever, just like it did for Homestead [the South Miami neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992].

At least 37 others died from Irma in the Caribbean, including at least 10 in Cuba.

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