September 11, 2017 5:45 pm
Updated: September 11, 2017 5:47 pm

Hurricane Irma: Florida Keys evacuees not allowed to go home

WATCH ABOVE: Boats tossed from docks , homes flooded in Key Largo, Florida after Hurricane Irma

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FLORIDA CITY, Fla. – Residents who fled the Florida Keys in anticipation of Hurricane Irma‘s wrath were told they could not return to their island homes on Monday, news that angered evacuees anxious to get back to assess the damage.

Authorities reported widespread damage on the archipelago off the tip of southern Florida. At the White House, U.S. Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said it could take weeks before many residents are able to return.

LIVE UPDATES: Tracking Tropical Storm Irma’s path

Miami-Dade police detective Alvaro Zabaleta, speaking on behalf of local officials, urged residents to head to a shelter on the mainland while authorities tried to restore power, water and medical service.

WATCH: Irma drops boat on football field, sinks others into ocean


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Some evacuees who had lingered at a police checkpoint in Florida City all day fumed, telling Zabaleta they needed to return to their houses to check on pets and clean up.

“Next time I’m staying in Key Largo” one of them yelled.

Irma barreled into the Florida Keys on Sunday, bringing sustained winds of up to 130 mph (209 kph) and submerging the highway that connects the string of tropical islands with the rest of the state.

READ MORE: Canadians left stranded by Hurricane Irma blast Ottawa for not doing enough to help

Ahead of the storm, one of the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic, officials said they were pleasantly surprised that tens of thousands of residents accustomed to the area’s laidback lifestyle took evacuation orders to heart.

By Monday, the cooperative spirit started to unravel. At the checkpoint in Florida City, a Miami suburb, evacuees shouted at police and swore at media.

WATCH: Helicopter view over Orlando reveals Irma’s damage

Some residents warned they would be less willing to leave next time if they were not allowed through soon.

“I’ve been in the Keys for 40 years,” Shelby Bentley told reporters at a non-operational gas station. “It’s the first time I’ve evacuated from a hurricane. It’ll be my last time.”

PHOTOS: The damage that Hurricane Irma left behind in Florida

The Florida Keys are a popular tourist destination, drawing millions of visitors each year for fishing, diving and boating. American author Ernest Hemingway called Key West home for more than a decade, and his former house remains an attraction.

But on Monday, most of the area had no fuel, no electricity, no running water and no cell service, local officials said.

WATCH: Tropical Storm Irma pounds South Carolina coast

Zabaleta said law enforcement in Monroe County, which includes the islands, was having trouble establishing reliable communications and could not say whether there had been injuries or deaths there due to the storm.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who surveyed the damage by air, said just about every trailer park was overturned.

READ MORE: ‘Be on alert for snakes and alligators’: Florida officials warn residents after Irma landfall

“There’s devastation,” he said. “I just hope everybody survived. It’s horrible what we saw.”

Residents will not be allowed back into the Keys until authorities have inspected the bridges to make sure they are safe, said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Joe Sanchez said. Trees, seaweed and watercraft were blocking roads, he added.

WATCH: Large river overflows in Jacksonville, Florida after Hurricane Irma

Some took the delay in stride. Drinking a can of beer as he lounged at the back of his pickup truck, Armando Boan, 55, said he might camp out in the Everglades for a few days.

“It’s all about your frame of mind,” he said. “This is out of my hands.”

Others, like photographer Marc Serota, 52, were irritated.

Serota said he had the required residential sticker that allowed him to return to island and that he and other evacuees were prepared to return with carloads of water, jugs of gas and chainsaws.

“That was epic that people actually did what they were told to do,” he said, referring to the evacuations. “They are going to have the worst time getting us out next time.”

© 2017 Reuters

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