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Florida residents return, Irma toll at 60

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September 13, 2017

A van remains in a sinkhole after Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida.

Residents are slowly being allowed to return to some islands in the hurricane-slammed Florida Keys as officials try to piece together the scope of Irma's destruction and rush aid into the drenched and debris-strewn state.

Two days after the storm roared into the Keys with 210km/h winds, the full extent of the destruction there was still a question mark because communications and access were cut off in many cases.

On Tuesday residents and business owners from Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada near the mainland were allowed back for their first look.

The Lower Keys - including the chain's most distant and most populous island, Key West, with 27,000 people - were still off-limits, with a roadblock in place where the single highway to the farther islands was washed out. Road repairs were promised in the coming days.

Corey Smith, a UPS driver who rode out the hurricane in Key Largo, said Tuesday that power was out on the island, there was very limited gas and supermarkets were closed.

On Tuesday morning, the rainy remnants of Irma pushed through Alabama and Mississippi after drenching Georgia. Flash-flood watches and warnings were issued around the Southeast.

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

An estimated 13 million Florida residents were without electricity - two-thirds of the state's population - as sweltering heat returned across the peninsula in the storm's wake.

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

Off Florida's southern tip, authorities were stopping people to check documentation such as proof of residency or business ownership before allowing them back into the Upper Keys. All three hospitals on the island chain were still closed.

After flying over the Keys on Monday, the governor described overturned mobile homes, washed-ashore boats and other damage. A Navy aircraft carrier was due to anchor off Key West to help in the search-and-rescue effort.

The Keys are linked by 42 bridges that have to be checked for safety before motorists can be allowed on the farther islands, officials said.

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