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Hurricane Irma: No power, blocked roads add to frustrations in Florida

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Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma. Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma.
Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma. Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma.
Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma. Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma.
Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma. Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma.
Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma. Photo of destruction in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma.
By Faith Karimi, Jason Hanna and Steve Almasy CNN

(CNN) -- Days after Hurricane Irma tore through Florida and left millions without power, residents are slowly returning to find ruins in some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods. Recovery is only getting started, and some areas are still flooded. Utility companies are working to rapidly restore power to the battered Florida Keys, as frustrated residents who evacuated emerge from shelters ready to go home.

About 3.2 million utility customers remain without power in the state, Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday. Parts of central and southern Florida will be a sweltering 90 degrees for several days, with humidity making it feel like the mid-90s.

Scott urged first responders to check health care facilities after eight patients died at a nursing home with no air conditioning three days after Irma ravaged the state.

Relief is days away for those suffering the high temperatures. Those on the west coast, where Hurricane Irma made landfall, will likely have power restored by September 22, according to Florida Power & Light Co.

Customers who lost electricity on Florida's eastern side will likely have it restored by this weekend because fewer electrical poles came down than in other parts of the state, the company said.

Hurricane Irma's furious march through Florida not only darkened millions of homes, it also flooded roads and piled them with debris, blocking off access to neighborhoods.

Massive power outages also crippled other states, including Georgia, where hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses organizations did not have power Wednesday.

'I didn't think it would be that bad'

Jessica Gonzalez is back in her Florida neighborhood of LaBelle, but the heat is keeping her outdoors.

Her home was damaged by the storm and has no power. She celebrated her 20th birthday this week by waking up in her car with her husband and 2-year-old daughter.

They cook outside and sleep in their car.

"I honestly didn't think it would be that bad. You hear a lot it's Category 5, but you really don't think it's going to hit your house," Gonzalez told CNN's Ed Lavandera, referring to how strong Irma was when it left the Caribbean islands and set sights on Florida.

With no power and the house caving in, fellow LaBelle residents Bob and Tara Hahn have moved their 10 children into their oldest daughter's two-bedroom house.

During the storm, a giant tree crashed into their home, sending whipping rain pouring inside. There's no power and no answers on when it'll be back.

Officials told them it'll take weeks, they said. As they wait, they have 17 people living under one roof.

'There's nothing here'

Power is just one of many concerns for the residents. Others don't have access to their homes due to debris and piles of brush blocking roads.

Frustrations grew Wednesday when some residents tried to go home along a two-lane stretch of highway through the Florida Keys, but were told it's not safe enough to return home.

In Big Pine Key, houses were reduced to splinters. Boats were scattered across land -- a reminder that streets turned into rivers when the hurricane hit.

Richard Tabacco stayed with his family on the island through the storm. They are all OK -- a generator is keeping them cool, he said -- but he is warning residents who evacuated to stay away.

"There's nothing here," he told CNN's Chris Cuomo, who accompanied a search-and-rescue team on Wednesday. "There's no gas, there's no water. There's no stores. There's no electricity. There's no cellphone service. Just stay away for about two weeks."

"Let the first responders ... do their job, and y'all can come back later," he added.

Still, anxious residents wanted to return home.

At a checkpoint on Lower Matecumbe Key, sheriff's deputies turned away people trying to get to their homes in the lower Keys. Instead of going back, many pulled their cars over to the side of the highway, sat and waited.

A deputy at the checkpoint said they were trying to keep people safe, but some residents said they knew the risks and were willing to accept them.

Many wanted to survey the damage; others wanted to prevent looting.

No power, simmering temperatures

At least 33 storm-related deaths have been reported on the US mainland, according to local officials. They include 26 in Florida, four in South Carolina and three in Georgia. The total number doesn't include the nursing home deaths, which police said are under investigation.

The nursing home deaths Wednesday in Hollywood prompted officials to call for action. Florida has the largest percentage of residents age 65 or older -- 19.1%, according to the Pew Research Center. Several counties have senior populations of 33% or higher.

"I'm going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place," Gov. Rick Scott said. "... I am also asking available first responders to immediately check in with the health care facilities in their area to make sure nursing homes and assisted living facilities are able to keep their residents safe."

Before the hurricane smashed into the US mainland over the weekend, it struck northern Caribbean islands, leaving at least 44 people dead, authorities said.

Irma, which stretched 650 miles from east to west, has pummeled at least nine states -- deluging streets, knocking over trees and destroying homes along the way.

President Donald Trump is set to make his first visit to the region Thursday to see the devastation.

CNN's Miguel Marquez, Chris Boyette, Tina Burnside, Rene Marsh, Darran Simon, and Keith Allen contributed to this report.

TM & © 2017 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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