USS Abraham Lincoln reached the Florida Keys, where up to 10,000 people may need to be evacuated, on Monday and its helicopters are flying over the region to survey the damage.
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The Navy has also dispatched two amphibious assault ships, the USS Iwo Jima and the USS New York, to help with recovery efforts. They ported in Mayport, Florida, as they gathered supplies before supporting relief operations.
Florida Gov Rick Scott said officials on the USS Abraham Lincoln will focus their efforts in the Florida Keys, where Irma rumbled through with Category 4 muscle.
The USS Abraham is among some of the most complex ever built, weighing more than 99,000 tons, housing as many as 6,000 sailors, and supporting more than 70 aircraft.
The ships it’s joined by in Florida are just as impressive.
The USS New York is 684ft long, weight 24,900 tons and can travel up to 25mph.
The ship has an Embarked Landing Force of 699 and a surge capacity of 800. It can carry a variety of ships and aircraft in numbers less than five.
Gov Scott, who flew over the Keys in a helicopter on Monday, described overturned mobile homes, washed-ashore boats and rampant flood damage and asked Floridians to be patient, warning that roads are impassable and that there are downed power lines.
The National Guard also has arrived in the island chain amid official fears that a humanitarian crisis may be developing in the stricken region.
Up to 10,000 residents rode out the storm in the Keys, despite being told to evacuate ahead of the hurricane, and may need rescuing, the Defense Department said on Monday.
Key West city manager Jim Scholls told CNN that there were no plans to evacuate anyone in the chain of islands, which are home to about 79,000 people.
As of 7am on Tuesday, officials in the upper Florida Keys allowed residents and business owners to return.
In a Facebook posting, Monroe County officials said a yellow re-entry sticker or proof of residency or business ownership will be required.
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.
Officials warned returning residents that there are limited services available. Most areas are still without power and water and cellphone service is limited. Most gas stations in the Key Largo area are still closed.