IRMA: Residents look for 'sense of normal' after Irma

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 4:56 PM EDT

Days after Hurricane Irma pummeled the Sunshine State, there is a combination of optimism and frustration for state residents.

Hundreds of thousands of Bay area residents are spending another day without power, for example.

TECO has restored power to many of its customers, but about 191,000 remained in the dark Wednesday. Duke Energy has nearly a half-million customers without power, with the largest number 311,529 in Pinellas County at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The Naples area, one of the hardest hit locations in the state, will be the location of President Donald Trump's post-Irma visit to Florida on Thursday.

On the traffic front, the Santa Fe River under I-75 has rapidly risen 15 feet within the past 36 hours (as of 1 p.m.) due to the heavy rainfall over North Florida, which may present challenges for Irma evacuees trying to return home. Additional bridges that may be impacted include: U.S. 27, U.S. 41, S.R. 47 and possibly U.S. 121.

Gas stations, department stores and restaurants are continuing to reopen their doors to serve hungry customers in need of fuel and supplies. The U.S. Coast Guard reopened Port Tampa Bay Tuesday, and more than 300 tanker trunks have fueled up at the port and will deliver to gas stations around the state.

The cost of Hurricane Irma -- just for Florida -- are nearing $250 million and rising. That includes the costs of preparation and recovery efforts.

"What we've tried to do is make sure everybody has a way to reach out and talk to us here," said Gov. Rick Scott. "So if there's no other way to get help, call us. There's somebody here that will respond to you, and we have a big team of people that are trying their best to try to get services to everybody they can."

The Associated Press says at least 13 people in Florida were killed in Irma-related circumstances, in some cases during the cleanup well after the storm. A Tampa man died after the chainsaw he was using to remove branches kicked back and cut his carotid artery.

Six deaths were vehicle-related and four were during storm preparations. Two people were killed in Hillsborough County, and one was killed in both Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Aside from the Irma-related deaths, at least five people died and more than a dozen were treated for breathing carbon monoxide fumes from generators in the Orlando, Miami and Daytona Beach areas.

Meanwhile, the concerns for flooding are far from over. Along the Alafia River that flows into Tampa Bay, crews were working to evacuate anyone who wanted to leave. The river rose by about a foot an hour in Lithia, eventually swamping cars and homes.

Renee Sanderson was rescued from her home but feared she has little left.

"I have insurance but it's got a $5,000 deductible.  I don't have $5,000," she said. "So it's pretty much a wrap. I'm losing everything I got."

The Alafia River crested at almost 25 feet Tuesday. Flood stage at the river is 13 feet.

The White House said President Donald Trump will visit Thursday to talk with officials about cleanup efforts and visit with residents impacted by the storm. Trump has also approved a major disaster declaration, which authorizes federal funding to flow directly to Floridians impacted by the hurricane. The action also reimburses local communities and the state government to aid in response and recovery.  

By Wednesday morning, Polk County was included in the Major Disaster Declaration. Residents can now register for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency

The storm has affected the entire state. Jacksonville, for example, is experiencing its worst flooding since 1846, Scott said. Federal officials estimated one-quarter of all homes in the Keys were destroyed.

Aside from the Irma-related deaths, at least five people died and more than a dozen were treated for breathing carbon monoxide fumes from generators in the Orlando, Miami and Daytona Beach areas.

Some Irma stories have had happy endings.

One couple drove through the wind and rain from Myakka to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center to bring baby Adelynn Dodge into the world. In Clearwater, 94-year-old Betty Helmuth rode out the storm thanks to her granddaughter and police who made sure she had supplies.

Duke Energy officials said Tuesday as many as 9,000 crew members are out in the fields working on downed lines and snapped power poles. Crew members were brought in from out of state and from as far away as Canada, said Duke spokeswoman Anna Gibbs. 

"We have 500 staff on duty working today in Pinellas and Pasco counties," Gibbs said.

TECO has crews fanned out across the region as well as close to 300,000 of its customers remain without power.