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The Journal Gazette

  • A tree, knocked down by Hurricane Irma, sits on a home and car in the Maitland Isle neighborhood in Maitand, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. The storm dragged down power lines and blew out transformers knocking out power to millions across Florida. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

  • Michael Seifert throws a a branch off the roof of a house in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, in Big Pine Key, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

  • In this Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, photo, a tree lies on the ground after being ripped up by the roots during Hurricane Irma in the city of Coral Gables, Fla. Many streets in the neighborhood are impassable because they are blocked with fallen trees. (AP Photo/Mary Rajkumar)

  • Peter Gurlitt, right, loads gas cans into his car after filling up at a station that opened for the first time since Hurricane Irma passed through in Miromar Lakes, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • This photo provided by NASA shows the Mobile Launcher, left, Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), center, and Launch Control Center, center left behind VAB, during an aerial survey of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. The survey was performed to identify structures and facilities that may have sustained damage from Hurricane Irma. NASA's Kennedy Space Center remained closed Tuesday but appeared to have weathered Hurricane Irma well. (Bill White/NASA via AP)

  • A sign the Pena family put in a tree at the entrance of the Hills of Santa Fe neighborhood, in Gainesville, Tuesday Sept. 12, 2017. During Hurricane Irma water from the Meadowbrook Golf Course rushed over a hill behind the Pena's home and flooded the home with about six feet of water. After Hurricane Irma hit Gainesville, flooded homes and streets seem to be some of the biggest problems residents are dealing with. (Brad McClenny/The Gainsville Sun via AP)

  • The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. Patients were evacuated after a loss of air conditioning due to Hurricane Irma. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

  • This Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 photo shows a damaged crane from Hurricane Irma in Miami. Part of the crane fell in a bay-front area filled with hotels and high-rise condo and office buildings, near the AmericanAirlines Arena, where the NBA's Miami Heat play. (DroneBase via AP)

  • Wilta Desronvil carries fish back to her house that she caught on her flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Cars wait in line for gas as a station opens for the first time since Hurricane Irma passed through in Miromar Lakes, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 4:45 pm

The Latest: Nursing home manager has history of fraud

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

The manager of a Florida nursing home where six people died following Hurricane Irma has a history of health-care fraud accusations.

Federal court records show the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami filed civil charges in 2004 against Dr. Jack Michel, several other individuals, and several businesses, including Larkin Health Systems. Larkin Health Systems owns The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where three patients were found dead at the nursing home early Wednesday after police got a call about a person with a heart attack. Police say three more died at the hospital or on the way.

In 1997, before Michel owned Larkin, federal prosecutors say he and others participated in a kickback scheme that involved paying doctors for referrals and admission to Larkin Community Hospital. Prosecutors say that after he bought the hospital in 1998, Michel and others fraudulently increased the number of patients at the facility, along with their Medicare and Medicaid revenues, by bringing in patients from nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

The case was settled in 2006 for $15.4 million.

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4:30 p.m.

Pumps are being moved into southwest Florida to help drain floodwaters from communities drenched by Irma's rainfall and storm surge.

The South Florida Water Management District was temporarily moving three pumps from Palm Beach County to Collier County, which officials say was one of the hardest-hit areas in the 16-county district that spans a region stretching from the Keys in the South to Orlando in central Florida.

The district also is helping Orlando International Airport drain water from its property to nearby Boggy Creek, officials said.

Floodwaters also are being pumped into Lake Okeechobee away from communities and business in the Glades region south of the lake, officials said.

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4:30 p.m.

A Florida woman who gave birth without a doctor present as Hurricane Irma was approaching Miami has described the experience as "traumatizing."

Because emergency responders were unable to make it to the scene Sunday, Watkins had to give birth in a Miami apartment while she and her boyfriend, David Knight, listened to instructions over the phone from a 911 dispatcher and a doctor.

The couple discussed the ordeal during a news conference Wednesday while Watkins held her newborn daughter. Destiny Knight was born two days before her due date, weighing 6 pounds (3 kilograms), 11 ounces (310 grams) and measuring 20 inches (50 centimeters).

Watkins says she never considered naming her daughter Irma.

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2:55 p.m.

An Associated Press journalist is describing what it was like to spend five nights in four motels on the run from Hurricane Irma.

Mary Rajkumar is an editor based in Miami.

She and her family crisscrossed Florida trying to escape the wrath of Hurricane Irma. They hopscotched from motel to motel before ending up in Jacksonville.

But Irma was so wide the storm reached across the whole state and hit them there.

She describes struggling to find hotels with vacancies and restaurants that were open.

In Jacksonville, the only option appeared to be a Waffle House with a line of 200 people. So instead, her relatives tried a nearby Thai restaurant.

The owners said they weren't open but were just there to check for any damage. Still, they agreed to feed Rajkumar's family of five adults and two teenagers. She says the search for food was a surprising sight in a country known for its hot dog eating contests and supersized Slurpees.

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2:50 p.m.

The number of Georgia residents without electricity after Hurricane Irma keeps dropping, and Georgia Power says nearly all of its customers should have their lights back on before the weekend is over.

More than 510,000 customers of Georgia Power and Georgia Electric Membership Corp remained without power Wednesday afternoon. That's down from 1.5 million outages when Irma crossed Georgia as a tropical storm Monday.

Georgia Power said in a news release that 95 percent of its customers should have electricity restored by Sunday night, except for homes or businesses too damaged for power to be reconnected.

Irma killed two people in Georgia as it flooded coastal communities and toppled trees across most of the state. Gov. Nathan Deal was scheduled to tour storm damaged areas Thursday.

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2:45 p.m.

A Florida woman fleeing her home because of Hurricane Irma will go back home with $10,000 after buying a lottery scratch-off ticket during a stop in North Carolina.

The N.C. Education Lottery reports Tiffany Hatfield of Ocoee, Florida, stopped at a Rocky Mount convenience store before continuing to Virginia. The mother of three said she only stopped at the store because her daughter had to use the bathroom. She said she and her children started screaming when they realized they won.

Hatfield claimed her prize on Tuesday. She is already on her way back to Florida, and said she plans to use the money for any repairs she needs, and to redecorate the house with any money left over.

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2:35 p.m.

Authorities are working to check on other assisted living and retirement communities after six patients at a sweltering Florida nursing home died in Irma's aftermath.

The patients who died were from the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. Hollywood police Chief Tom Sanchez said police officers were expected to finish checking in on the city's 42 other assisted living and similar facilities early Wednesday afternoon.

At Century Village in Pembroke Pines, more than half of the residential buildings 77 of 144 were still without power Wednesday afternoon.

Rescue crews from several area municipalities were going door to door in 94-degree heat to perform welfare checks, and a massive water, ice and meal distribution plan was already enacted.

Gov. Rick Scott's office said it has been in regular contact with hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities since before the storm. They are told to call 911 if they believe patients are in danger.

Florida requires nursing homes to file an emergency plan with the county officials that includes evacuation plans for residents.

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1:50 p.m.

Authorities say a 55-year-old Florida man who was preparing his home for Hurricane Irma died after falling off a ladder.

The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's office reported Wednesday that Vincent Forest was pronounced dead Sunday at a Tampa hospital, a day after the accident at his Lake Placid home.

An autopsy performed Tuesday concluded the cause of death was blunt impact to his head, including skull fractures, brain bruising and internal bleeding.

Forest was married and worked for Glade and Grove Supply Co. agricultural dealership.

His is the 20th death in the U.S. blamed on Irma. Six other deaths of patients in a sweltering nursing home are being investigated.

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1:35 p.m.

Surviving patients are being treated for dehydration after several others died at a sweltering Florida nursing home in Irma's aftermath.

Dr. Randy Katz is the emergency room director for Memorial Regional Hospital, which is adjacent to the nursing home in Hollywood. He said Wednesday afternoon that about a dozen people still are being treated in the ER. When asked if he expects the death toll to rise, Katz said, "potentially." Six have died so far.

He said most patients are being treated for dehydration, respiratory distress and heat-related problems.

The rest of the nursing home's patients have also been evacuated.

Hollywood police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators who arrived at a nursing home found "very hot" conditions inside. The center was having problems with its air-conditioning, and investigators are looking into whether it had power or was using generators.

Sanchez said police officers were expected to finish checking in on the city's 42 other assisted living and similar facilities early Wednesday afternoon.

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1:10 p.m.

Former state senator and current Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich said she has been inundated with calls about nursing homes and assisted living facilities that are running out of fuel for generators.

Six patients have died at a Broward County nursing home that was having problems with air-conditioning. Authorities were investigating whether it was using a generator and if the power was cut.

Rich said Florida Power & Light Company should make facilities like that its first priority as it works to restore power knocked out around the state by Hurricane Irma.

She said the power company's priorities "are messed up."

She said she hasn't been satisfied with Florida Power and Light's response to the county.

"They're saying that some of these places may not be up for a week or two," she said. "These people can't survive that."

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12:55 p.m.

A Florida Keys facility that rehabilitates injured sea turtles has some new arrivals after Hurricane Irma.

At the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, the rescued sea creatures sat in tanks fed by water pumped with a generator on Wednesday.

A tiny green sea turtle rescued by a Monroe County emergency employee from storm rubble was the first rescue after the hurricane. It was in a tiny plastic bin flipping around.

Hospital director Richie Moretti offered a quip about what they chose to call her.

He said: "Guess her name? Irma."

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12:40 p.m.

President Donald Trump will travel to the Naples area as part of a visit to hurricane-damaged Florida on Thursday.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president will be in the Naples area, in southwest Florida. Few additional details were available.

Nearly all of the state was engulfed by the massive Hurricane Irma. The number of people without has dropped to 9.5 million - just under half of Florida's population. Utility officials warned it could take 10 days or more for power to be fully restored. About 110,000 people remained in shelters across the state.

Trump visited Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey struck both states in late August.

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12:20 p.m.

Monroe County officials say water service is slowly being restored to the Florida Keys.

County officials said in said in a Facebook update Wednesday: "MORE WATER IS COMING"

Water would be turned on for two-hour spurts Wednesday morning and evening in Key West, but officials warned it would need to be boiled before drinking.

Key Largo to Marathon should have water in areas that do not have damage to individual service lines

But water in the Lower Keys from Key West to the 7-Mile Bridge was still unavailable due to what officials described as major storm damage.

They also cautioned that water remains in short supply and should be conserved.

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11:50 a.m.

City officials say a sixth patient from a Florida nursing home has died in aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

A news release from the city of Hollywood says that three patients were found dead in the facility early Wednesday, while others were taken to the hospital and pronounced dead there. A late morning news release said a total of six have died.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related. He said the building has been sealed off for the criminal investigation but didn't give further details.

The rest of the center's patients were evacuated. The center has had electricity and air-conditioning problems after Irma.

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11:30 a.m.

Several gas stations and a hardware store have reopened in the upper Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma.

But residents still weren't being allowed past Lower Matecumbe Key.

On Conch Key in Coral Key Village, a devastated trailer park remained a debris-filled ghost town. Cars left behind were covered in silt, and seaweed and strewn furniture filled what a week ago were yards. A line of fallen mailboxes still had mail from before Irma inside.

Near Marathon, a sunken boat was visible in the once-again turquoise water.

At Marathon International Airport, workers loaded pallets of water onto military helicopters.

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11:20 a.m.

Authorities have identified a Georgia man killed as Tropical Storm Irma slogged through the state.

The Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office in Atlanta said Wednesday that 59-year-old Stanley Williams died when a tree fell on his home in suburban Sandy Springs. The death was previously announced, but the identity wasn't immediately given.

Williams is among two fatalities in Georgia blamed on Irma, which crossed the state's southwest corner Monday but was large enough to cause damage throughout the state.

The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office said a tree falling onto a car killed 67-year-old Nancy Eason. Eason was a retired court reporter. Her husband, Mike Eason, is a former Cumming police chief and retired agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Mike Eason was driving the car and suffered minor injuries.

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11:15 a.m.

A criminal investigation has been launched into the deaths of five patients at a Florida nursing home in Irma's aftermath.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the five deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related. He said the building has been sealed off for the criminal investigation but didn't give further details.

A total of 115 patients were evacuated from the nursing home, which lost power in the storm and had no air conditioning. Sanchez did not answer questions regarding whether a generator was running inside the place.

Jean Lindor, a kitchen worker, said through a Haitian Creole translator that the air conditioner had not been working since the storm and it had been hot inside.

Paulburn Bogle, a member of the housekeeping staff, said the place had been hot but manageable the past few days. The staff used fans, put cold towels and ice on the patients and gave them cold drinks.

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10:50 a.m.

NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is still closed Wednesday in Irma's aftermath.

The center still lacks water service, and a post-storm survey has turned up some damage.

About 9,000 people work at Kennedy, most of them contractors.

Several private companies, including Boeing and SpaceX, have operations at Kennedy and reported minimal damage.

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10:45 a.m.

Officials in the Florida Keys say it's too early to estimate the financial losses from Hurricane Irma, but they noted that Monroe County and Florida have some of the strongest building codes in the country.

Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers noted that the damage looks bad from the air. But from the ground she noted that "when you clear the trees and all the debris, it's not much damage to the houses.

The county's message appeared push back against more dire damage estimates from federal officials this week.

Carruthers, who lives in Key West, said her house built in 1889 lost shutters but sustained no other damage.

Officials say damage was more severe in the areas around Big Pine Key and Cudjoe Key.

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10:30 a.m.

After five nursing home residents died in Hollywood, Florida, a street nearby street was swarmed with police, fire trucks and ambulances.

The streets around the center have been blocked off and a mobile command center has been set up outside.

Hollywood police chief Tom Sanchez said during a news conference that officers and fire crews responded Wednesday morning to a call from the facility about some patients in need of critical care.

He said crews evacuated 115 patients from the center and are in the process of evacuating another 18 patients from a nearby behavioral facility next door.

The 152-bed Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills provides short-term rehabilitative services and long-term care, according to its website

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9:50 a.m.

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief says five people have died from a Florida nursing home that had lost power after Hurricane Irma roared through the state.

Police and fire crews began evacuating the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills on Wednesday morning. Sharief confirmed during a news conference that three residents died at the center and two died at the hospital.

Sharief said there are no details about the cause of the deaths. No further details were immediately available.

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9 a.m.

One of the main highways that connects Florida to the rest of the country is in danger of being closed due to flooding caused by Hurricane Irma.

The Santa Fe River in north central Florida that runs under Interstate 75 has rapidly risen within the past two days, according to Florida transportation officials. Officials say the water will likely rise further in the coming days.

The bridge that crosses the river is just north of Gainesville, the home to the University of Florida. If the highway is closed it would require major detours for those trying to return to the state after evacuating due to Irma.

Tennessee is scheduled to play UF this weekend in Gainesville meaning it could cause problems for those trying to attend the game.

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9 a.m.

The cleanup effort continues in South Carolina after rain, wind, and flooding prompted by Irma.

Utilities in South Carolina reported more than 63,000 customers were without service Wednesday morning.

Duke Energy had the largest number of outages with nearly 37,000 customers without service. The biggest problems were in Greenville, Anderson and Pickens counties.

The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina reported nearly 15,000 customers without power. Their biggest problems were in Oconee and Charleston counties.

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. had nearly 12,000 customers without service. Beaufort and Charleston counties had the most customers without electricity.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on Tuesday lifted an evacuation order that had been in effect on the barrier islands in the southern part of the state.

All state offices were resuming normal operating hours Wednesday.

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9 a.m.

The National Park Service said Irma's rains and storm surge left 3 feet (1 meter) of water inside Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

The Post and Courier of Charleston reported that there was some damage to the fort's docking pier and some interior facilities. But National Park Service officials say no artifacts were damaged.

Dawn Davis with the Fort Sumter National Monument says it will be several days before the fort reopens to the public.

Davis said the Charles Pinckney site in Mount Pleasant and Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island will reopen to the public Thursday.

Fort Sumter was the site of the first battle of the Civil War.

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9 a.m.

One person has died in a Hollywood, Florida, nursing home that has no power.

Police spokeswoman Miranda Grossman told local news outlets that fire and police crews began evacuating residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills on Wednesday morning.

It wasn't immediately known whether the resident's death was heat related or due to natural causes.

No further details were immediately available.

Hollywood is between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

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8:40 a.m.

The number of power outages continues to drop in Georgia after the remnants of Hurricane Irma stormed through the state, claiming at least two lives.

Less than 600,000 Georgia Power and Electric Member Corp. customers are still without power early Wednesday. The utility companies said they are continuing to assess damage as power is restored.

The utility companies say repairs and replacement of downed powerlines could take several days.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal lifted an evacuation order Tuesday for nearly 540,000 coastal residents. He cautioned that recovery could take longer because the storm affected the entire state.

A man was killed when a tree toppled on his house in Sandy Springs, Georgia. The 67-year-old Nancy Eason died after a tree fell on a vehicle in which she was riding in Forsyth County.

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7:50 a.m.

One person has died and three others are being treated at a hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning from an electric generator in Daytona Beach, Florida, the latest such death as people across the state wait for power to be restored after Hurricane Irma.

Daytona Beach Fire Department officials said on Twitter that a generator was running inside the home early Wednesday. Further details weren't immediately available.

Officials across Florida are warning people to keep generators outside their homes.

In nearby Orange County, deputies found three people dead and four others were taken to a hospital for treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning Tuesday afternoon. Carbon monoxide from a generator is also suspected in the death of a man in Miami. And authorities say another dozen people were treated for carbon monoxide on Tuesday in Polk and Brevard counties.

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6:45 a.m.

More than half of a large retirement community in Pembroke Pines, Florida, remains without power after Hurricane Irma, leaving senior citizens trapped in apartments without access to elevators.

Pembroke Pines police spokeswoman Amanda Conwell tells the Miami Herald that officers have been on the scene because some of the 15,000 residents at Century Village are vulnerable and "we are concerned about their welfare."

Century Village is a senior community, comprised mostly of people over 55 years of age. Pembroke Pines is northwest of Miami in Broward County.

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6:25 a.m.

Firefighters had to remove boards from a home that caught on fire in St. Petersburg, Florida, before pulling two adults and two teens to safety.

St. Petersburg Fire Rescue District Chief Steve Girk tells local news outlets that firefighters couldn't tell how big the fire was when they arrived early Wednesday because of the plywood over windows. They pulled off the boards to get inside.

The homeowner told firefighters the house lost power during Hurricane Irma.

Investigators don't yet know what caused the fire. Authorities didn't identify the family.

The American Red Cross has been asked to help the family. However they're dealing with a high volume of cases since the hurricane.

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5:20 a.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting hurricane-hammered St. Barts after reportedly staying overnight on the nearby island of St. Martin on a camp cot.

Macron is on a visit aimed at offering support and solidarity with struggling islanders after his government had been criticized for not doing enough to prepare and help France's Caribbean territories devastated by Hurricane Irma last week.

Macron's office said he stayed overnight on St. Martin on Tuesday and is going to St. Barts on Wednesday with the French health minister, who has warned about diseases spreading on the islands after water supplies, electricity and communication were knocked out for days. French media reports said Macron was sleeping on a camp cot in the police station.

After spending hours meeting with residents of the French side of the shared French-Dutch island of St. Martin on Tuesday, Macron promised to compensate those who have lost homes and livelihoods and to rebuild the island as a "model" of sustainability and durability with a more diversified economy.

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2:10 a.m.

France's president is promising to rebuild stronger Caribbean territories after Hurricane Irma destroyed much of St. Martin and St. Barts.

In a visit to the affected islands, French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged anger over the government's response to the disaster.

He brought in much-needed food, water and medical supplies Tuesday and said officials were working to evacuate those who wanted to leave and set up much-needed services for those who choose to stay.

He said France was bringing in air-conditioned tents so children can start classes again soon, and he said a center would be established by Monday to begin processing requests for financial help.

Macron pledged to rebuild St. Martin as a "model" for withstanding future storms.

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1:45 a.m.

Florida residents are drifting back from shelters and far-away havens to see Hurricane Irma's scattershot destruction.

Flooded streets remained Tuesday, and the count of damaged and totaled homes ticked upward even as some curfews were lifted, flights resumed and amusement park rides again twirled.

Crews were working to repair the lone highway connecting the Keys. Residents of some of the islands closest to Florida's mainland were allowed to return and get their first look at the devastation two days after Irma roared in with 130 mph (209 kph) winds.

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long says preliminary estimates suggested that 25 percent of the homes in the Keys were destroyed and 65 percent sustained major damage.

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