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Key West suffers as rays of hope emerge after Hurricane Irma

After 25 years in Key West, Jim Gilleran knows residents need a cold beer, a hot meal and a place to reconnect after a hurricane.

While most bars and restaurants remain shuttered on Duval Street, Gilleran opened his 801 Bar hours after Hurricane Irma smashed past the island. He’s kept his generator operating since, serving nearly 700-800 free meals a day.

>> Read more trending news

On Thursday, the bar stools were packed with sweaty, unshowered, hungry residents anticipating a steak lunch while staff gave out bags of donated food and toiletries.

“Honey, you need anything?” asked a worker carrying a basket of facial wipes, toothpaste and tampons.

“My father taught me to take care of myself and my family so I can take care of my community,” Gilleran said on the day civilization slowly crept back into Key West, or at least as much as this idiosyncratic city at the very southern tip of the U.S. will allow.

Read the full story on Irma’s aftermath in Key West on

After Irma: Alleged Secret Service impostor arrested trying to sneak onto wealthy Florida island

A man who attempted to gain access to Palm Beach, Florida, by telling police he worked for the U.S. Secret Service and needed access to protect a diplomat was arrested Tuesday evening at a 24-hour police checkpoint, according to a Palm Beach police report. The security checkpoint was put in place in the wake of Hurricane Irma to control access to the wealthy island.

>> Read more trending news

Luan Gabriel Da Rocha Cruz, 22, was arrested at 7:42 p.m. on a federal charge of impersonating a Secret Service officer, according to the report. Town police assisted the West Palm Beach-based federal officers who made the arrest after determining Cruz did not work for the Secret Service.

Officers suspected Cruz was entering the island with criminal intent, and police acted appropriately, Palm Beach Director of Public Safety Kirk Blouin said today.

“We suspected he wanted to commit burglary,” Blouin said.

Cruz was driving a gray BMW with a New York City license plate from West Palm Beach to Palm Beach when he was stopped — for the second time that evening — at the checkpoint on the Royal Park Bridge.

“Cruz advised that he was with the U.S. Secret Service and needed to gain access to the island to report for his assignment to protect a diplomat” at an address on the North End, Palm Beach police Officer Steven O’Leary wrote in his report.

“Cruz appeared to be very nervous and would not make eye contact when I was asking him questions,” O’Leary wrote.

Before he was detained by police just east of the bridge, Cruz displayed “a U.S. Secret Service badge that was oddly placed in a brown leather wallet with a bright blue interior that did not contain a slot for the badge,” the report said.

O’Leary’s report said he escorted Cruz through the checkpoint for questioning and saw him lock the badge in his glove box. Cruz was talking on a cellphone during the encounter and told O’Leary he was working “undercover,” the report said. He also “kept reaching for something at the front left door panel of the vehicle,” according to the report. At that point, Cruz was asked to exit the car, and police contacted the West Palm Beach division of the Secret Service.

The role of the Secret Service in Palm Beach earned international attention after the election of President Donald Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago club serves as his winter White House.

Police determined that the North Lake Way address Cruz gave them was a house without electricity that had hurricane shutters in place, the report said. Officers were unable to contact its owner.

Cruz had already attempted to enter town in the same car at the same checkpoint about 25 minutes earlier, according to the report. At that time, Cruz was stopped by O’Leary and told him “he was working security” at the same North End address, but did not show him a badge, O’Leary’s report said. At that time, Cruz couldn’t provide proof of employment in Palm Beach or a voluntary town identification card, so O’Leary requested Cruz make a U-turn and return to West Palm Beach, which he did, according to the report.

According to his report, O’Leary was relieved of his post shortly afterward but noticed when Cruz returned to the checkpoint less than a half-hour later. O’Leary walked over to assist the officer questioning Cruz, which ultimately led to the suspect being detained and arrested, the report said. He is being held in Palm Beach County jail.

Under a long-established policy following hurricanes, police have tightly controlled access to the island via checkpoints at three bridges and on the coastal road leading into Palm Beach. The town was swept by the outer bands of Hurricane Irma Sunday afternoon and into Monday morning.

Much of the town was still without electricity when the arrest was made, and town officials have closely restricted access to the island because security systems at many homes and businesses have been inoperable.

Palm Beach is home to many affluent households. A number of former U.S. ambassadors and other diplomats have homes on the island. And more than 30 billionaires on Forbes’ latest list have residences or own other property on the 16-mile barrier island.

Massive Hurricane Irma, which barrelled up the state’s west coast Sunday, damaged landscaping but did little if any major structural damage to homes and buildings in Palm Beach. The winds that hit the town were less than hurricane strength, forecasters said.

The BMW wasn’t registered to Cruz but to a woman with a West Palm Beach address, records show.

Couple, stressed over Florida evacuation, crashes car into hotel swimming pool

Two Floridians who fled to metro Atlanta to escape Hurricane Irma credit a local police department with helping them recover from an accident that almost cost them their lives.

>> Read more trending news

Theodore and Gloria Karadimos, from Punta Gorda, Florida, were staying at the Best Western in Acworth over the weekend as Irma pummeled Florida.

While they were trying to pull into the parking space outside their hotel room, Theodore Karadimos accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake, sending the car flying into the hotel swimming pool.

Chief Wayne Dennard said the couple was terrified they would die in the car because neither one could swim.

“This couple was obviously fleeing from the storm and stressed from that,” Dennard said.

Hotel guests quickly jumped in to help, pushing the floating, bobbing Lexus to the pool’s shallow end. Bystanders were able to get the couple and their two dogs out of the car.

Theodore Karadimos told Sgt. Tamara Clayton that his foot slipped off the brake.

As his wife was taken to a hospital, Clayton helped Theodore Karadimos with getting a rental car, calling insurance, replacing medicine and then checking on Gloria Karadimos.

“She quickly realized he was not in a mental state to do that, so she went the extra 1 percent to help do that for this couple,” Dennard said.

The couple showed their appreciation to the department by feeding members of the shift twice.

Gloria Karadimos said all the officers were outstanding. “I can’t give them enough praise,” she said.

The couple’s home in Florida suffered some exterior damage from Irma, but they said it is OK on the inside.

The couple said they are now considering moving to Acworth.

"We really are seriously thinking about moving up there because we feel they are part of our family from now on," Theodore Karadimos said.

Florida car dealer under fire for parking vehicles in public garages to avoid Irma

Florida car dealer Ed Napleton on Tuesday defended his company’s decision to park its new cars at public parking garages in West Palm Beach and at a garage at Florida State University before Hurricane Irma’s arrival.

The part-time Ocean Ridge resident said in an interview that he made arrangements with both CityPlace garage and FSU to pay to park his dealership cars at the properties.

>> Read more trending news

But the social media backlash has been intense, and Napleton said Tuesday he never intended to harm the public, who also wanted to park their cars in garages as Hurricane Irma churned toward the state.

“We would never try to hurt our local constituents,” Napleton said from his offices in Illinois. “We made arrangements well in advance” of the storm.

Indeed, social media has been in an uproar since late last week, when people went to park in the garages and found brand-new Napleton vehicles taking up spots.

On Napleton Hyundai’s Facebook page Tuesday, people posted scathing comments, calling the CityPlace parking job “bad business practice” while others said using the garages for vehicle inventory was “abhorrent, immoral and disgusting.”

Making matters worse: After CityPlace on Wednesday said the public could park at its garages for $10 a day, Mayor Jeri Muoio on Thursday said that CityPlace and West Palm Beach would open their garages to the public for free starting at 5 p.m. Friday.

As it turned out, by 2:30 p.m. Friday all five downtown garages were full and CityPlace’s garages were filling fast.

The CityPlace garages have 3,000 spaces. A CityPlace spokeswoman said Napleton took up 350 spaces but Napleton officials said it was 400. Roger Dean Chevrolet also parked at CityPlace garages, taking up another 200 spots.

>> Related: Dealer faces fines, jail time after parking cars in public garage during Irma

Napleton said it was a Weather Channel report early last week that gave him the idea to park some of his inventory in garages, shielded from what seemed to be an unprecedented storm heading straight for the east coast of Florida.

Read more here.

Dealer faces fines, jail time after parking cars in public garage during Irma

The owner of a used car dealership in South Florida is facing thousands of dollars in fines and potential jail time after he was accused of using a downtown parking garage to store his cars during Hurricane Irma.

>> Read more trending news

Autoline on Federal Highway in Hallandale Beach parked 47 cars, with warranty stickers and no tags, in residents’ spaces in a city garage, according to WPLG.

The dealership’s alleged action forced residents, who were supposed to have reserved spots in the garage for their cars, to have to find another place for their vehicles during the storm.

Workers moved the fleet of vehicles back to the dealership on Wednesday and declined to comment on the impending fines and possible arrest, according to WPLG.

The owner of the dealership was issued 24 notices to appear in court from the city of Hollywood, claiming that Autoline violated a city ordinance that makes it illegal to use public property for private business.

The owner faces $12,000 in fines and a potential 60 days in jail.

Hurricane Harvey: Texas mom uses couponing skills for relief efforts

“I'm just a little loud-mouth country girl from the backwoods of Kentucky who's been in this situation before and wanted to help.”

That’s what Kimberly Gager wrote in one post on her Facebook profile in response to the attention she’s received for her admirable mission: using top-notch couponing skills to help Hurricane Harvey survivors.

>> Read more trending news

Gager, who lives in the San Antonio area, does indeed know the struggles of hurricane evacuees firsthand. In 1999, she lost her home in Newport News, Virginia, to Hurricane Floyd, according to ABC News, an event she told the outlet was “horrific.”

“I lost everything in the flood,” she said. “I was living in military housing at the time because I was in the Navy. The entire apartment complex was flooded. I was looking at all the stories and pictures of houses and everything underwater in Harvey and knew I had to do something.”

When Harvey hit Texas late last month, Gager began seeing pleas for supplies on social media. She knew what she had to do, and took to Facebook to offer her talents as a coupon clipper extraordinaire.

Hurricane Irma: Trump Organization 'assessing' Mar-a-Lago, golf courses

President Donald Trump’s business empire is “still assessing” the impact of Hurricane Irma on his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and his other properties in Florida and St. Martin.

>> Read more trending news

Mar-a-Lago appears to have survived major wind damage, The Palm Beach Daily News reported.

Trump also owns the Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach, Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter and Trump National Doral near Miami.

Trump’s Chateau des Palmiers on the Caribbean island of St. Martin was also in Hurricane Irma’s path. USA Today reported it survived “nearly unscathed.”

“The damage caused by Hurricane Irma is incredibly sad and we know that there will be much rebuilding to be done in the months and years ahead,” a spokesperson for the Trump Organization said in an email responding to The Palm Beach Post.

“Our teams in both Florida and St. Martin were very well prepared and we are proud of their efforts on the ground. We are currently still assessing the situation at the properties that were in the storm’s path and at this time we continue to send our thoughts and prayers to all of the victims.”

George Buff IV, a member of Mar-a-Lago Club who lives just north of the 17-acre property, told The Palm Beach Daily News that a maintenance worker reported three trees down and flooding in the club’s back parking lot. A drive by the property showed thinning landscape and vegetation littering the road to the south of the club, but its ballroom windows were intact, the Daily News reported.

Hurricane Irma aftermath: Central Florida declared federal disaster area

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Wednesday that several Central Florida counties have been declared a federal disaster area following the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

>> More Irma coverage from WFTVAction News Jax and the Palm Beach Post

That means residents can now register for disaster assistance from FEMA. 

Brevard County

Homeowners, renters and business owners can apply for federal disaster assistance for uninsured and underinsured damage.

Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

Assistance for eligible survivors can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, and for other serious disaster-related needs, such as medical and dental expenses or funeral and burial costs.

>> Irma recovery: How to apply for financial help

Long-term, low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) also may be available to cover losses not fully compensated by insurance and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations.

>> Read more trending news

Survivors should contact their insurance company to file their insurance claim. FEMA is unable to duplicate insurance payments. However, those without insurance or those who may be underinsured may still receive help after their insurance claims have been settled.

Flagler County

People can enter their address into FEMA's website to see if they qualify. Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

Lake County

FEMA expanded the list of counties late Wednesday to include Lake County. People can enter their address into FEMA's website to see if they qualify. Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

Marion County

People can enter their address into FEMA's website to see if they qualify. Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

Orange County

Orange County has been approved for individual assistance. People can enter their address into FEMA's website to see if they qualify. Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

Osceola County

Osceola County has been approved for individual assistance. People can enter their address into FEMA's website to see if they qualify. Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

Polk County

Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

People will need to provide their Social Security number, daytime phone number, current mailing address, zip code of the damaged property and insurance information.

>> Hurricane Irma aftermath: Beware disaster relief donation scams, official says

Once all that information is given, people will be able to look up their claim on FEMA’s website.

Hurricane Irma hit Central Florida Sunday night into Monday morning and brought downed trees, power lines, power outages, flooding and other damage.

Seminole County

Seminole County has been approved for individual assistance. People can enter their address into FEMA's website to see if they qualify. Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

Sumter County

FEMA expanded the list of counties late Wednesday. People can enter their address into FEMA's website to see if they qualify. Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

Volusia County

People can enter their address into FEMA's website to see if they qualify. Individuals can register online here, through the FEMA app here or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) while those who use TTY can call 1-800-462-7585. 

Hurricane Irma aftermath: Sweltering nursing homes draw pleas for help to keep residents cool

When Mark Sandy saw a Facebook post on Wednesday about a Lake Worth, Florida, nursing home that was without power, he went to check on a family friend who was living there. “When we showed up, the fire department was there with trucks waiting to take people away,” he said.

He walked inside and saw employees at Signature HealthCare putting cold compresses on the foreheads of elderly patients, wheelchairs lined up down the hall and a man lying on a mattress on the floor.

“It was extremely hot and humid. It was rough to see elderly people in those conditions,” Sandy said. “The staff was working their butts off to make them comfortable. They deserve credit. The problem is they didn’t have sufficient equipment.”

>> 8 dead after Florida nursing home left without power by Irma

The evacuation started, Sandy said, only after a paramedic had arrived on a medical call. “When he saw the deplorable conditions, he called for backup.”

Earlier in the day, eight people died at a Broward County nursing home in Hollywood. “I realize now after seeing what I saw (in Lake Worth) how that could happen,” Sandy said.

It wasn’t the only nursing home in Palm Beach County where residents sweltered in heat because of power outages caused by Hurricane Irma, which made landfall Sunday.

>> Post-Hurricane Irma destruction: 10 tips for right after storm passes

Jennifer Greco did a welfare check Wednesday on a friend’s grandmother and said she was horrified to see elderly residents sweltering in the lobby of a Jupiter nursing home that had been without electricity since Saturday.

“Nobody looked like they were suffering, nobody called out to me. They were just sitting there with the look in their eyes like, ‘I’m just miserable,’’’ Greco said after visiting Courtyards Garden nursing home on Indian Creek Parkway.

So Greco posted on Facebook an “urgent need” for battery-operated fans at the facility. She even went to CVS and bought the last fan in the store.

“You can’t cool 25 people in a room with a tower fan, especially if they’re in a wheelchair or on the other side of the room,’’ she said. “I’m just trying to find people, if they have fans they’re not using, to bring it there.’’

>> Hurricane Irma damage: 4 tips for dealing with insurance claims

A Courtyards Garden employee who wouldn’t give her name told a reporter that the 120-bed facility has one air-conditioned room powered by a generator that residents can use. The employee said none of the residents is in peril.

“We are well-equipped with food, water and everything in between. The only thing we need is air,’’ she said, adding that some family members have picked up loved ones since the storm passed.

Of the more than 300 nursing homes in the county, seven have reported problems due to a lack of power, including generators that malfunctioned, said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department.

>> 6 scary, infectious illnesses you can catch from flood water

While that may sound like a small percentage, it’s still unacceptable when considering the frailty of the residents, O’Connor said. But he said the seven facilities lacking electricity have either gotten generators or transferred patients to other facilities.

O’Connor said the county Wednesday was prepared to dispatch ambulances to pick up clients from nursing homes and take them to the county-run special-needs shelter at the South Florida Fairgrounds, but no request was made.

“We don’t anticipate the kind of situation that unfolded in Hollywood, but you can never say never,’’ he said.

>> Irma recovery: How to apply for financial help

Janice Dougherty, 84, of the Christian Manor senior living apartments in West Palm Beach, said the community on Executive Center Drive was still without power Wednesday night and the property’s management didn’t use generators on the site.

“It’s about 95 degrees in here,’’ said Dougherty, who said she has ovarian cancer.

On The Palm Beach Post’s Hurricane Irma Facebook page, Cindy R. Morrone-DiVincent, who said she runs a nursing home in Stuart, claimed that a West Palm Beach facility had no air conditioning and temperatures over 90 degrees. A call to the facility was not immediately returned.

>> Hurricane Irma damage: What to do during, after a power outage

There were other issues with nursing homes not related to a lack of electricity.

As Hurricane Irma roared through South Florida, a frantic woman from California who was trying to check on her elderly mother called Palm Beach County’s Emergency Operations Center because no one was answering the phone at her mother’s nursing home in Lantana.

Turned out her mother was safe at a shelter at Park Vista High School. She’d been dropped off there with 27 other elderly residents, many of them in wheelchairs and walkers, by The Carlisle Palm Beach.

>> More Irma coverage from WFTVAction News Jax and the Palm Beach Post

But no staff from the Carlisle stayed with their clients at the shelter, leaving many retirees, some in their 90s and 100s, at the mercy of county and School District employees who for the first time were in charge of supervising hurricane shelters, a job previously done by the American Red Cross.

When The Post contacted The Carlisle seeking comment about the concerns, a person at the switchboard passed the call to a man who hung up after saying: “We have no one at the shelters right now. Everyone’s been taken care of. Thank you.’’

At MorseLife Health System’s facility in West Palm Beach, Chief Executive Officer Keith Myers said all nursing homes are supposed to do monthly checks on equipment, including generators, to make sure they’re working properly.

>> Read more trending news

“They should’ve tested them and had a plan. It was their responsibility,’’ he said.

Myers said Morselife, on Haverhill Road just south of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, would’ve taken in residents from other nursing homes.

“We plan and we take it very seriously,’’ he said. “When you have even one life in your hands, you need to make sure you have all your systems in place.’’

– Palm Beach Post staff writer Julius Whigham II contributed to this story.

Hurricane Irma: New Florida Keys photos show paradise destroyed

You can smell Hurricane Irma’s leftovers before you see them in the Florida Keys.

The powerful storm surge that roared over the Middle Keys left the main highway covered in seaweed, tiny crabs, shrimp and fish, now decomposing in plowed mounds by the side of U.S. 1.

>> On PHOTOS: Paradise lost in Florida Keys

A roadblock at Florida City is preventing anyone but residents from traveling down the single road in and out of the string of tiny islands. But even residents can only go as far as Islamorada until the road is cleared and the Lower Keys bridges are inspected.

Thirty percent of the Upper Keys lacks power, emergency management authorities said after a meeting Tuesday night.

>> More Irma coverage from WFTVAction News Jax and the Palm Beach Post

In the Lower Keys, there is no power at all.

In Key Largo, a few businesses have re-opened. A Winn Dixie. A liquor store. Here and there, a restaurant.

Further down in Islamorada, the damage is more apparent.

>> Hurricane Irma aftermath: Don't have internet, cable or cell service? Here's why

Broken power poles dangle from power lines. By the sides of the road, gumbo limbo trees, denuded of leaves, lie broken and tangled with shredded aluminum, the bimini tops of boats and crab pots meant to catch the upcoming season’s stone crabs.

In spots where U.S. 1 runs close to the ocean, storm surge covered the road with sand, now scraped intro roadside drifts, like the aftermath of a snow storm.

In Lower Matecumbe Key, the ocean stormed over the road to Sandy Cove on the Gulf side, smashing the foundation of a three-story apartment building, which then pancaked down on itself, ending up a single story of cracked concrete with the sea still lapping at its destruction. Under it all, the wheels of a car can be seen in what had been the building’s garage.

>> Read more trending news

At Seabreeze Mobile Home Park on Islamorada’s Atlantic side, Billy Quinn stopped his bike on the blue concrete pad where his trailer had stood before Irma rearranged the park’s geography.

“That’s it over there,” said Quinn, a carpenter, who said his family had owned the trailer for 56 years. “The wind and water moved it about 15 feet away.”

He pointed to a rubber hose buried in coral rock pebbles. “That’s my pressure cleaner,” he said, “and my refrigerator is over there and one of my boat’s engines is half in the water.”

Quinn wants FEMA to help clean up the park quickly, so he and the other residents can start cleaning up the Keys.

>> On How to apply for FEMA help

The park, once a retiree paradise, was one of only a few places low-income workers could afford in the Keys’ pricey rental market.

“This is low income, workforce housing,” Quinn said. “We’re waitresses, cooks, construction workers. We’re the ones that do the work for the tourists.”

On the other side of the park, Sharon Noeller, a waitress at the Lorelei restaurant, a Keys landmark, started to cry, thinking of the three bins of her daughter’s photos still inside her wrecked trailer.

>> Hurricane Irma damage: How to stay safe from tree, water damage in your home

“This was our little oasis,” she said as her boyfriend, Kevin Collina, salvaged an unbroken glass table top from a pile of storm-tossed belongings. Their master bedroom was down what had been their road.

“We had a little pool and an outdoor shower right on the ocean,” she said.

“Now there’s no place left to go. No place we can afford, anyway.”

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