House-to-house search begins Monday in Keys

Heavy winds and rain from Hurricane Irma are seen in Miami, Florida on September 10, 2017. Hurricane Irma's eyewall slammed into the lower Florida Keys, lashing the island chain with fearsome wind gusts, the US National Hurricane Center said. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.   The county administrator in the Florida Keys says crews will begin house to house searches Monday morning, looking for people who need help and assessing damage from Hurricane Irma.

Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi says relief will arrive on a C-130 military plane Monday morning at the Key West International Airport.

Once it’s light out, they’ll check on survivors. They suspect they may find fatalities.

Gastesi says they are “prepared for the worst.”

Hurricane Irma made landfall Sunday morning in Cudjoe Key.

Irma ripped roofs off houses and flooded hundreds of miles of coastline as it raked Cuba’s northern coast after devastating islands the length of the Caribbean in a trail of destruction that has left 22 people dead so far.

As Irma left Cuba late Saturday and directed its 120 mph (195 kph) winds toward Florida, authorities on the island were assessing the damage and warning of staggering damage to keys off the northern coast studded with all-inclusive resorts and cities, as well as farmland in central Cuba.

There were no immediate reports of deaths in Cuba – a country that prides itself on its disaster preparedness – but authorities were trying to restore power, clear roads and warning that people should stay off the streets of Havana because flooding could continue into Monday.

It’s been difficult to determine the extent of damage Hurricane Irma caused in the Florida Keys, where communication has been difficult and authorities are warning boaters and drivers to stay away.

But The Associated Press has been texting with John Huston, who has been riding out the storm in his house on Key Largo, on the Atlantic side of the island, just south of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Every few minutes during the height of the storm, he sent another dispatch.

He described whiteout conditions, with howling winds that sucked dry the gulf side of the narrow island, where the tide is usually 8 feet deep. He kept his humor though, texting to “send cold beer” at one point. Now he sees furniture floating down the street with small boats.

He says the storm surge was at least 6 feet deep on his island, 76 miles from Irma’s eye. He can see now that structures survived, but the storm left a big mess at ground level.

Hurricane Irma set all sorts of records for brute strength before crashing into Florida, flattening islands in the Caribbean and swamping the Florida Keys.

It finally hit the mainland as a big wide beast, but not quite as monstrous as once feared. The once-Category 5 storm lost some of its power on the northern Cuba coast.

It’s still raking Florida with devastating storm surges, winds and rain. Its top sustained winds are now 110 mph (177 kph) and the center of the storm is about 15 miles (25 kilometers) inland from Fort Myers.