Adam Putnam rolls up his sleeves in Monroe County, passes out water, thanks Walmart

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After meeting with those involved in emergency response efforts underway in the Florida Keys and assessing damage, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Friday morning joined Walmart associates and members of the National Guard to unload a truckload of water that the company donated to individuals affected by Hurricane Irma.

“Walmart made a commitment to support relief efforts in Florida even before Hurricane Irma arrived in the State, and we’re delivering on that promise by working with first-responders, elected officials and organizations on the ground to get the communities hardest hit the help they need,” said Walmart market manager for South Florida Marvin Balduff. “It’s part of a $30 million campaign that’s being driven in large part by our customers and associates – all in the name of U.S. hurricane relief.”

Residents of the mid-Florida Keys city of Marathon could be allowed to start returning as early as this weekend, a week after Hurricane Irma slammed the archipelago.

For days, evacuees from the lower and middle Keys have been turned away from a checkpoint state authorities set up near Mile Marker 74 on the Overseas Highway.

Recovery is only getting started, and some areas remain flooded. Utility companies are working to restore power to the battered Keys as frustrated evacuees emerge from shelters, ready to go home.

In Big Pine Key, about 10 miles east of where Category 4 Irma made landfall in Cudjoe Key on Sunday, the devastation was widespread. No structure was left untouched, with many among the estimated 25% of Florida Keys homes that were destroyed.

“While the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma is heartbreaking, the generosity of those who have stepped up to help others is overwhelming,” said Putnam. “I commend Walmart for their generous donations and support of disaster relief efforts.”

All but three Walmart stores in Florida are open, and Walmart has been distributing water and ice, as well as food and supplies for first responders.

The Upper Keys, which include Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada, have started to bouncing back more quickly than the Middle and Lower Keys, likely owing to their distance from Irma’s eye and proximity to the Florida mainland.

But farther down the island chain, utilities and communications remain spotty or nonexistent. The tail end of the archipelago, however, from Key West eastward to Big Coppitt Key, appears to have fared better than the Middle Keys.

“The challenge, I think, for us will be… between here and Marathon,” Key West City Manager Jim Scholl said. “It’s gong to be tough for returning residents because there will be many displaced residents and we have to have a long-term shelter option.”

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.