JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Tens of thousands of Florida residents are returning to their homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Many have found their houses in a shambles, without running water, electricity or air conditioning for relief from Florida’s heat and humidity.

But volunteers from around the country are coming to help, including Operation Blessing, which is providing people with life’s basic necessities, like food, water, and hope.

Long lines of cars jammed Highway 1 as Florida Keys residents returned to their homes for the first time since Irma battered southern Florida with destructive Category 4 winds. One quarter of the homes in the Keys no longer exist.

In northeastern Florida, people were trying to recover from floodwaters.

Along Jacksonville’s popular River Walk area, where people usually enjoy coming down for a nice skyline view, it’s now just a soggy mess.

Residents say the St. John’s River overflowed its banks, about six feet above normal. It swamped a popular statue known as the Sailor’s Statue. Less than 24-hours ago, that water raced up to the surrounding buildings and throughout the streets of downtown.

For most Floridians, electricity is the immediate concern as they return to their homes. Two-thirds of the state lost electricity, and millions are still without power.

Utility workers from 30 states are volunteering their time so Floridians won’t have to sit in the dark or suffer through 90 degree heat without air conditioning.

A group of workers from New York jumped at the chance to return a favor to Florida.

“We’re also excited about kind of repaying back some of the utilities that helped us along with Superstorm Sandy in 2012,” one worker told CBN News.

We caught up with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in Jacksonville as he toured the state assessing the damage. What stood out as he surveyed the destruction? The amazing size and scope of Hurricane Irma.

“Usually when someone has a hurricane hit a state you wonder, what city? Did it hit Miami, did it hit Tampa, did it hit Jacksonville? And the answer is yes. It hit them all and more,” the Republican senator told us.

Rubio expressed deep appreciation for first responders.

“Well, obviously I was praying that it would turn off and go somewhere else. I also prayed for the people responding…the people that were out there in the water pulling people out risking their own lives who were working 24 hour shifts while their family were behind also weathering the storm. Those are the people I would hope we would treasure and remember for what they did for us,” Rubio said.
 
Many local residents, hard hit by the hurricane, were grateful for the help they received from CBN’s Operation Blessing.

Tuesday, the OB team spent the day in Naples providing people with food, water, and hygiene supplies.

“We’re at Meals of Hope and as this truck is being unloaded, there’s a resident standing here waiting for food, water and personal hygiene items,” Operation Blessing’s Jody Gettys described.

Odalys Indart, a Naples resident, told OB that many people are still stuck inside their homes without food or water.

“We got an alert on Facebook through Collier County that Operation Blessing was giving away food at 3 p.m. and I was like, wow,” Indart said. “Well, it’s actually given us food, water, it’s giving us a sign of hope that at least someone is out there looking out for us. We’re not in this alone.”

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