Exclusive Photos Show the Eerily Desolate Florida Keys

Irma was one of the strongest storms to ever hit Florida. These photos show what happened to a community that sat in its path.

An aerial photograph of Low Key shows a milky and disturbed Florida Bay three days after Hurricane Irma crossed the Florida Keys. The dark-colored water was washed off the island as the storm surge receded.

Hurricane Irma was one of the strongest storms ever seen in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Florida Keys were among the hardest-hit regions.

To capture the damage along the Florida coast, photographer Cameron Davidson photographed the Keys from a helicopter.

“With ground [photography] it’s intimate,” he said in an interview with National Geographic. “You’ll see how a storm impacted a family. With aerials, you can see how a storm impacted an entire community.”

In addition to vacation homes, about 73,000 people live year-round in Monroe county, the largest county covering the Florida Keys. Known for their independence, these residents colloquially refer to themselves as the Conch Republic, a reference to both the popular local shellfish and Key West’s mock “secession” from the United States in 1982. According to the Miami Herald, about 10,000 residents stayed to ride out the storm in their homes.

For both those who evacuated and those who stayed, the full extent of the storm’s damage is only just beginning to sink in. Four days after the storm made landfall, on Wednesday much of south Florida still lacked water, electricity, and sewerage.

This isn’t the first time Davidson has photographed disaster-struck regions. His lens has seen destruction caused by some of the western hemisphere’s most horrific disasters—Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the Great Mississippi River flood in 1993, and the Haitian earthquake of 2010.

His photos from Hurricane Irma’s destruction in southern Florida show completely overturned homes and capsized boats strewn along the island chain.

“To me, I think it’s absolute insanity to build a house on the water unless it’s on stilts and up to earthquake impact standards,” he said.

Flying over the region, he also observed changes to the region’s famous blue waters. “It looks very milky. There’s not much clarity to the water,” he noted.

Irma’s winds were some of the strongest ever recorded. At its peak over the Caribbean, the storm had sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. As a result, the region saw tumultuous storm surges that caused water to pull away from the shore. The strange phenomena resulted in beaches seemingly devoid of water. Jason Beisel, a public information officer for the city of Clearwater, showed this effect in a tweeted video.

Overall, Davidson said, the level of destruction wasn’t as extreme as he had expected based on news reports and city notices, though a number of neighborhoods did see horrible destruction.

One image that struck him showed where a wave crashed completely through a house. Another showed a house completely toppled onto the road behind it.

“The Keys are in trouble,” he said.

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