arrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upchevron-upchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upclosecomment-newemail-newfullscreen-closefullscreen-opengallerygridheadphones-newheart-filledheart-openmap-geolocatormap-pushpinArtboard 1Artboard 1Artboard 1minusng-borderpauseplayplusprintreplayscreensharefacebookgithubArtboard 1Artboard 1linkedinlinkedin_inpinterestpinterest_psnapchatsnapchat_2tumblrtwittervimeovinewhatsappspeakerstar-filledstar-openzoom-in-newzoom-out-new

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.”

View Images

An aerial photograph shows travel trailers overturned by Hurricane Irma on Sunshine Key, located in the middle of the Florida Keys.


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.

View Images

Boats were tied up in a Hurricane Hole on Lower Matecumbe Key in advance of Hurricane Irma coming ashore. A Hurricane Hole is a spot where boat owners can tie off and anchor their vessels at several points to protect them.


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.

View Images

Irma destroyed boats and buildings at Driftwood Marina and Storage on Fat Deer Key.


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.

View Images

Aerial views reveal homes destroyed by Hurricane Irma along Long Beach Road on Big Pine Key.


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.

View Images

On Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys, Long Beach Road was washed out by storm surge and waves.


RELATED: Watch Photographer Evacuate Mom and Dogs From Harvey's Devastating Flooding

Follow Nat Geo Photography

Community

Join Your Shot, our photography community. Submit to assignments and get feedback from our photo editors.

Join

From the Archives

Look through a curated collection of historical photos from our archives on National Geographic's Found Tumblr.

Explore

Picture Stories

Check out the latest work from National Geographic photographers and visual storytellers around the world.

See More