Hurricane Irma’s impact, from the air: Florida Keys are raggedy, but mostly sparedhttps://www.washingtonpost.com/national/hurricane-irmas-impact-from-the-air-florida-keys-are-raggedy-but-mostly-spared/2017/09/11/e9c2ecca-975c-11e7-82e4-f1076f6d6152_story.html?utm_term=.f14216268d6a
The Conch Republic is still here, if dark, dirty, trashed, and weeks away from being what it was before Hurricane Irma blew in. It wasn’t devastated because, for some reason, this massive storm punched below its weight.
This was a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale as it rolled into the Keys. It brought a fair bit of destruction, and tossed boats onto lawns. It turned towns raggedy. But a tour of Southwest Florida and the Florida Keys on Monday afternoon by air suggests that this quirky storm spared the state the kind of direct, punishing violence that residents had dreaded.
A Coast Guard C-130 transport plane carrying two U.S. senators, a congressman, and a handful of journalists, took a two-hour tour of Hurricane Irma damage in Southwest Florida and the Florida Keys on Monday afternoon, leaving from the Coast Guard air station in Opa-Locka, just north of Miami.
[Irma leaves much of Florida in the dark]
At 2,000 feet, the journey offered no chance for a granular diagnosis, but the big picture was clear: Southwest Florida and its huge population of retirees emerged relatively unscathed. The storm severely battered some of the small and fragile Keys. Key West itself is generally intact, though without power, a water supply, and a functional sewage system.
The first part of the flight took the plane across the stippled landscape of the Everglades, where there is nothing to blow over and flood is the natural order of things. Then the boomtown retirement community of Fort Myers came into view. Then Captiva and Sanibel, the barrier islands.
All looked generally fine, although some neighborhoods clearly still had standing, brown water covering the streets. Coast Guard Adm. Peter Brown pointed toward a golf course that had been badly flooded — too many water hazards for the golfers at this point.
The Gulf of Mexico looked like churning mud water. Inland canals and waterways were oddly dark, bordering on inky.
But it wasn’t overall a scene of destruction.
“This is the result of the new building codes, which is a lesson we learned from Hurricane Andrew,” said the senior U.S. Senator from Florida, Bill Nelson (D). He noted that there were a smattering of cars driving on unflooded streets far below. Many palm trees had been stripped of their fronds, as if given military haircuts.
Asked what Florida, with its explosive population growth, can do to be prepared for the next hurricane, Nelson said, “Don’t weaken the building codes.”
He was flanked by Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R), who represents the Keys. Curbelo said that so far there’s been bipartisan support in Congress for storm relief for Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. “So far, so good,” he said.
But Nelson said, referring to emergency funding, “$15 billion for Texas and Florida will only get us to mid-October.” Rubio said local governments are going to be strained and will need assistance
Rubio said he thought the decision by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to order millions of people to evacuate South Florida well in advance of Irma’s landfall was the right one. He brushed off any suggestion that officials had been overly alarmist in describing Irma.
“You can’t wait until two hours before it hits to tell people to move,” Rubio said. “I don’t know how else to talk about a Category 4 hurricane that’s about to hit multiple metropolitan areas.”
The plane flew across the murky waters of Florida Bay, and Marathon Key came into view. It showed more property damage. The plane turned to the Lower Keys, and now the scene was more like what you’d expect from a hurricane: Houses exploded, debris everywhere, boats tossed around, mobile homes on their sides.