BLACKRAPID Guest Post by Marc Serota | Photographing Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys
I GUESS IT’S COMING UP ON A YEAR NOW AND THE MEMORY OF DRIVING DOWN MY STREET THE MORNING AFTER HURRICANE IRMA HIT THE FLORIDA KEYS STILL STICKS VERY CLOSELY IN THE BACK OF MY MIND.
A neighborhood that was once canopied by beautiful 50-year-old shade trees was now ripped open, brightened with contrast and covered in debris so bad that we had to chainsaw our way down the street and back into our driveway. The most immediate need was for generators and chainsaws, food and water was next, and then finally getting cell service and power back 5 days later.
BEING A JOURNALIST I WAS NOT ONLY OBSERVANT ABOUT HOW THE AREA LOOKED PRIOR TO THE STORM,
but I captured the before as well as the after reporting all that I saw to Getty Images every step of the way. The before pictures convey the story just as strongly as the after shots. I shot drone footage of the traffic patterns heading out of The Keys that were used by Google maps during the evacuation of the Lower Keys.
LEADING UP TO THE STORM, I PHOTOGRAPHED EVERYTHING FROM PEOPLE BOARDING UP THEIR HOMES AND BUSINESSES, TO BOATS BEING TIED OFF IN THE MIDDLE OF CANALS TO KEEP THEM AS SAFE AS POSSIBLE.
I made sure to photograph many of the antique classic hotel and restaurant signs highlighting them in their glory days feeling that they might not be there after the storm.
AFTER THE STORM THE DEVASTATION WAS EVERYWHERE.
There was debris piled up on the side of the road along with seaweed, boats, jet skis, coolers, and ever type of appliance along the tree lines. It looked like a junkyard in a war zone.
They were iconic images in every direction such as the 70-foot sailboat that ran aground in ocean front backyards which is still there today, and the subject of a lawsuit over who’s responsible.
THERE IS WHAT LOCALS ARE CALLING “THE SUNKEN HOUSE”
which is an entire two-story home sunk into the ground in the Lower Keys along the Atlantic coast line. This backdrop was used by many of the news agencies that descended into the Florida Keys in the aftermath of hurricane Irma. I happened to be there when the family that used to live there returned to survey the damage. Today, the home remains un-touched, condemned, and the subject of a large insurance dispute.
OF COURSE, THE HARDEST HITS WERE THE HOMES ALONG THE SHORELINE AND ESPECIALLY MOBILE HOMES AND TRAILERS.
Most of the communities were devastated to the point of no return and many of those people have had to relocate to other states.
THEY HAVE CLEANED UP MOST OF THE MOUNTAINS OF DEBRIS WE CALLED “MOUNT IRMA’S” THAT WERE PILED UP FOLLOWING THE STORM,
but clean up crews are only now starting to clean out the hardest hit canals and waterways. Canals in Marathon Key were filled so high with sunken debris from in-tact Winnebago’s, trailers, and entire motorhomes immersed right below the roofline, that you could walk across them and not get your feet wet.
THERE WERE SO MANY FLOODED HOMES AND DESTROYED CONTENTS THAT ONE PART OF ISLAMORADA A HALF MILE STRETCH OF ROAD BECAME KNOWN AS “APPLIANCE ALLEY.”
There were hundreds, if not thousands, of washers and dryers, barbecue grills and smokers, refrigerators, dishwashers, ice makers, bait freezers, microwave ovens, and anything else that had to be disposed of in a professional manner lined up on the side of the road.
THE BEST WAY TO DESCRIBE MY INITIAL FEELING UPON FINDING MYSELF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AFTERMATH OF THIS DEVASTATING STORM WAS THAT MY SIGHT, MY SMELL, AND MY HEARING WERE TURNED UPSIDE DOWN OVERNIGHT.
The once quiet and peaceful island became abrupt and loud with chainsaws, sirens, and helicopters overhead. The once clean, fresh, and pristine ocean air was filled with the smell of dead fish and animals as well as garbage and rotting food. My incredible sunrise and sunset views turned into war zone type areas along the side of the road and the oceans filled with sunken boats and debris. The once prevalent taste of the freshest seafood in the world turned into Bob’s burgers, canned food, and hotdogs on the grill. We are back to about 85% of where we were a year ago with hotels and restaurants that have re-opened, but our biggest industry, sport fishing and diving, is still hurting with the hotel rooms having been down for so long. No heads in bed = no tourists and no fishing and diving charters.
WE ARE NOT WORRIED THOUGH, OUR COMMUNITY REMAINS “KEYS STRONG.”
Marc Serota is an award-winning photographer, videographer, and Founder PolaroidUniversity.com. Find out more about him on his website www.marcserota.com, and be sure to follow him on Instagram @marcserotaphoto and Facebook Marc Serota.