Hurricane Irma was one of the most devastating hurricanes in modern history. The storm impacted the small Island of Barbuda with sustained winds of 185mph making it the strongest hurricane in Atlantic Ocean recorded history.
On Sunday, September 10th at about 6:00 AM, Hurricane Irma made direct impact on the Lower Keys as a category 4 storm with sustained winds of 130+ MPH. Big Pine Key and No Name Key took a direct hit by the eastern side of the eye wall.
While the wind certainly was a damaging factor, perhaps the most devastating and most concerning was the impact made by the storm surge. Big Pine Key only has an elevation of about 3 or 4 feet above sea level at its highest point. It was reported that there was between 3 - 5 feet of storm surge on the island on top of which there were wild crashing waves.
Upon returning to the Island, residents that left under the mandatory evacuation found utter devastation to most man made structures as well as an undetermined amount of damage to the wild habitats, particularly in the lower and middle keys. Clean up crews will be working for months to come to help residents get back on their feet and get the islands cleaned up. We will be monitoring moth populations closely and posting findings when it becomes safe to travel and work again in Big Pine and No Name Keys. Until then, our hearts and prayers are with the residents of the Lower Keys. We trust that these storms are part of the normal eco-system of these islands and while things may be devastating from a human perspective, the wild life has its ways of surviving and thriving through this most awesomely powerful adversity.
Hurricane Irma Update
Top Pic: Our survey site on No Name Key prior to the storm. Note green vegetation.
Bottom Pic: Same site on No Name Key after storm. Note brown hammocks due to wind burn from salt air from the storm.
Top Pic: Storm surge was at least at the height of the hood of this ford pickup truck. Note the sea grass jammed in the engine.
Bottom Pic: At the same property as the pickup truck full of seaweed on Big Pine Key, this little box turtle (a land turtle) was found walking around just days after the storm showing how strong the flora and fauna of this habitat can be.
Damage done to sign at
the Southernmost Point; Key West
Robbie's Marina in Islamorada got nailed.
Top Pic: The old bait house on Big Pine Key before the storm.
Bottom Pic: It appears from this photo that the bait house is no longer there.
Top Pic: FWC researcher housing on Big Pine Key prior to the
storm. Note green vegetation.
Bottom Pic: Same site on Big Pine Key after the storm with roof damage and notable vegetation damage.
Debris on the roadside was piled up 8-10 feet on both sides of most roads waiting to be picked up and hauled away.
Boats in the lower Keys did not fair well during the storm
We came down to Big Pine Key with Samaritan's Purse organization who partnered with over 30 South Floridian churches to send 100 volunteers per day to the Keys for 3 weeks to help people clean up their homes, cut trees off roofs and give some words of hope and encouragement to those that experienced loss during the storm. An estimated 17,000 labor hours were donated by the cause.
We worked in a neighborhood on the Southern end of the island where there were lots of trailer homes. Most of these structures were completely destroyed leaving only a pile of rubble.
The category 5 hurricane Andrew that blasted Homestead in 1992 was dwarfed in size by the massive Hurricane Irma of 2017. Wind speeds of Irma reached a sustained 185 mph when it struck the island of Barbuda head on. By the time it reached the Keys, Irma was down to 130 mph (Category 4)
This image shows Samaritan's Purse volunteers removing moldy drywall from this home which took in over 4 feet of sea water from the storm surge. Everything in the house from the 5 foot line down was totally destroyed. Because electricity had not yet been restored, the wet drywall quickly began growing mold.
This incredible picture of evacuating South Floridians was taken from a Helicopter over the Turnpike in Central Florida. They opened both north and south bound lanes to NORTHBOUND TRAFFIC ONLY to try and alleviate the pressure.
This image was taken showing the residents of the Florida Keys attempting to get back to their homes and businesses the day after the storm. Due to the uncertainty of bridge structures, lack of potable water, electricity and sewage, authorities did what they could to try and keep people safe, which meant limiting people returning to strictly residents. The roads needed to be cleared before people were allowed to return to their homes.
Hurricane Irma Track over Lower Keys
Statira butterfly flies during Irma!