Robert Young had his arms outside the window of a Cessna that was about 500 feet in the air on Tuesday afternoon. He was shooting photos of Hurricane Ian’s wrath along the west coast of Florida.
Young, a professor at Western Carolina University, said he would shoot as many photos as he could until his arms tired out. In all, he shot more than 500 photos of areas hit worst by Hurricane Ian.
The photos include images of Fort Myers Beach, where a pile of rubble lay crumbled where the beach’s pavilion once was; of Sanibel, where the bridge — the main artery to the island — plunged into sand and water; and of Captiva, where Young shot photos of homes with their roofs peeled back.
Hurricane Ian made landfall at 3:05 p.m. on Sept. 28 at Cayo Costa, a small island in Lee County. At nearly Category 5 strength, Ian was one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in Florida, and it caused vast destruction along the west coast. In the days since, officials have said Hurricane Ian killed at least 100 people in Florida, making it one of the deadliest storms in the state’s history.
Young has been taking photos of the aftermaths of storms for about 30 years, in part for research and in part to allow the public to see the results of one of nature’s most powerful weather events. He provided the Tampa Bay Times his photos from his few hours in the air.
While he was flying along the coast, it became apparent some of the areas worst hit by Hurricane Ian were on Fort Myers Beach. The normally vibrant beach town had entire plots of land where a home or business once was filled only with debris. Windows in condos were blown out along the shore. And in the sand, rushing water left imprints after it flowed back into the Gulf of Mexico.
In less developed areas of the southwest coast of Florida, like a section of Pelican Bay, the damage from Hurricane Ian is less noticeable, except for a few downed trees. You can barely tell anything happened, Young said on the flight.
The small islands along the coast having been shrinking, growing and changing for thousands of years. The islands will last, Young said, but the homes and other buildings along the coast will not.
Two-toned water in the Gulf of Mexico is a consequence of Hurricane Ian and is caused by stormwater runoff from homes and businesses, according to Young. After Ian, debris and pollution flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, causing nutrient-rich water. From 500 feet in the air with the plane’s window open, there was a distinct rotten smell coming from the water. The runoff can make swimming or fishing in those nutrient-rich areas dangerous.
The bridge to Sanibel Island was destroyed by Hurricane Ian, cutting off residents who may have stayed during the storm and delaying first responders trying to reach them. The bridge is collapsed in multiple areas where sand and water swallowed the concrete structure.
Despite Herculean winds and storm surge, the Sanibel lighthouse still stands, now the same color as the wind-torn vegetation behind it.
Hurricane Ian moved across Florida after making landfall on the west coast and caused massive flooding in the middle of the state, leaving parts of Orlando underwater. The storm then emerged on the east coast, where it regained strength before making its way to the Carolinas.
While flying over Florida’s coast, pilot Matthew Goeders, 23, asked how Young’s home state of North Carolina fared. Five people died there from effects of Hurricane Ian, Young replied. Young told Goeders he lives in the mountainous region of the state.
”I know too much about hurricanes to live near the coast,” Young said.
You can see more of Young’s images here.
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
FEMA: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.
THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.