Photo evidence: Media hyping hurricane damage to the Keys

Having lived right off the water in Pensacola for thirteen years and lived through several hurricanes, my wife and I have learned to be wary of the media when it comes to these storms.  First, they always exaggerate the deadly potential of approaching storms, which some might consider a good thing, as it motivates citizens to prepare their property and possessions and to evacuate from vulnerable areas.  However, there's the risk that such overselling a storm's threat creates a future risk that the citizenry will ignore warnings of a true killer storm.

What I find unforgivable is the way the mainstream media, and that includes Fox News nowadays, exaggerate the damage and destruction in a storm's aftermath, creating huge anxieties in those displaced citizens unable to return to their homes until authorities give them permission.  I well recall how fearful and anxious we were as evacuees up in Alabama, hearing the media use terms like total devastation to describe hurricane damage to the Pensacola area, and how worried we were as we drove back, expecting to find little remaining of our waterfront suburb, only to find minor wind damage, trees and fences blown down, shingles blown off, etc.

What the media do is find one area that has been heavily damaged, perhaps from a tornado embedded in the hurricane, and then repeatedly show differing views of the same area from multiple angles to give an impression of much more widespread destruction.  That is apparently the case now with the effects of Hurricane Irma on the Florida Keys.  Yes, there was some heavy damage to a few mobile home parks, with total destruction of some homes there.  But most site-built homes, which far outnumber the mobile homes, weathered the storm well, with the usual roof damage and siding blown away.

The way I know this is that NOAA has posted high-resolution satellite photography on the web that allows Keys homeowners to check out their property.  Using this tool, I have been up and down the Keys, an area I know fairly well, having worked there for years, and the damage I have found is far from the total devastation being described by the media.  There is plenty of marine damage, as is to be expected from any hurricane, but the home damage is limited.  And if you go down to Key West, the population center of the Keys, you will see even less destruction.

Doubt me?  See for yourself: NOAA High Resolution Aerial View of Florida Keys.  Use the plus and minus and your mouse or arrow keys to navigate the map.

One caveat: This satellite view does not include Cudjoe Key, which is reportedly heavily damaged, but I remain skeptical.  From what we can see, there are lots of boats blown about, carried ashore by wind and storm surge, but that's expected from even small hurricanes.  There is indeed total destruction of some mobile homes, but even there, more mobile homes in the same parks are still intact and standing.  Look at site-built homes, and you will find only roof damage, although I'm sure there are missing shutters, fences, and decks washed away.  The point is, there is absolutely nothing in those Keys that constitutes the total devastation the media are hawking.

A lesson learned decades ago: never, ever trust the mainstream media on politics or hurricanes.