Before-and-after aerial photos show Hurricane Ian’s astonishing toll on the Florida coast

Neighborhoods under feet of water. Islands devoid of trees. The bones of former marinas were emptied of their boats.

These are the devastating scenes emerging as emergency crews document before-and-after aerial images of the southwest Florida coast.

The National Ocean Service began photographing Hurricane Ian’s devastating aftermath from above Thursday, just 24 hours after the storm made landfall as one of the most powerful to ever hit the Florida peninsula.

Parts of the Sanibel Causeway washed away

Storm surge from Hurricane Ian washed away part of the Sanibel Causeway just west of the mainland, cutting off access to the island. Causeway Islands Park about a mile down the road was also overwhelmed by a surging Gulf of Mexico. Aerial images show what was once an island park dazzling with white sand, now bruised and broken.

Fort Myers’ Legacy Harbor Marina in ruins

Legacy Harbor Marina in Fort Myers is home to popular eatery Joe’s Crab Shack and is now in ruins. On Thursday, yachts were stacked on top of each other like building blocks. Wooden docks filled the road. The air smelled of tar and boat fuel. Aerial images show the marina destroyed by the storm.

“Our Lady,” a boat from Pickwick, Tennessee, is seen on dry land between two palm trees. It’s one of a handful of boats that came to rest next to Joe’s Crab Shack, a popular eatery on the Caloosahatchee River. [ Mex Chesnes | Special to the Times ]

Iona neighborhoods under water

The unincorporated community of Iona, just southwest of downtown Fort Myers, was one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by flooding. Thursday, many low-lying homes were still submerged in about a foot of water. Aerial photos show many suburban streets and homes unrecognizable due to flooding.

Gannet Drive

    A flock of white ibis waded the flooded streets of an Iona neighborhood Thursday morning.  Many streets, including Gannet Drive, are seen submerged in aerial images revealed Friday.
A flock of white ibis waded the flooded streets of an Iona neighborhood Thursday morning. Many streets, including Gannet Drive, are seen submerged in aerial images revealed Friday. [ Max Chesnes | Special to the Times ]

Windcrest Drive

More air missions are planned

The first air mission covered some of the most damaged areas, including Sanibel Island, Punta Gorda and parts of both Cape Coral and the Caloosahatchee River that stretch as far as Interstate 75.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine which areas need to be documented, according to the agency.

Teams plan to fly over other affected areas, including Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs and Port Charlotte, according to NOAA flight plans. A crew flew out again Friday morning, but the timeline for when the new images will be available “varies widely,” the Ocean Service wrote on Twitter.

At a time when cell service is still spotty in some of the hardest-hit areas, including Fort Myers Beach and San Carlos Island, the images are “a critical tool in determining the extent of the damage caused by flooding,” according to NOAA.

The images provide insight into which roads are passable, which neighborhoods are destroyed and which communities may have been spared the worst, according to NOAA.

Images from the National Geodetic Survey were taken with a high-tech aircraft called the Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350CER. It is loaded with two digital cameras and sensors that face straight down.

You can find more NOAA trailing images here.

Lofton’s Island

Harbor reserve

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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage

HOW TO HELP: Where to donate or volunteer to help Hurricane Ian victims.

TAMPA BAY CLOSURES: What to know about bridges, roads in Ian’s aftermath

WHEN THE STORM HAS PASSED: What now? Safety advice for returning home.

POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help for downed trees, food, damaged shelter.

WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to hit Tampa Bay head on. What happened?

WHAT TO DO IF A HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Keep calm and call your insurance company.

SCHOOLS: Will schools reopen soon after Hurricane Ian passes? It depends on.

MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at

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