20 photos that show how US towns still haven't recovered from devastating hurricanes that took place months or years ago

Sara Kiley Watson
hurricane irma damage florida

Jamie Johnson/St Johns County Sheriff's Office via AP


  • Hurricanes are getting more dangerous and costlier from climate change.
  • The impacts of hurricanes are far from only instantaneous — survivors may struggle with electricity, housing, and recovery for months or even years after a storm hits.
  • Hurricanes sometimes hit the same patterns, so recovery can't happen fast enough to prepare for the next disaster.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Hurricanes are awful — they can bring storm surges, flooding, illness, property destruction, environmental degradation, and diaspora. As we've seen firsthand through the lens of Dorian this month, climate change is only going to worsen the damage as the years progress.

And a Wall Street Journal analysis found they are getting costlier and costlier. Harvey, Maria, and Irma in 2017 cost $268 billion combined — 31% of the full cost of all hurricane damage in the US since 1980.

September 10 marked the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs between June and the end of November.

But hurricanes can be scary for reasons outside of frightening flooding or deafening wind — their impacts can take a toll on communities for months, if not years. Survivors of hurricanes over the past two years have also struggled from a lack and delay of federal relief funding, scandals getting their electricity back on, and slow initiatives to get back into their homes.

Even if recovery happens — sometimes another hurricane seems to be lurking around the corner, as Dorian hit a similar track as Florence and other recent hurricanes.

Here's what recovery from five recent hurricanes — Michael and Florence in 2018, and Maria, Irma, and Harvey in 2017 — looks like on the ground.

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle in October 2018. The rural coastal region is still struggling to find a way forward amid dwindling revenue and heightened relief costs. Here, debris are removed seven months after the storm hit.

AP Photo/Mike Fender

Source: NPR



Hurricane Michael was the first Category 5 storm to make landfall in the continental US since Andrew hit in 1992. Only four Category 5 hurricanes have hit the mainland US in recorded history. Here, a crew digs out a canal in Florida in May 2019.

AP Photo/ Mike Fender

Source: NPR



Across the entire United States, Michael caused 16 deaths and an estimated $25 billion in damage. This month, nearly $3 billion in federal aid is finally available for farmers. These before and after photos show a house in Panama City, Florida, right after the storm and seven months later.

AP Photos

Source: WUWF, Atlanta Journal-Constitution



Florida insurers reported nearly $7 billion in property losses with nearly 150,000 claims after Michael. This August, 14% of the claims were still open. This aerial shot shows Mexico Beach, Florida, right after the storm and again in May.

AP Photos

Source: Tampa Bay Times



Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas and Virginia in September 2018. The storm dumped over 35 inches of rain in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, and is considered a "1,000-year" flood due to how rare these events are. These new houses were built on pillars after the storm.

AP Photo/Sean Rayford

Source: Axios, Vox



At least 50 people died because of Florence, and damages were an estimated $22 billion. Scientists believe that sea level rise contributed to the destructiveness of the storm. These before-and-after photos show Nichols, South Carolina, in September 2018 and May 2019.

AP Photos

Source: Vox, Axios



North Carolina spent nearly $2.8 billion of state and federal funding to help survivors of Hurricane Florence. Small towns still struggle — in June 2019, the Jones County courthouse and jail in Trenton were still under repair.

AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Source: WNCT, LA Times



Hurricane Dorian hit a similar pattern as Florence, and some homes were still in the process of recovery by the time hurricane season came again this year.

AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Source: USA Today



In September 2017, Category 4 storm Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico mere weeks after Irma. Maria killed 2,975 people on the island. Workers here repair a road to El Yunque Rainforest a year after the storm.

Angel Valentine / Getty

Source: The Guardian



At least 1.1 million households applied for FEMA disaster aid. An estimated 250,000 homes sustained major damage and 70,000 of those were destroyed. Plastic tarps like this one, seen here on a house in September 2018, were still covering 30,000 homes when Dorian came through.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Sources: Miami Herald, AP



In March 2019, over a million Puerto Ricans experienced a drop in food assistance funding due to Congress failing to reauthorize a disaster-aid package that would have provided $600 million in food stamp funding. These un-distributed water bottles were discovered in a lot outside San Juan in July 2019.

Ricardo Arduengo / AFP / Getty

Source: New Food Economy



This month, a former top administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and disaster fraud when restoring electricity to the island. It took 11 months to restore power to the entire US commonwealth. Electric crews seen here were working on towers in September 2018.

Angel Valentin / Getty

Source: CNN, The New York Times, Vox



Hurricane Irma was the strongest Atlantic basin hurricane ever recorded outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and barreled though southwest Florida in September 2017, costing $50 billion in damages. This canal was still filled with debris in June 2018.

REUTERS/Zach Fagenson

Source: CNN, NOAA



Dune repair had taken place in Florida only months before Irma hit due to destruction from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. In July 2019, FEMA put aside more funds for repairing plants sand dunes destroyed by Irma, seen here on September 5.

AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton

Source: FEMA



In August 2019, Florida set aside $75 million of hurricane recovery money from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to buy out flood-damaged homes. $10 million is reserved for the Florida Keys, which Irma hit especially hard. Condemned homes are seen here in January 2018.

REUTERS/Gregg Newton

Source: The Tampa Bay Times



During Irma, the air conditioning was knocked out at a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, causing the deaths of 14 patients, 12 of which were ruled homicides. In August 2019, three workers turned themselves in to police to face criminal charges. The center shut down after the storm.

AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

Source: NPR



Hurricane Harvey is tied with Katrina for the costliest hurricane to hit US soil, with damages of $125 billion. The storm rained down on Texas and Louisiana in late August 2017. Here, construction on an overflow pond in Houston continued a year later.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Source: NOAA, CNN



Texas has been waiting since February 2018 for $4.3 billion in Congress-approved disaster recovery money. In August 2019, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development finally released rules for the funding. Debris are seen here in August 2018.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Source: Houston Chronicle



In a Kaiser Family Foundation survey taken a year after Harvey, 27% of Hispanic Texans whose homes were badly damaged reported that they were still unsafe to live in. Half of lower-income respondents said they were not receiving enough help. Construction on a bayou in Houston continued here in September 2018.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Source: The New York Times



Houston has a $1.2 billion federally funded program to rebuild homes for Harvey survivors, but by late August 2019, only one person's house was rebuilt.

REUTERS/Ernest Scheyder

Source: ABC13