When volunteer pilot Nathan Zucker of Boca Raton saw a tattered American flag still hanging onto a pole in Key West on Friday, it struck him as the perfect symbol following Hurricane Irma.
“A torn, shredded flag, still flying,” said Zucker, 45.
Zucker, a flight instructor, had flown to the Keys many times before, but this time, the plane was there to deliver supplies to those who felt the wrath of Hurricane Irma.
“It was wild … opening the door in Key West,” Zucker said. “The smell hit me first.”
The odor, a mixture of sewage and fish, wasn’t the only thing different about the city. Key West, normally bustling with residents and vacationers, seemed more like a ghost town, Zucker said. The only sounds were the military helicopters overhead.
“It was very odd to not see or hear any movement,” Zucker said.
Key West International Airport appeared mostly untouched, except for the dead fish that the massive storm had dropped on the pavement.
Zucker made the trip with Zev Freidus, 45, who Zucker taught to fly. They flew in Freidus’ Phenom 100 jet and carried 1,200 pounds of supplies including animal crackers, oatmeal, instant noodles and water.
The pilots were working with Operation Airdrop, a rescue organization of pilots who volunteer their time and aircrafts. The group was started in response to Hurricane Harvey.
Zucker compared the volunteers’ reactions to the delivery to what it was like being among citizens of New York City after the 9/11 attacks.
“You can see that their life is rough at the moment,” he said.
Zucker said this time visiting the Keys, the view from up high was different.
“Everything is covered in sand,” Zucker said, “The shape of the island appeared to have changed.”
Zucker and Freidus made two deliveries Friday afternoon, one in the Keys and the other in LaBelle, a city west of Lake Okeechobee, where power outages and blocked roads made it impossible to deliver supplies by anything other than plane.
After sunset, the pilots flew home over a view of both of Florida’s coasts. The east side was fully lit while the west remained dark and powerless, Freidus said.
“(The supplies) are not going to save the world,” Freidus said. “But we do our part.”