Residents flee as Black Creek comes just shy of record crest
Clay County residents know Black Creek floods every few years -- many of the houses are built on stilts for that reason -- but the rains from Tropical Storm Debby has the water at levels not seen for decades.
Officials said the 12 inches of rain that fell in 36 hours had pushed the northern prong of the Black Creek to 25.11 feet -- about 9.5 feet above flood stage -- at its crest. That's just short of the all-time record crest of 25.3 feet in 1919.
"It's already coming in the air conditioning vents and our house is 8 feet off the ground," said Craig Holland of his home on Lazy Acre Road.
A voluntary evacuation notice was issued Monday afternoon for residents along the creek, but Holland and others used to flood events weren't prepared for the water to get this high.
"It's an adventure, I've got to tell you," said Bryce Billew as he was leaving his home by kayak. "We were up for several hours last night -- like six hours -- just moving cars, tying off valuables, you know, trying to keep them above the water so nothing gets ruined."
Bryce Billew's home is nearly under water.
"Our Jacuzzi tub is basically floating away. One of our other canoes are submerged under the water. We have a dune buggy we tied up to the stairs, but that's going under the water, too," Billew said. "We're not going to be able to save very much."
IMAGES: Waters rising in Clay County
The Clay County Sheriff's Office is now patrolling the area in boats. They said they rescued eight people Tuesday who were stranded in their homes by the rising water. They closed Black Creek late Tuesday afternoon to all motorized boat traffic, saying large debris and swift currents have made it very dangerous.
"We'd like people to come out while it's daylight, if they have any inclination of coming out at all," said Deputy Chris Castelli, a marine officer with CCSO. "We'd like to get that done well before it gets dark."
In addition to keeping people above water, there are health concerns.
"A lot of people here have septic tanks, and when the water covers that, if there's any water that leaks, now there is raw sewage that could potentially be in the water folks are in," said Capt. Bernita Bush of Clay County Fire-Rescue.
Despite the warnings and rising water, many are still reluctant to leave.
"It's going to to be hard because we don't think we're going to have a house when we come back," said Tiffany Yahm as she reluctantly packed up to leave. "The most important thing is that the family is OK."
A Red Cross shelter was open at Middleburg High School at 3750 County Road 220, where 70 people were Tuesday night, 50 of them Girl Scouts evacuated from camp. The Red Cross was opening another shelter Wednesday at Clay High School at 1913 Darden Road.
Sandbags and sand are available at Fire Station 14 at 4003 Everett Avenue and Fire Station 22 at 5995 Pine Avenue.
Residents needed assistance can call the Clay County Emergency Operations hotline at 904-284-7703.
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