CALLAHAN, Fla. – Floodwaters are slowly receding in western Nassau County more than four days after Thomas Creek overflowed its banks, leaving behind the highest water in memory in an area known for flooding.
Thomas Creek rose to levels many say they've never seen in this area. Four days after Hurricane Irma passed northeast Florida, one church is still surrounded by water and a ruined SUV serves as a marker for just how high the floodwaters rose.
Most of the water is gone now, but it left behind puddles of creek water and some bad memories.
Breanna Thornton, her fiance and their two children evacuated before Hurricane Irma -- driving all the way to Tennessee before finding a hotel room. While there, she was watching a video posted on social showing waist-deep water when she recognized her own mailbox.
She realized the decision to leave may have saved their lives.
"I don't know how we would have got out. We would've had to swim out," Thornton said. "I'm glad we left. I'm really glad we left."
Thornton said while they were evacuated, someone attempted to steal their car and their dogs were reported to the pound for pickup.
Thornton and other people who evacuated returned just before the county reopened public schools Friday. It's the first school district to have classes in greater Jacksonville in more than a week. Administrators urged parents to take their children to their stops and warn them not to go in floodwaters or near power poles and said all hurricane-related absences will be excused.
A flood warning is in effect for the lower half of the St. Marys River. People living along the St. Marys, as well as Thomas Creek and Lofton Creek, should watch for rising waters. Many local waterways have not yet crested.
The county's emergency manager is warning people about the possibility of even more flooding in the coming days and weeks. With more rain possible this weekend, people in areas prone to flooding must be vigilant and be ready to leave, if necessary.
In addition to rain, there is a higher threat of dangerous rip currents this weekend due to swells as Hurricane Jose passes offshore.
Due to flooding and related damage the Florida Department of Health in Nassau County is advising residents with flooded water wells to take precautions against contaminated water. If your well has been covered with flood water, your water may contain disease causing organisms and may not be safe to drink.
Late Friday, more than 7,000 Nassau County homes and businesses were still without power. Utility crews are now weaving their way through the county, getting power restored.
The Journey Church on Amelia Concourse in Fernandina Beach remains open to evacuees. A second shelter has been opened at the First Baptist Church on County Road 108 in Hilliard. The Nassau County County Commissioners on Wednesday approved an extension of its declared state of emergency through next Tuesday.
Billy Estep, director of Nassau County Emergency Management, said people need to pay attention to the weather and flooding and be prepared. That's why that second shelter was opened. In addition, rescue boats have been staged.
There are still about 30 roads closed in Nassau County for reasons, including flooding, downed power lines and downed trees.
Updated road closure list (as of Friday afternoon)
Crawford Road from CR121 to US 301
Road washed out in multiple locations
Fouracre Circle at Lem Turner
Roses Bluff Road from Bell River Estates Road to the end
Stokes Road from Brittany Lane to the St Mary’s River
Bridge under water
Tom Crawford Road from SR2 to the end
Burning of yard debris is allowed in Nassau County, excluding the city of Fernandina Beach. Residents should burn only clean, dry wood (no household garbage, construction debris or treated lumber). Yard debris piles must be less than 8 feet in diameter and placed on bare dirt to prevent flames from spreading. The pile must be positioned 25 feet from your home, 25 feet from wildlands, 150 feet from any neighbor’s home and 50 feet from any paved public road. Burning must begin after 9 a.m. and all flames must be completely extinguished one hour before sunset. Wet wood will produce more smoke and may cause a nuisance to neighbors, especially if their electricity has not been restored and their windows are open.
Please be courteous when burning yard debris. Call the Florida Forest Service for more information at (904) 266-8351.
The expense for tree removal may be more than many can afford, so the county is looking for volunteers who have experience in using power saws and are willing to donate their time using their own saws to assist their neighbors. Anyone willing and able to help is asked to call the Nassau County Emergency Operations Center at 904-548-0900.
Estep has also announced that Barnabas, a local service agency, will be providing meals Monday at the Northeast Florida Fair Grounds, located at 543378 U.S. Hwy 1 in Callahan, for returning evacuees or any other residents in need of a free meal. Meals will be distributed between noon and 1 p.m.