ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – After days of waiting for Hurricane Dorian and anticipating extensive damage based on the devastation the major storm caused in the Bahamas, St. Johns County residents breathed a sigh of relief -- for the most part -- Thursday.
The evacuation orders and curfews ended for the county Wednesday, and with daylight Thursday, residents began surveying the limited damage left by Dorian's gusty winds and storm surge.
St. Johns County, city of St. Augustine and city of St. Augustine Beach officials conducted damage assessments throughout their communities Thursday, as life returned to normal for many. Sky 4 aerial video showed Thursday that most of the St. Johns County coastline was spared, though some areas experienced some erosion during the height of the storm surge.
One area of St. Johns County that saw the most significant effects of Hurricane Dorian was Davis Shores on Anastasia Island. The St. Augustine neighborhood was devastated by flooding in Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. This time around, the area flooded again, but not as badly.
Around 2 p.m. Wednesday -- the height of the storm and high tide -- the streets were underwater as 6 to 8 inches of water from the Intracoastal Waterway came in. In some places, the water was waist-deep. A day later, the streets were dry. But not everyone was spared. Jill Nicolino and her son, Caz, have had better days. They were cleaning up and gutting their two-story home on Coquina Avenue in Davis Shores on Thursday.
"This used to be my house," Nicolino said. "We moved here right before Matthew, so we've been here 3 ½ years. So my son has been through three hurricanes, lost his room three times, so this is it. We're not coming back to this house."
Her boyfriend, Tom Boyle, whom News4Jax met Wednesday while he was guarding the home, was helping out.
"I got a quick surf in and came back and just went at it," Boyle said. "The local firefighters came by and helped us back down into place."
The neighborhood is prone to problems, especially flooding, when storms come through. Most homes were OK after Hurricane Dorian, but many had water in the garages. Firefighters said no one was injured or needed to be rescued. Businesses on the main roads remained high and dry, and owners and employees were opening back up Thursday after boarding up.
"It was worth it," said Ryan Kunsch, owner of Sarvez! Craft Beer and Grilled Cheese as he took down plywood from the windows of his business. "Definitely a lot of work but a good trial run for the next time because you know it's gonna happen again."
Many in historic St. Augustine expressed gratitude and relief as they prepared to open up for business in the tourist-driven area.
"This is a lot better than past storms. Everybody prepared well in advance," said St. Augustine business owner Karen Lyons. "And just knowing that, hopefully, we wouldn't flood our art gallery like two years ago. We didn't prepare that much and the first floor got flooded, but a few days ago, they boarded up and sandbagged better and plastic with the sandbags. We know what to do."
Boards came down and sandbags were removed as normalcy returned to the area.
Trinity Episcopal Parish in downtown St. Augustine put its sandbags to good use.
"Down in Crescent Beach, one of the fish camps down there suffered some washout and indicated that it would be a great help to them if we could give them our bags," Trinity Episcopal Parish member Bob May said. "And so we're sending several vehicles down there with 100 or so sandbags to help them."
Most people described their brush with Dorian as being fortunate. But for those affected, such as Nicolino, the headaches are just beginning.
"Buying the house was probably the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life," she said. "But you live and learn."
Nicolino said she has insurance, but said in the past, it hasn't taken care of all her expenses. Right now, her focus is on renting a place where she can live with her son temporarily.
Residents of St. Johns County beaches breath sigh of relief after Dorian
Many residents in southern St. Johns County returned to their homes Thursday to find minimal damage from Hurricane Dorian.
Tom Bell lives along A1A just north of Marineland, where strong waves breached during high tide as Dorian was passing off the coast.
"I was really lucky," explained Bell. "We didn't have any damage at all -- no water inside, no wind damage. We were just really lucky it was out as far as it was."
When the waves breached, water went across Old A1A, but did not damage the structure of the road.
Although Bell and many of his neighbors did not have major damage from Dorian, Bell said he wants the county or the state to repair Old A1A after it washed out years ago. He wants them to put a more protective barrier in place to guard homes during future, more powerful storms.
"It could've been prevented and, eventually, they probably will," explained Bell. "As you see there, the state built a berm there and it protected. The breach happened right where the berm stopped, where we have no protection."
St. Johns County told News4Jax there is an approved project to put a berm along the Old A1A path, but due to erosion from Dorian, the county needs to reassess the project. A surveyor was scheduled to go out to the area on Friday.
About a mile north, truckloads of sand were placed behind a rock barrier before the storm in Summer Haven neighborhood near the Matanzas Inlet. Sundie Wilcox is the property manager of a home nearby and said the house only had very minor wind damage.
"I think it made a difference compared to Matthew," Wilcox said about the sand barrier.
Early Wednesday afternoon, St. Johns County deputies shut down a stretch of A1A in Vilano Beach after waves breached the roadway. As of Thursday, a new barrier had been added, but some neighbors want to see a more permanent solution. Sandbags were added Wednesday afternoon, allowing for the road to reopen hours later.
The new makeshift barrier separating the ocean from the road was a welcome sight for neighbors, including Harold Conger.
"It's good to see that they've gotten it fixed to where it doesn't erode A1A worse than what it already was," said Conger, who lives near the beach. "It would be nice for them to come back and make it a little more permanent."
Conger's question moving forward is how and when that can happen. He and other neighbors said their hope is for a new barrier -- one that will help protect the road and the properties nearby. On Thursday morning, the Florida Department of Transportation was on scene, observing the barrier and the damage around it.
Like many of his neighbors, Conger was in the area during the height of the storm. He watched as the water breached, gushing out on the roadway.
"We're dealing with Mother Nature. What she wants to do, she pretty much does," Conger said.
Conger has lived here for the last five years and saw the wrath of hurricanes Matthew and Irma. He's grateful Dorian didn't have the same impact.
"If it came another 30 to 40 miles closer to shore, we might have had a different outcome today," said Conger, who added that he has no plans to move away despite the risk of damage to the area.
News4Jax contacted both the county and the FDOT to learn what the next steps will be to protect the road from severe weather, but had not heard back as of early Thursday evening.
Damage hotline activated
St. Johns County has activated a hotline for residents and business owners with concerns regarding property and structural damage due to Hurricane Dorian.
If you have storm-related structural damage or permitting questions, call the St. Johns County Building Services Structural Hotline at 904-827-6836.
Local state of emergency extended
The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday to extend the Local State of Emergency related to Hurricane Dorian.
As damage assessments and recovery efforts remain underway, this action allows St. Johns County to continue accessing and utilizing state and federal funding assistance.
For more information regarding St. Johns County's recovery efforts, contact the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center hotline at 904-824-5550. The hotline will remain operational until 5 p.m. Thursday.
For more information, please visit www.sjcfl.us.
The St. Johns County School District resumed classes Friday.
The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind will resume classes Monday. Beacon of Hope Christian School will be closed through Thursday. Cathedral Parish School and Early Education Center will be closed Thursday.
Flagler College residence halls will reopen Saturday and classes will resume Monday.
St. Johns River State College has closed all campuses Tuesday through Sunday. Regular operations will resume on Monday with all scheduled classes and activities. The campus libraries will be open on Sunday from 1-5 p.m.
Closures and reopenings
The St. Augustine/St. Johns County Visitor Information Center and the Historic Downtown Parking Facility reopened at 8 a.m. Friday. While the fee remains at $15 per vehicle per entry, the city has suspended parking enforcement at all city-metered areas, including on-street spaces and parking lots until Monday. The fee suspension applies only to areas where vehicles may park legally and does not include loading and delivery zones, yellow curbs, taxicab stands, residential parking or privately managed lots. The city hopes this suspension of parking fees will encourage support for the many downtown businesses that suffered losses over the Labor Day weekend because of Hurricane Dorian.
St. Johns County, city of St. Augustine and city of St. Augustine Beach government offices reopened Friday.
Courts throughout the 7th Judicial Circuit reopened Friday. The 7th Circuit includes Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties. This closure affects the Richard O. Watson Judicial Center in St. Augustine.
Flagler Hospital and the Northeast Florida Regional Airport are both operational.
All hurricane shelters have been closed.
The following beachfront access locations are open:
- Mickler's Landing
- Pier Park
- Ocean Trace to Dondanville
- Pedestrian access locations within the city of St Augustine Beach
Beach driving has been restored on all St. Johns County beaches where previously allowed. Beach ramps may be closed periodically based on tide or sand conditions, and two-wheel drive access may not be available at all ramps.
The St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier remains closed to the public pending a structural assessment for potential damage caused by Hurricane Dorian. Once the pier has been deemed safe, it will reopen and the public will be notified at www.sjcfl.us.
The St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency meeting scheduled for Thursday has been canceled. The St. Johns County Industrial Development Authority meeting scheduled for Monday has been canceled. The next meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 14 at the County Administration Building at 500 San Sebastian View. For more information, call 904-209-0552.
Meetings for the budgets of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and the city of St. Augustine have been rescheduled from Thursday until Sept. 12, starting at 6 p.m. The CRA budget will be considered first, and then the city's budget. Both meetings will be in The Alcazar Room of City Hall, located at 75 King St. For additional information, call the city clerk's office at 904-825-1007.
The St. Johns County Council on Aging is closed through Thursday.
All St. Johns County libraries opened for standard business hours on Friday. Bookmobile schedules also resumed on Friday. During the closure, no fines were incurred, however, if you have any questions regarding due dates or fines, please contact your local library.
Faver-Dykes State Park and Campground is closed. Anastasia State Park Campground and Park is closed.
Matanzas State Forest has closed the following campgrounds: Cedar Creek Campground and Matanzas State Forest Group Camp.
Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas national monuments are closed.
The St. Johns Golf Club is open for standard business hours Thursday for walking play only. Golf carts were available for use beginning Friday. For more information or to make a tee time, call the golf club at 904-209-0350. The Sing Out Loud Festival began as scheduled on Friday. For more information on the monthlong festival, including acts, venues, dates and times, visit www.singoutloudfestival.com.
The city of St. Augustine resumed its regular solid waste collections Thursday and will also provide an additional collection of yard debris on Saturday and Sunday, if necessary. For more information, call the Solid Waste Division at 904-825-1049.
St. Johns County has updated the household garbage, recycling and yard debris schedules for Thursday and Friday to include those residents who did not receive services on Wednesday due to Hurricane Dorian:
Thursday: Residents who normally have household garbage collections services on Wednesday and Thursday will have their garbage collected on Thursday. There will be no makeup days for recycling and yard waste collections for Wednesday or Thursday as these services will resume next week.
Friday: Residents will receive their regularly scheduled household garbage, recycling and yard debris collection services.