ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - Heavy surf breached A1A in Vilano Beach, leading deputies to block off the highway early Wednesday afternoon as Hurricane Dorian marched north off Florida's east coast.
At one point, the Vilano Beach Bridge was closed to traffic, with deputies stationed on both sides. Around 1 p.m., deputies shut down A1A itself after waves breached the road in the same area where homes were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew three years ago. Both lanes of A1A reopened early Wednesday evening.
At midday, with high tide rising, water began breaching Old A1A at the southern end of the county, north of Marineland. Water also flooded the Summer Haven neighborhood near the Matanzas Inlet, but most of those homes are built on pilings to protect them from high water.
Part of A1A was closed near Crescent Beach on Wednesday due to a downed power line, just where one man was trying to get to his home to check on his father at a house on the Intracoastal Waterway, which had 43 inches of water in his den during Hurricane Matthew.
"I'm going to see if the bulkhead that we were sandbagging is going to keep the water out," he said.
After the curfew lifted Wednesday morning, some who didn't heed evacuation orders for St. Johns County beaches emerged to find deteriorating conditions as Hurricane Dorian marches north off the Florida coast.
Some people were out trying to get pictures or just experience conditions, but police urged people to stay inside where they are until the storm passes and conditions improve. Officials are monitoring near the pier at St. Augustine Beach, making sure no one does anything foolish -- like getting in the water.
"Every hour, it picks up a little bit more," Mark Peyton of River City Live about 8 a.m. on The Morning Show. "Every step we take toward the beach, it gets worse."
The Hurricane Warning for Dorian that had extended up the Florida coast north to the St. Johns-Duval county line was downgraded at 11 a.m. Wednesday to a Tropical Storm Warning and discontinued at 11 p.m. Wednesday. As Hurricane Dorian continued to impact the area and active storm conditions were forecast to continue through the day and into the evening hours, St. Johns County reminded everyone to stay alert and remain informed.
At 3 p.m., St. Johns County canceled the evacuation order and curfew orders that were in effect. Access to the islands continues to remain restricted to only those who live or work on the barrier islands with legitimate purpose for access.
St. Johns County Emergency Management and partner agencies were fully operational and in emergency response mode as the county continued to monitor protective actions
As conditions improved over the course of the evening hours, special operations teams from the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, Fire Rescue, and local law enforcement were expected to begin countywide assessments to ensure the safety of the community.
Meanwhile, people in St. Augustine Beach were ready to get out of the house and headed to Jack's BBQ, which was one of just a few places open Wednesday night in the area. Because of that, Jack's stayed busy for hours as people lifted their drinks to the lifted evacuation order.
"We're just down here, having fun with some friends. We're having some fries and ribs. Jack's has got great ribs here and the weather has really cooperated," said a man named Brian, who was visiting Jack's BBQ after the storm. "We're just out having fun."
Some had gotten a little restless while they were hunkered down during the storm. So when conditions began to improve, two friends had to look up on Facebook which bars were open, since much of the St. Augustine area remained quiet.
"I had to get out of the house today because I've been in it for about four days now waiting on the storm. Finally it dissipated and I'm ready to get back to real life," Brandie Kirkland said.
There were also people checking out the St. Augustine Beach pier Wednesday evening. There was certainly some big and heavy surf, but the beach itself didn't look too weathered and there weren't really any signs of erosion.
"I just love paddling out and having the rush and adrenaline from it and I've just been a surfer since I was 12 years old and just enjoy it," said Joshua Rome, who was excited to see the surf so high.
The beach was crowded with people just ready to get outside.
"We thought we'd come out and check out the aftermath and doing some cartwheels, hanging out, taking some pictures," said beachgoers John and Tess McGann. "We actually went out to eat tonight we were so excited."
For more information regarding Hurricane Dorian, call the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center hotline at 904-824-5550.
As of midday Wednesday, Florida Power & Light was reporting only 225 outages.
St. Johns County bridges remain under limited access
Access to St. Johns County's barrier islands remains restricted as the bridges to the islands remain under a condition of limited access. As such, eastbound access is limited to legitimate business or personal intent. Law enforcement officers are posted at each bridge to identify the reason for requesting access to these evacuation zones and allowing it when appropriate. Proof of residency or business
may be required.
St. Johns County ordered a mandatory evacuation Monday for about 148,500 residents who live in Zones A and B, which includes all the county's beaches, as well as the city of St. Augustine.
In addition, the county has ordered evacuations for low-lying areas, including Hastings and Flagler Estates. For evacuation information, including route maps and evacuation zones, visit www.sjcemergencymanagement.org/evacinfo.html.
Residents living aboard boats, and those living in RVs, mobile homes and manufactured homes throughout St. Johns County were also included in the evacuation order.
St. Johns County opened six shelters on Monday morning and was prepared to open additional shelters as needed. But with the evacuations lifted, it was unclear how long they would remain open.
The St. Johns County Fairgrounds opened for RV and boat storage and overnight stays. This service is free for residents and visitors until seven days after the evacuation order has been lifted. Space is limited and no reservations will be accepted. Public restrooms and showers will be available for use, however, no RV hookups are available.
For more information, call the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center Hotline at 904-824-5550.
Community cancellations and closures
Except for Emergency Response Operations, St. Johns County government, the St. Johns County School District, the St. Johns County Court House/Clerk of the Court, the city of St. Augustine and the City of St. Augustine Beach are closed through Thursday.
St. Johns County announced Wednesday that school will resume on Friday.
Flagler Hospital never closed and would return to normal operations on Thursday. The Northeast Florida Regional Airport was closed to all non-emergency air traffic.
- Flagler Hospital: All medical offices closed and non-emergency procedures canceled.
- St. Johns County garbage, yard debris and recycling collections are canceled on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
- St. Johns Golf Club is closed.
- St. Johns County libraries, bookmobiles, and book drops are closed until Thursday, Sept. 5
- St. Johns County Parks and Recreation programs are canceled, and all parks and facilities are closed until further notice due to the potential impacts of Hurricane Dorian.
- St. Johns River State College has closed all campuses for the rest of the week..
- Beacon of Hope Christian School will be closed through Thursday.
- Cathedral Parish School and Early Education Center will be closed through Wednesday.
- Anastasia State Park Campground and Park is closed.
- Flagler College campus is closed and has canceled classes until further notice.
- Faver-Dykes State Park and Campground closed.
- All vehicular access to St. Johns County Beaches will be restricted until conditions improve.
- St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency meeting scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 5, has been canceled.
- Matanzas State Forest has closed the following campgrounds: Cedar Creek Campground, Matanzas State Forest Group Camp.
- Council on Aging Services will close through Thursday.
- Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas National Monuments is closed.
- The St. Johns County Board of County Commission regular meeting and the special budget meeting scheduled Tuesday, September 3 have been canceled. It has been rescheduled for Sept. 12.
- Florida School for the Deaf and Blind has canceled classes and sent students home.
The following household garbage, recycling and yard debris schedules have been updated 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 make-up 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.
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