JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was a less-than-merry Christmas morning for hundreds of Northeast Florida families who woke up without power after thunderstorms swept through the area Thursday night, leaving behind a trail of toppled trees and power lines and damage to people’s property.
Neighbors were taking stock of their surroundings and picking up the pieces early Friday as utility crews assessed damage and worked to restore power to homes and businesses affected by outages scattered throughout Jacksonville and its neighboring counties.
JEA had at least 8,600 customers lose power at some point overnight, while Clay Electric had a spike in power outages around 7 p.m. Thursday, and around 23,000 of its customers across its service area were, at one time, in the dark.
Some of the most significant damage could be found in the Nature’s Walk subdivision in the Mandarin neighborhood, where a tree came crashing down atop the roof of a home. The homeowner, Rick Blyar, said he was inside when the winds picked up, sending him scrambling in search of cover.
“It sounded like a tornado,” he recalled. “So I headed for a bathtub. Then it seemed to die down. I came out and the same time I was coming out, my neighbors were coming out to find out what was going on and we saw that.”
By that, Blyar meant the massive tree trunk resting on his roof. He said the winds were so loud, he never heard the collision. Fortunately for him, there was minimal damage because the uprooted tree came to rest on a support beam, which absorbed the brunt of the impact.
His home wasn’t the only casualty. Not far away, another tree fell onto an RV, though no one was inside. Reports of damage scattered across the area filtered into the News4Jax newsroom as the storms cleared out, including a video clip showing what looked like a transformer catching fire along Claire Lane. Along the street, power lines were pummeled with fallen debris. There was also an uprooted tree that narrowly missed a house.
Marry Norris, a Mandarin resident of 18 years, said sections of her fence were knocked out during the storms.
“All of the sudden, the breeze was going crazy. My husband jumped up and shut the sliding glass door,” she said.
Neighbors told News4Jax they lost power, but city crews were quick to respond.
“They’re really working great. It’s Christmas, they’ve all been out here. I’m proud of this city, they’ve done well,” Norris said.
OH, CHRISTMAS TREES | Here's a look at Claire Lane in Mandarin. Downed power lines, trees & scattered debris.— Joe McLean (@JoeMcLeanNews) December 25, 2020
Some are still w/o power, but neighbors say the @CityofJax is responsive & working quickly.
Good news: So far, no reported injuries. #News4Jax @wjxt4 @DanielleUliano pic.twitter.com/Xkj3KHH7JH
Tree service contractors like Frank Aderhold and his team worked to clear debris.
“It hit pretty early last night,” said Aderhold, of Aderhold Tree Services. “The damage got pretty bad.”
Across town in the Dinsmore neighborhood, powerful winds Thursday evening dismantled Deborah Dempsey’s back patio, knocked over a nearby fence and lifted the top of her neighbor’s chimney off. Her home was one of at least three in the Waterbrook Falls subdivision with visible storm damage.
Damage from storm in Dinsmore neighborhood.
Dempsey told News4Jax she was preparing dinner for her family when all hell broke loose. She’s grateful no one was hurt.
“We heard this whistling sound,” she said. “And after a while glass and everything went to splattering and water came up through here and it just tore up everything out there. We didn’t know if it was over or what because everything happened so fast.”
Farther inland, Columbia County residents also felt the wrath of the storms. Jerry Norenberg was about to sit down to eat with his roommates in Lake City when their Christmas Eve dinner was interrupted by what sounded like a vehicle plowing into their home. It wasn’t a car but rather a tree.
“I took a step out of the kitchen and the next thing you know it sounded like a car came through the house,” Norenberg said. “It shook me and I turned back around and I noticed we had a tree sticking through the house.”
Norenberg said he and his roommates had to leave immediately. They salvaged what they could but made plans to stay with friends until they figure out what they’ll do next.
In Nassau County, half the kennels in an animal shelter were damaged after a tree fell, injuring one of the dogs.
“When we came out, we found the tree inside the kennels and a dog trapped,” said Monique Cusatti, with the nonprofit rescue organization Cusatti’s Critters. “Destroyed half our kennels.”
The dog that was injured is expected to be OK.
In Bradford County along Highway 100 near Starke, trees fell onto two homes and a car. A roof appears to have caved in at one of the homes.
According to Bradford County officials, people who were living in those homes are now receiving assistance from the American Red Cross.
The News4Jax Weather Authority believes some of the damage was caused by straight line winds.