CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Evacuations were ordered in Clay County due to Hurricane Ian, effective at noon Wednesday.
Clay County Emergency Management Director John Ward said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the evacuations are for zones A, B and C, as well as the North and South prongs of Black Creek.
Ward said the evacuations are “highly recommended.”
Zone A is the immediate properties along the St. Johns River and Doctors Lake.
Zone B is generally those within a couple of blocks of the river and the lake.
Zone C is the main body of Black Creek.
The updated Clay County Evacuation Zone Map can be found here.
Anyone with any questions can call the county’s call center at 877-252-9362 or visit alert.claycountygov.com.
Ward said sustained tropical storm force winds may persist for as long as 24 hours, which would be an unprecedented storm event in Clay County.
“We’ve had gusts, but our inland county residents have never seen sustained tropical force winds since 1964,” Ward said. “We’ve never seen multiple hours of sustained tropical storm force winds.”
He said there will be significant power outages, lots of trees and power lines down, and damage to modular and mobile homes. Rainfall amounts of more than 15 inches are possible. There will be moderate to major flooding of homes along Black Creek, but probably not as bad as the record crest from Hurricane Irma in 2017. The St. Johns River is already running more than a foot higher because of the astronomical high tide, and a river surge of an additional 2 to 4 feet is expected.
Plus, recent rainfall left the ground fairly saturated, meaning when the rain comes down, flooding happens that much faster.
“Obviously, we’ll be watching our, you know, areas that normally have urban flooding, you know, Black Creek, we’re going to be monitoring those type of things,” Ward said. “But when you start talking significant rainfall countywide when we’re already saturated, you know, it’s really paying attention to that.”
The Clay County Division of Emergency Management is advising residents to use the days and hours before the storm arrives to clear their yards, secure their pets and stock up on supplies.
Clay County resident Steve Giadasz spent his morning at the store, getting food, water and even water purification tablets just in case.
“I don’t know if that thing comes ashore as a category 4, there’s no telling how much destruction it could do,” Giadasz said.
Other residents are rolling out their portable generators to prepare for a possible outage.
In the meantime, the county is checking storm drains. It said residents can help out with that by checking the drains near their property to make sure they’re not blocked or plugged up with any debris. As a reminder, never dump grass clippings or anything but water down these drains.
The storm is also expected to temporarily halt construction projects, including a yearlong stormwater system replacement, which is being upgraded for exactly this type of situation.
Schools closing, some opening as shelters
In Clay County, schools and district offices will be closed Wednesday through Friday.
After-school activities and athletics will continue as normal on Tuesday, and then all extracurricular activities are canceled for the rest of the week.
Clay County Superintendent David Broskie said five schools act as shelters. Broskie said Lake Asbury Junior High is a special needs shelter, and people will be transported there starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Broskie said the other general population shelters will open at 3 p.m. Wednesday. They include Keystone Heights High at 900 SW Orchid Ave., Orange Park High School at 2300 Kingsley Ave., Wilkinson Elementary School at 4965 County Road 218 West in Middleburg, and Clay High School at 2025 W. State Road 16 in Green Cove Springs.
The shelters at Keystone Heights and Orange Park high schools are pet friendly. The only pets allowed are dogs, cats, rodents (such as hamsters and gerbils), rabbits, and birds, and the Americans with Disabilities Act allows a miniature horse, as long as it provided a service connected to the owner’s disability.
Click here for more information on the emergency shelters.
Broskie said that all the district’s school buildings have had a structural check and that they’ll be checked again before reopening after the storm to assess any damage.
Other county closures
Ward said the Clay County Clerk of Court branches and the Clay County Courthouse will be closed Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.
All other Clay County government and constitutional offices will close Wednesday at noon and will also be closed on Thursday and Friday.
Clay County officials are offering sandbag distributions on Tuesday and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. until supplies run out at the following locations:
- Omega Park — 4317 County Road 218, Middleburg
- Eagle Harbor Soccer Complex — 4287 Lakeshore Drive, Fleming Island
- City of Green Cove Springs — Old Fire Station – 25 Roderigo Ave., Green Cove Springs
- Town of Keystone Heights — Keystone Heights Cemetery – 555 South Lawrence Blvd.
- Town of Orange Park — Orange Park Athletic Association – 1086 Fromhart St., Orange Park
COUNTY-BY-COUNTY: Where to get sandbags in Northeast Florida & Southeast Georgia
The limit is 10 bags per person.
Residents will have to fill the bags and show proof of county residency.
On Wednesday, News4JAX spoke with Clay County residents who were bracing themselves, filling sandbags to keep floodwaters at bay.
Robert Worley knows this process all too well, having spent his whole life in Clay County.
“We’ve just picked up 10 to try to block the back door in case honestly if the pool overflows,” Worley said.
John Allen is also a lifelong Floridian. He’s seen a lot of storms in his time.
“I take them seriously. We had Irma come through when I lived in Middleburg,” Allen said. “It put about 18 inches of water in our whole house.”
Yaira Silva loaded up her allotted 10 sandbags on Tuesday morning, but she wasn’t finished.
“We’ve been here for a little bit now helping everybody else,” Silva said. “Some people come in by themselves and they need help holding bags, tying bags for them, helping them load them up.”
Clay County residents told News4JAX that they want to make sure to keep a close track on the storm’s movement and strength.
“Follow the news. Pay attention to it. Don’t underestimate it. But don’t overestimate it either,” Worley said.
Silva said, “As long as I watch you guys and I feel OK.”
“Take the storm seriously. Listen to the meteorologists really. They know what they’re doing,” Allen said.