Heavy flooding and wind gusts aren’t the only concerns for residents in Northeast Florida during a tropical storm or hurricane.
People who live near a creek or river might also have to deal with wildlife. Following Hurricane Irma in 2017, there were snakes and alligators sighted along Ken Knight Drive after the Ribault River overflowed.
Five years later, residents are still talking about the critters from the river that washed onto their front yards.
“The alligators, all up and down here, in the yards. Kids couldn’t come out because of the water, but even after the water was gone, you were scared to let your kids come outside,” recalled Sabrina Moneya.
In Lakewood, many people live along New Rose Creek, which is known to overflow at certain locations during heavy rainfall.
Neighbors tell News4JAX there are multiple alligators living in New Rose Creek, and we’re told the largest could be as long as seven feet.
Reid Folkers is a resident who lives along the creek. He’s from New York, and Hurricane Ian will be his first Florida hurricane experience.
He says gators are a common sight in the creek.
“The biggest concern is for the kids in the neighborhood,” Folkers said. “The apartments across the street have kids that play in the roads all the time. And we have a fair amount of people that fish here as well.”
John Brueggen is the director of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. He says it’s normal for alligators to get washed into a community during a hurricane or tropical storm.
“The animals are just as displaced as the people,” Bruggen said. “When that flooding occurs, they get washed out of areas they have inhabited for years.”
Brueggen says when that happens, alligators become disoriented in a new setting, such as a neighborhood. He also says they can be just as afraid of people as people can be afraid of them, and that they can become dangerous in new surroundings.
“They just don’t know where to retreat to, so imagine if you got put into a whole new spot and something’s coming at you. You don’t know where you’re at and what to do, and so, yes, they can act more defensively and more aggressively in that environment,” he explained.
Experts say this is why you don’t try to get close to the gator and why you certainly should not go walking in floodwaters because you could accidentally scare a gator into becoming defensive.
For the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, News4Jax has learned the farm has protocols in place to make sure potential flooding does not lead to alligators escaping the farm.
The director says on Wednesday they will begin draining the pool water to a much lower level so that if they do experience really heavy rainfall, they won’t have to worry about the pools overflowing.
The director says they also have both an inner and outer perimeter fence that is tall enough to keep rising water from allowing the alligators to float out into the community should they experience a massive flooding event.