ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – As Nicole on Wednesday evening gained hurricane strength while churning closer to Florida, voluntary evacuations began in the morning for coastal areas of St. Johns County.
People who live in the city of St. Augustine, the city of St. Augustine Beach and those in flood-prone areas on waterfront property in mobile homes and RVs are encouraged to find somewhere else to stay.
The message was simple: if you had flooding during Ian, expect flooding from Nicole.
“If you are in an unsafe location, a low-lying area or if you flooded in Ian or the nor’easter last year, we want you to be safe and seek shelter,” said Joe Giammanco, St. Johns County Emergency Management Director.
Wednesday night, the downtown area was empty. Bars, restaurants and shops had shut down ahead of the storm. River and Fort had sandbags piled up in front of its doors and plywood on its windows.
Eric Shaw works at the Tini Martini Bar, just steps away from the Matanzas River.
“We just hope it doesn’t come up above here — as long as it stays down there. The tables can float, but we don’t want it inside,” Shaw said.
By the evening, waters had receded — but flooding caused issues along the Downtown St. Augustine bayfront as water poured over the seawall Wednesday morning.
The road was closed in both directions along Avenida Menendez Street near the Bridge of Lions.
Resident Steve Goretskie told News4JAX, “It’s part of life. The water life. If you love it, you gotta deal with this also.”
Nearby, Anthony Davis plans on riding out the storm on his 45-foot boat at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster,” Davis said. “Sometimes you’re a little scared, a little up and down, but it’ll all work out”
He said his wife chose to ride out the storm at a motel across the street. He wasn’t worried about the storm.
“I’ve got the boat tied up really well,” he said. “I’ve ridden in a lot of hurricanes so it’ll all be fine.”
Vilano Beach & Porpoise Point neighborhood
Shortly after 6 p.m., crews finished shoring up a section of A1A in Vilano Beach with stacks of sandbags. Surging waves from the Atlantic Ocean had breached rocks along the highway that acted as a barrier.
Sand dunes once provided protection from storm surges but strong hurricanes and tropical storms in recent years have eroded that natural barrier.
Just up the road, News4JAX ran into several Vilano Beach homeowners who were making sandbags as part of their last-minute preparations.
“We’re just trying to block off the front and back doors,” one person told us. “Some people do the garage, but that’s a lot of extra bags right there.”
In the Porpoise Point neighborhood, a 15-foot hill made of sand was the only thing keeping surging water during high tide from rushing onto the street from a beach access point. Behind the hill lies a large flat area covered in wet seaweed and driftwood that washed in during the last high tide.
Sand dunes that once acted as a natural storm surge barrier for homes along the beach and across the street were washed away by previous storms. Steve and Amy Dove are homeowners here. They said putting up with storm surges without the protection of a natural barrier is something they have come to terms with.
“We knew what we were in for when we moved down here,” Steve Dove said. “We’re very sanguine about this now I think.”
“I’m just glad I didn’t get rid of the sandbags from the last hurricane, Ian,” Amy Dove said.
Shelters open to the public
St. Johns County opened two shelters Wednesday. The county was prepared to open additional shelters as needed. The following shelters were opened to the public:
- Health and Human Services Department (Special medical needs) at 200 San Sebastian View in St. Augustine
- Solomon Calhoun Community Center (General population and pet-friendly) at 1300 Duval Street in St. Augustine
While shelters provide safety throughout the storm, residents must bring supplies to maintain personal comfort and sustenance. St. Johns County recommends that all evacuees bring their own bedding, including sleeping bags or air mattresses, pillows, sheets and blankets. A five-day supply of water, nonperishable food, medication, diapers and other personal items are also suggested. Refer to the list below for additional supply suggestions:
- At least a five-day supply of medications, insulin and a cooler if you are diabetic
- Personal grooming and hygiene items, feminine supplies
- Extra clothing and eyeglasses
- Books, magazines, cards, games, etc.
- Pillows, blankets, sheets, lawn chair/chaise lounge
- Flashlight and extra batteries, manual can opener
- Personal identification/important papers
Sand and bags were available for free at the following locations from 8 a.m. Wednesday until weather permits:
- Windswept Acres Park - 5335 State Road A1A South
- North Beach Park - 3721 Coastal Highway
- Palm Valley - Underneath the Palm Valley Bridge on the east side of the Intracoastal Waterway
Multiple people showed up Tuesday at the sandbag location at North Beach Park in Vilano Beach, where storm surge caused problems weeks ago.
Many of those people were from St. Augustine and areas of Vilano Beach that experienced flooding and other wind-related impacts during the nor’easter last year and Ian this year. People are now hoping this storm won’t do significant damage, but it is expected to be a threat to coastal areas.
People we spoke with say they’re not taking any chances after Ian.
St. Augustine resident H.A. Smith explained why they were picking up sandbags.
“During really high tide the neighborhood gets water in the streets,” Smith said. “Over along the front of my driveway because water comes rushing up the street when it comes.”
The Historic Downtown Parking Facility is free starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday for residents living in low-lying, flood-prone areas who are seeking higher ground for their vehicles. Residents should plan to retrieve their vehicles once the storm passes, and it is safe to return home.
For additional information, please call the Historic Downtown Parking Facility, at 904-484-5160.