CRESCENT BEACH, Fla. – As crews continue assessing damage in St. Johns County after Hurricane Nicole blew through the Sunshine State, emergency officials are asking visitors and residents to avoid the hard-hit areas of the beach.
They want everyone to lie low this weekend and let engineers and surveyors do their work without dealing with traffic.
The county’s emergency management agency said avoiding the beaches will also keep residents safe from potentially dangerous storm damage -- like sinkholes or faulty power lines.
The EOC has several teams out performing assessments, essentially to find out how much damage there was, in order to know how much emergency relief to request from the state and federal government.
St. Johns County EOC Director Joseph Giammanco said FEMA, the Army Corps and a couple of other agencies are coming down Saturday and Sunday to assess the extent of the damage and then formulate a plan for the future.
Two teams have been surveying beach erosion, another team has been looking at residential damage -- like homes, vehicles and property -- and another team is assessing public infrastructure like roads bridges, sewer and water systems.
Giammanco said it’s difficult to pinpoint a cost estimate for Nicole’s damage, but they estimate roughly 200-300 people experienced damage, which translates to about $30 million.
“We have quite a few homes that were significantly damaged, that I’m not sure exactly if they can get back into them yet, but I do know there are some places that are still inaccessible because of some serious beach erosion, so we know that those people have not been able to assess their homes,” Giammanco said.
He advised residents to assess their damages as soon as possible, and if they want to reach out to the Emergency Operations Center, they can call 904-824-5550.
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“We can help them, point them in the right direction that they can deal with today, and then when the other agencies come online, we can help them point them in that direction to seek assistance,” Giammanco said.
Residents who live along Coastal Highway in Vilano Beach have been cleaning up sand from the beach that was pushed over to their homes. Neighbors are also dealing with a lot of debris that was swept into their yards.
They say it’s hard to see their hometown after the storm hit.
“I’ve lived here my whole life it definitely looks a lot different,” Christian Coryell said. “I’ve seen multiple hurricanes come through here. To see the destruction, it’s sad, and I just want to have a helping hand for everyone.”
Giammanco also acknowledged the concerns along the beaches.
“The beach has taken a significant hit, and it’s a lot of damage. So that’s a lot of money that’s potentially there,” Giammanco said. “The individual assistance, there’s a lot of homes that are damaged, at least had some flooding. And so that’s what that team is doing today is doing that initial determination. So we should have some numbers by the end of the weekend.”
Nicole swept through the state on Thursday — about six weeks after Florida was battered by Ian. Nicole damaged homes, rattled infrastructure, and took another hit at St. Johns County’s southern beaches, Summer Haven and Crescent Beach. A wide swath of beach was washed away, cleared by the Atlantic waters.
In Summer Haven, a strong nor’easter in November 2021 created a new breach. Since then, the breach has gotten significantly worse with Ian and Nicole, seemingly becoming an inlet.