TS Julia blowns down trees, takes out power

First Coast residents cleaning up after unexpected storm

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Ashley Harding - Reporter, Heather Leigh - Reporter, Francesca Amiker - Reporter

Spotty power outages were reported along the Georgia coastline as Tropical Storm Julia moves slowly across the area. Officials said just over 1,100 homes and businesses are without power Wednesday morning as the center of the system moved past.

No schools were closed, but parents in Glynn County were warned that bus service could be delayed by the storm.

Father south in Atlantic Beach, it may be hard to convince that is was not a tornado that hit their area.   John Gaughn and the National Weather Service says there were no tornados in the area, but there were wind gusts near 70 mph near the beaches and left businessmen and homeowners with a mess to clean up.

The Chevron station on Mayport Road was closed Wednesday, the pumps behind caution tape, ofter parts of the buildings roof blew off during the storm.
                                                                                                                                           
Deepak Ray said his store was not very busy as he heard the rain pounding, but he had no idea how bad the storm was until someone came inside and told him his awning blew off.

"I went outside and had seen that the roof was on the floor," Ray said. "I think it fell in the grass first, and then on the concrete. Then the wire was on the top and I was scared there would be fire, but the mainline was across the roof, so I knew it was safe."

About a block away, Jessie Easterbrooks was home with her husband and children when the storm blew away their screened porch and sent it down the street.

"It sounded like a freight train heading toward the house. The windows starting shaking," Easterbrooks said. "My husband yelled, 'Get away from the window,' and that is was a tornado and grab the kids. We have four kids. I took off in one direction. He took off in another direction. Then we heard a big bang and everything got quiet  We open the door to see what blew around and our porch was gone."

Coastal Georgia barely scathed by Julia

Emergency management officials in coastal Georgia said they were breathing a sigh of relief. Other than the damaged power lines and downed tree limbs, there was no serious property damage.

That doesn't mean the high winds and heavy rains did surprise a lot of people in St. Simons Island. Melissa Wellford owns the Sandcastle Cafe and Grill on Mallery Street.

"I got to take my shower by candlelight this morning," resident Melissa Wellford said. "I also had to put makeup on by candlelight."

She said it's not the first time she's had storms knock out her power. Her restaurant stayed open doing things the old-fashioned way.

"We served by candlelight. We cook by gas, so we were able to stay open," Wellford said.

Tourists and locals made their way back out as the storm moved away, but were warned to stay out of the water as rip currents would be strong.

"We were joking that we weren't going to be taking our paddleboards in the water today," resident William Headley said.

Tropical storm warnings for the Florida coast were discontinued at 5 a.m. Wednesday, and later in the morning for the Georgia coast.

The Duval County Emergency Operations Center monitored the tropical storm overnight, watching the wind gusts in case bridge closures were needed, Jacksonville Fire Rescue said. 

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office urged residents to charge their electronic devices, such as cell phones, tablets and laptops, in case power was knocked out during the storm. Police also suggested that Jacksonville residents secure anything outside that could blow away. 

Strong wind gusts blew off part of an awning at an Atlantic Beach gas station

Jacksonville Mayor Curry tweeted late Tuesday evening, asking people to stay off the roads, if possible, due to the heavy rain and wind making its way through the city. 

Curry said public works and public safety officials will continue to monitor the storm overnight. 

The State Emergency Operations Center and State Emergency Response Team stand ready to respond to severe weather, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a news release Tuesday, before Invest 93L strengthened into a tropical storm.

IMAGES: Tropical storm forms over Northeast Florida

NWS tracks tropics

The National Weather Service worked overtime and brought in additional staff Tuesday to track the tropics ahead of the formation of Tropical Storm Julia. 

The agency will be working with municipalities, such as Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach, and counties, as well as the United States Coast Guard and Navy. Officials said they continue to watch the radar closely because there is a possibility of tornadoes, especially along the immediate coastline. 

Though there a tornado in Brevard County on Tuesday, the NWS meteorologists said a tropical storm presents a potential for tornadoes. 

"You'll want to get into an interior room away from glass. So a bathroom is a good place because the pipes inside the bathroom actually provide extra protection. Bring something soft to put around you, pillows or blankets, and take it into the bathtub. And honestly and truly, if you have bike helmets, it's not a bad idea to put those on because that would help protect the head," said Al Sandrik, warning coordination meteorologist. 

The NWS meteorologists said smart phones are the best thing for receiving emergency notifications. 

"In the cellphone, there is something called a WEA -- weather emergency alert. And if there was a tornado warning, you would get that. A lot of communities have code red and if you don't have code red, I recommend that you talk to your local emergency management and get the equivalent," Sandrik said. 

Rain takes heavy toll on Jacksonville Beach businesses 

The tropical system took a heavy toll on businesses in Jacksonville Beach Tuesday night. 

Hundreds of people usually attend the art walk that's held near the corner of 1st Street and 3rd Avenue North outside bars, restaurants and shops.

Vendors and artists hoped that the wind and rains wouldn't keep attendees away, but one of the event organizations told News4Jax that only six people showed up when the event began at 5 p.m.

The art walk was rained out about an hour later.

Workers at Blue Water restaurant said they were also affected by the storm. A security worker said his shift was canceled because the rain kept patrons away.

Flooding reported in St. Augustine

St. Augustine residents were concerned about flooding Tuesday as bands of heavy rain and wind hit the area late Tuesday afternoon. 

The St. Augustine Police Department said several roads in the downtown area were closed for hours due to flooding, but reopened about 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Flooding has been a continuous issue for the downtown area of the city. Officials said drivers who encounter a flooded street should turn around and go in a different direction. Drivers are urged not to drive through, because their vehicle could get stuck. 

One woman visiting from Ohio told News4Jax Tuesday that she came down to St. Augustine to celebrate a friend's birthday and wasn't expecting the windy and rainy conditions. 

"We're going to get a room then come back tomorrow and it will probably be like this again but I don't care," Kathy Justice said.

Heavy winds, pounding rain sweep through Vilano Beach

The presence of the tropical system that later formed into Tropical Storm Julia was impossible to ignore in Vilano Beach, as high winds and pounding rain swept through the area. 

The storm made its way along the coast of northeast Florida, including Surfside Park. 

Wayne Wilson, who lives right on the beach, said he stayed out of the elements. 

Beach erosion has been a major problem for the area in recent years, but Wilson said that didn't even cross his mind. He said the storm did make an impression. 

"The wind was blowing really bad, blowing everything all over the place, chairs, everything. (It was) blowing worse than when the hurricane came through a couple weeks ago," Wilson said. "This is probably the worst I've seen in a while, living on Vilano Beach."

The impact that the severe weather had on beach erosion will be assessed in the days ahead. 

The worst of the storm moved out of the area within a few hours and the conditions cleared up just before 8 p.m. 

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