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St. Johns County declares local state of emergency in preparation for Dorian

Emergency Operations Center was fully activated Saturday night


ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – St. Johns County Emergency Management, along with the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, continues to monitor the Hurricane Dorian's path.

On Saturday night, the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center was fully activated.

No evacuation or sheltering orders had been issued as of Saturday night, however, county officials urge residents to continue monitoring the storm.

St. Johns County’s staff, first responders, law enforcement and utilities -- along with representatives 
from the city of St. Augustine, the city of St. Augustine Beach and many other agencies -- will remain fully operational throughout the weekend and continue to make preparations for potential impacts.

Should you have any questions, call the Emergency Operations Center hotline at 904-824-5550. It will remain open until the hurricane passes the area.

Additional information will be released as St. Johns County continues to prepare. Visit www.sjcfl.us for more updates.

Potential local impacts:

  • Excessive rainfall potential exists with the current track, 10-15 inches of rain with higher amounts possible.
  • Timing for effects from Dorian have slowed down significantly and the area is unlikely to see any impacts until Tuesday.
  • Coastal Flood Advisory is in effect for potential minor flooding during high tide.
  • Regardless of the eventual track, dangerous marine conditions across coastal waters with large breaking surf and potential beach erosion.
  • Nor’easter conditions have developed and will persist through the weekend.
  • Local tides will already be astronomically elevated into the weekend due to the new moon. 

No Watches or Warnings have been issued for St. Johns County. No evacuations have been ordered. No shelters are open.

St. Johns County Utility currently does not anticipate a need to disconnect water supply to the barrier islands., however, should weather conditions deteriorate to a point that the public water system is at risk, a disruption in water supply services may be necessary to protect the integrity of the system. Should a disruption of service be necessary, St. Johns County will provide notification to affected property owners as early as possible. 

In anticipation of incoming animals due to Hurricane Dorian, the St. Johns County Pet Center is waiving all pet adoptions fees through Sept. 6. The Pet Center is located at 130 N. Stratton Road, St. Augustine, and anticipates to remain open during standard operation hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and Tuesday through Friday. 

Throughout the county, businesses were preparing Friday for Dorian. John Spires, owner of Oasis Marina, and his family have been working long hours to get boats secure and in place ahead of Dorian.

"We are at max capacity right now," Spires said. "We packed the entire row with boats we can not take anymore."

Fishing charters were among the businesses preparing for the storm. The Knot Tied Down Fishing Charter sits in the water at the Conch House Marina. With Hurricane Dorian on its way, the owner, Barbara Butler, said the boat won’t be going on any fishing trips this Labor Day weekend, causing a set back for the family business.

"We had to cancel the charters that we had and, of course, we haven’t gotten a phone call for any this week," Butler said. "Even if people are here, they’re not going to book a charter. And we couldn’t take them anyway. But it is a loss of income.”

WATCH: Fishing charters prepare for the storm

Two years ago, the Conch Island Marina was damaged during Hurricane Irma, Butler said. She said they might have to move the boat somewhere else during Dorian to make sure it doesn't get damaged.

“If there’s a major change and if they say it's definitely going to be here, we’ll go ahead and move it over the weekend," said Butler, who added that she hopes she can get her fishing charter business back up and running soon.

In Vilano Beach, erosion is minimal compared with years past, but the beach is empty and as visitors learn about the possibility of Hurricane Dorian, they are leaving. 

"We were almost booked full and all but two had to cancel," said Nancy Killmer, a front desk worker at an area hotel. "We have chosen to tell them they have to leave by Sunday."

St. Johns County declares local state of emergency

In preparation for Hurricane Dorian, the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday afternoon declared a local state of emergency.

The declaration allows the county to access resources and assistance to prepare for an inclement weather event.

It comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for Florida counties in the storm's path, including St. Johns.

WATCH: St. Johns County declares local state of emergency in preparation for Dorian |
IMAGES: St. Johns County prepares for Dorian

School district monitoring Dorian

The St. Johns County School District is continuing to work with the county Emergency Operations Center to monitor the path of Hurricane Dorian. There remains a great deal of uncertainty on the potential impact to our county and our schools. Any updates or changes to school operations on Tuesday will be communicated on Sunday, Sept. 1.

Flagler College is canceling classes Monday through Wednesday for Hurricane Dorian. Classes will remain on schedule Friday, Aug. 30. However, students who must be absent to make flights or for other travel arrangements will certainly be excused by faculty. Flagler expects to resume classes and normal operations on Thursday, Sept. 5, unless otherwise notified.        

Florida School for the Deaf and Blind has canceled classes and sent students home.  The campus remains open for 11- and 12-month employees. 

St. Johns River State College will be closed on Tuesday, Sept. 3. All classes and activities are canceled for all campus locations (Orange Park, Palatka and St. Augustine). SJR State will schedule an update for  1 p.m. Sunday to announce any possible additional closings. Information can be found on the College website at www.SJRstate.edu.

County providing free sandbags to residents 

St. Johns County is providing free sandbags at six locations throughout the county in preparation for Hurricane Dorian. The sand and the bags will be provided free of charge to residents. Residents must provide their own transportation and shovels, and they will be responsible for filling their own bags. There is a maximum allocation of 20 bags per person.

PREPARING FOR DORIAN: Where to find sandbags

  • Windswept Acres Park -- 5335 SR A1A South
  • Sims Pit -- 536 S. Holmes Blvd.
  • Hastings Community Center -- 6195 S. Main St., behind the building
  • Mills Field -- 1805 Race Track Road, in the overflow parking area
  • Palm Valley -- Under the Palm Valley Bridge on the east side of the Intracoastal Waterway
  • North Beach Park -- 3721 Coastal Highway (at the walkover)

The sand and bags will be available between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily for the duration of the storm, 
or until conditions deteriorate and the operation must cease for the safety of the public and staff. 
For additional information, call 904-824-5550.

One scoop at a time, people in St. Johns County were packing sandbags Thursday ahead of Dorian.

"I think 25 bags is enough to brace me," said Jim Raz, who lives in St. Augustine. "If it gets higher than that, it’s probably not going to hold anyway."

He said there are two prevailing methods for the sandbags to work effectively.  

"One of them is the way that you lay the sandbags. The pressure and the water and the wave action kind of makes them situate inside of each other to make a nice seal, so you want them where the water is," he said.

Raz said the second method is putting the sandbags indoors. 

"Another theory is you put them inside the door because the pressure of all the water in the Atlantic from here to Spain, I guess, is pushing against it, so it won’t push the door open," he said. "My hope is that everybody that’s in the path takes care of themselves because there’s a really high chance that you can get hurt if you don’t pay attention." 

Sand in Vilano Beach
Sand in Vilano Beach

Residents urged to prepare, know evacuation routes

Emergency Management encourages residents to prepare and evaluate response plans, look up evacuation routes and zones, assemble supply kits and secure homes.

St. Johns County urges residents to look up evacuation zones and routes by reviewing the following map: https://www.sjcemergencymanagement.com/pdf-maps/evaczones%208x11.pdf.

Residents can also determine their evacuation zones by going to www.sjcemergencymanagement.com and clicking on the "My Evacuation Zone" link.

RESOURCES: Map of St. Johns County's evacuation zones and routes
Know your flood/evacuation zone

For more information, call 904-824-5550.

The Emergency Operations Center will be providing Hurricane Dorian updates throughout the weekend at www.sjcemergencymanagement.org and www.facebook.com/stjohnseoc. Residents can also find weather updates at www.weather.gov/jax. For more information, call the Emergency Operations Center at 904-824-5550

Flood-prone substation gets extra layer of protection

For the first time in history, a local utility company is putting a portable dam around one of its substations to keep the water out.

A crew from Florida Power & Light was at a St. Augustine substation on Friday, working to put together a portable dam called AquaDam that will surround the substation near the San Sebastian River that services more than 6,500 customers. 

WATCH: FPL putting portable dam around substation

The water will be pulled from the river and transported into the portable dam, which will then wrap around the substation. It should be up and ready to go in the next 24 hours.

"The reason that we are using this substation, in particular, is because it has been prone to flooding in the past during Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Matthew, so we need to come up with a plan so that we can restore power for our customers quickly," said Richard Beltran, a spokesperson for FPL.

The portable dam is 5 feet high and the weight of the water of the dam helps maintain the seal. Additionally, FPL has installed real-time flood monitors at 227 stations throughout the state. 

St. Augustine Beach preparing

The city of St. Augustine Beach is preparing for Hurricane Dorian. The St. Augustine Beach Police Department said people will notice the city placing sand barricades at the beach ramps. Those piles of sand help prevent water surge from coming into the homes. If this sand gets taken away, that defeats the purpose of the barricades.

Police asked that people do not take the sand to fill sandbags.

Vilano Beach homeowners bracing

Owners of homes along the coastal highway that were destroyed after hurricanes Matthew and Irma started to prepare Wednesday for the possibility of a Category 3 hurricane to make landfall on Florida's east coast. 

Sean McMullen, who has lived in Vilano Beach since 2006, said it's an emotional time as he monitors the storm.

"You know, we're sad," he said. "My kids grew up here. You know, you just move on."

Although his home along the coastal highway was damaged during Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017, he said his home was saved by 890 tons of stone rocks, which go down 22 feet deep, that he put in when he moved into his home in 2006.

"You realize that when you’re by here, it’s just the repeat thing of it," McMullen said.

WATCH: Vilano Beach homeowners uneasy as Dorian tracks closer to coastline

Vilano Beach home boarded up ahead of Dorian.
Vilano Beach home boarded up ahead of Dorian.

McMullen said his roof and his deck were damaged during Hurricane Matthew, costing about $150,000. He said two years later, he's just now getting paid from the insurance company.

"My wife and I moved from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and, truthfully, we’re thinking of moving back because we can’t really take this year after year," McMullen said. "Financially, it’s killing us because our insurance triples."

On Wednesday, in Vilano Beach, windows were already boarded up, one with a message reading, "Just Pray" and "Just Go Away."

McMullen also said at least 60 homes on Vilano Beach and just north of his were destroyed during Hurricane Matthew and some of those homeowners have still not completely rebuilt.

Others who live along Vilano Beach were also taking steps to get prepared, boarding up their homes and loading up on supplies. 

As soon as Cara Shaw got up Wednesday morning and saw the updated track, she knew what she had to do. 

"I was, like, 'Honey, we need to go buy a generator,'" said Shaw, who has lived in the Vilano Beach area for 35 years.

People in Vilano Beach said they’ve learned not to wait until the last minute to prepare for a storm after recent hurricanes.

"Matthew and Irma were the first hurricanes I have ever cognitively been through," Shaw said.

A contractor in the area also told News4Jax on Wednesday that he had been getting one call after another to board up homes ahead of the storm.

On Thursday, Vilano Beach residents were taking advantage of free resources like sandbags. 

Diane Scherff has lived in Vilano Beach for about six years now and watched Matthew and Irma devastate the area. 

"Everything just came down. We had houses that just went into the water. It was crazy. We had a lot of flooding in our neighborhood, probably 6 inches up through the doors," Scherff said.

Scherff admitted the sandbags helped her tremendously during Irma and judging by the constant flow of people loading up their cars Thursday, she wasn't the only one.

"People are smart. They are preparing," she said. "We need to be doing our part to prepare right now."

Davis Shores residents building up

Residents of St. Augustine's Davis Shorts neighborhood are all too familiar with streets disappearing during bad rainstorms and hurricanes.

Construction in the neighborhood is a common sight, as homeowners have been raising their houses at least 10 feet above sea level to make sure what they went through during hurricanes Matthew and Irma doesn't happen again during Dorian.

WATCH: Preparing for possible flooding in St. Johns County |
PREVIOUS STORY: Some residents of flood-prone Davis Shores raising homes off the ground

Tyne Anderson, who lives in Davis Shores, said his entire house was flooded from Matthew and then Irma.

"We got roughly a foot of water in the entire house," he said. "We had to cut the entire house and redo everything."

Davis Shores home built up after hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
Davis Shores home built up after hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

After that, he decided to raise the house by 4½ feet to prevent it from happening again.

"I just know that pit in your stomach, kind of helplessness," Anderson said. "You're just sitting waiting there for it. It's like you're waiting to get punched in the face."  

When construction on Anderson's home is finished, it will sit 12 feet above sea level -- costing him $120,000.

"A lot of people have taken the time and effort and money to raise the house," Anderson said.

Anderson, along with other neighbors who are raising their homes, said they are not taking any chances in the future knowing what they went through with back-to-back hurricanes. 

While parts of Anderson's home are still under construction, including the addition and garage -- which currently do not have roofs, he is still doing all he can to protect his family and home.

"They said Matthew was a 100-year storm, never  (going to) happen again," he said. "Then we got hit with Irma less than a year after."

Anderson said he still has to put shutters up, but is keeping a close eye on Dorian. He said if the storm intensifies, he will consider evacuating to keep his family safe. ​​​​​​

Davis Shores home built up after hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
Davis Shores home built up after hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

St. Augustine braces for threat of flooding

City officials have been closely monitoring Dorian's track so that they can get the community prepared should evacuations come into play

"Unfortunately, we cannot predict the storm surge, flooding," St. Augustine Public Works Deputy Director Todd Grant said Wednesday. "Depending on when it makes landfall, it will impact how flooding is."

But, according to city officials, St. Augustine is better prepared should Dorian impact the area. Grant said the city learned a lot during hurricanes Matthew and Irma and has made improvements to infrastructure after suffering massive flooding.

WATCH: St. Augustine preparing for potential flooding

But he said there are things residents can do to help as the storm approaches the area. 

"We are going to try to clean off the storm drains of debris (so) that drainage is not inhibited," Grant said. "Residents can help out by, if they see stuff on top of the storm drain, just cleaning it out for us."

The city also asks people who live in the area to stay alert, prepare for the storm and heed warnings if it gets to that point.

Businesses in St. Augustine are closely watching the storm's track, with flooding being a top concern. 

Along the city's historic bayfront, there are still visual reminders of how bad the flooding got during hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

"We’re well seasoned now after the two big ones that we had, so we are well prepared," said Sean Fitzpatrick, the general manager of Meehan's Irish Pun. "We have materials ready at the go."

On Thursday, staff from multiple bayfront businesses could be seen loading up on sandbags. 

"Obviously, as you can see, we are right here about 5 or 6 feet above sea level, so when high tide comes up, it comes over that wall, it’s scary," Fitzpatrick said.

In the meantime, city stormwater crews spent Thursday checking valves and clearing out any debris ahead of the storm.

Over the next few days, tourism in St. Augustine is expected to take a hit.

"It's unfortunate that it is coming on a holiday weekend in the slower months," Fitzpatrick said.

Ed Walker, executive marketing director of Old Town Discovery Center, added, "The damage that it is going to cause and the loss of money for a lot of businesses that look forward to Labor Day for every year, and it’s kind of disheartening a bit."

In preparation of the storm and to protect the city's investment in new pay stations, they have been removed from all city parking areas. Parking enforcement on city streets and in city-controlled lots has been suspended until after storm conditions subside. Fees at the garage remain in place. Illegally parked vehicles will be ticketed.

Closures, cancellations due to Dorian

As St. Augustine and St. Johns County officials continue to monitor Dorian, several meetings have been canceled:

  • Quality of Nightlife Public Workshop at 3 p.m. Wednesday was canceled.
  • Complete King Street Master Plan Project at 5:30 p.m. Thursday was canceled.
  • As the city of St. Augustine continues to take preemptive action in anticipation of the effects of Hurricane Dorian, the regularly scheduled Planning and Zoning Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, has been canceled. All agenda items will be postponed for review at the Tuesday, Oct. 1, meeting, which will take place at 2 p.m.
  • Due to Hurricane Dorian, the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners regular meeting and the special budget meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 3, has been rescheduled to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 12.
  • The Planning and Zoning Agency regular meeting previously scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 5, has been canceled. The next Planning and Zoning Agency meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19.
  • Offices will be closed on Monday, Sept. 2, in observance of the Labor Day holiday. With the uncertainty of the potential impacts of Hurricane Dorian, any additional changes to city office hours next week will be announced next week as they occur.
  • Council On Aging of St. Johns County,  including Transportation (Sunshine Bus and Paratransit), will be closed on Tuesday, Sept. 3, and Wednesday, Sept. 4, due to the weather.
  • The St. Johns County Courthouse and the Clerk of Courts Office will remain closed through Wednesday, Sept. 4. Weather permitting, the Courthouse and Clerk’s Office are anticipated to reopen for standard business hours on Thursday, Sept. 5.
  • In advance of Hurricane Dorian, all courthouses in the 7th Judicial Circuit will be closed on Tuesday, Sept. 3, and Wednesday, Sept. 4. The 7th Circuit includes Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties. This closure affects the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center in Bunnell, the Putnam County Courthouse in Palatka, the Richard O. Watson Judicial Center in St. Augustine, the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand, the S. James Foxman Justice Center in Daytona Beach and the Volusia County Courthouse Annex at City Island in Daytona Beach. First appearance hearings will continue as scheduled, pending further determination on a county-by-county basis.

Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas National Monuments will be closed starting Friday, Aug. 30, in anticipation of severe weather and potential impacts from Dorian. While the storm track is unpredictable, based on existing information, park officials have decided to err on the side of caution and focus on visitor, volunteer and staff safety by this preemptive closure. For updates, please check park websites at www.nps.gov/casa and www.nps.gov/forma

Anastasia State Park Campground was being evacuated Friday and will be closed until Wednesday.  

Due to Hurricane Dorian, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre Box Office and the Farmers Market are closed on Saturday, Aug. 31.

All St. Johns County libraries are open for standard hours as of Friday. Due to the unpredictable nature of Hurricane Dorian’s path, library programs may be postponed or canceled. Check the library’s web calendar at www.sjcpls.org for program updates or cancellations. Due to the potential impacts of the storm, all library book drops will be locked and sealed at the end of the day on Saturday, Aug. 31. Do not attempt to return library items until further notice. Item due dates and hold pickup deadlines have been extended through Sept. 5 and will be further extended if necessary. All bookmobile stops scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 3, have been canceled.

Below you'll find an infographic explaining the emergency operation center's activation levels:


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