Evacuations, curfew lifted after Flagler County 'dodges a bullet'

Hurricane Dorian brings strong winds, heavy rains to Flagler Beach

Corley Peel reports live from Flagler Beach as the winds and surf kick up from Hurricane Dorian.

FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. – Flagler County lifted its curfew and ended mandatory evacuations just after noon on Wednesday, as emergency management officials expressed relief at how little damage the county had sustained.

"Even though the storm is leaving us and even though we seem to have dodged a bullet and the impacts seem somewhat minimal, the county does have some damages, especially on our dunes," Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord said. "If this had been worse, we were ready and prepared to take care of this community."

The worst of Hurricane Dorian's effects pounded Flagler Beach early Wednesday morning as heavy rains and strong winds from the outer bands of the Category 2 storm lashed the coastline.

Flagler County Emergency Management reported just after 4:30 a.m. that wind speeds had reached 48 mph and 5 inches of rainfall had already been measured. Erosion was already being reported on the beach by 5 a.m.

WATCH: Sky 4 drone shows rough surf near Flagler Beach pier

Some homes were left without power after the bulk of the storm had moved on north. As of 5 a.m. Wednesday, more than 2,200 customers were without power in Flagler County, FPL reported. That had dropped to just over 1,000 by 11:30 a.m.

Downed power lines should be reported to Florida Power & Light at https://www.fpl.com/my-account/web-outage.html#wors/mainTab/phoneTab.

The Flagler Beach Bridge on State Road 100 and the Hammock Dunes Bridge were closed because of the enacted curfew but were reopened Wednesday afternoon.

Despite the lack of major damage, Sheriff Rick Staly urged residents not to venture out Wednesday unless they had to because wind gusts will continue through the day.

"Be careful when you're driving. Take your time. If you don't have to go out today, spend another day at home, and go out tomorrow," Staly said, adding that deputies had few issues with anyone breaking the curfew. "We had about 60 sheriff's deputies on duty around the clock, and crime was down."

Officials said the pier will remain closed until it can be inspected Thursday by a structural engineer. The State Road A1A project is intact and engineers will assess any damage, officials said.

"This was, fortunately for us, good practice. And God bless that it was practice, for us," Flagler Schools Superintendent James Tager said.

Officials urged residents not to go into the ocean as no lifeguards will be on duty and the waters are still dangerous.

"Please, please stay out of the water. Lifeguards and first responders will not be able to help you if you get in trouble," Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney said.

Sightseers watch waves crash against the pier in Flagler Beach, Fla., as Hurricane Dorian made its way off the coast Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Schools reopen Friday

Tager announced school will resume Friday, Sept. 6. This comes as school district teams continue to clean the campuses used as emergency shelters during mandatory evacuations in advance of Hurricane Dorian.

At the height of the storm, the two shelters housed about 400 evacuees.

"We are grateful that the most powerful part of Hurricane Dorian remained well offshore," Tager. "I cannot say enough how much I appreciate how unselfishly and collaboratively Flagler Schools employees and volunteers treated all of our shelter guests with dignity and respect. We will now get to work helping those who sought shelter with us get back to their homes."

Damage to Flagler Schools campuses was minimal and can be repaired over the coming days.

"We are busy at coming up with a plan on how to make up the three days of instruction we missed," Tager said. "As soon as that has been determined, we will let our administrators, teachers, staff, and families know." 

Offices, garbage updates

Flagler County offices are closed for the remainder of Wednesday, but reopen Thursday for normal business, which includes the Library.

"We are trying to get everything back to normal as quickly as possible," said Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord. "We appreciate everyone's patience. Our residents have been wonderful through all of this, getting prepared, and then hunkering down while we waited for Dorian to reach us. Thankfully, the storm is on the way out of our area."

Garbage collection returns to normal service Thursday. Residents on the Monday/Thursday schedule will have their garbage collected on Thursday. Residents on the Tuesday/Friday schedule will have their garbage collected Friday. 

Yard waste will be collected Saturday, as Wednesday's collection was missed.

Emergency Operations Center resumes regular operations

Flagler County's Emergency Operations Center resumes regular operations at 7 p.m. Wednesday. 

The Call Center phone line will also close at that time. Those with unmet needs, related to Hurricane Dorian may call 386-313-4200 during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Those with significant home damage should also report that damage to the Property Appraiser's Office during business hours at 386-313-4150.

Palm Coast

Palm Coast city leaders said that as of 10:45 a.m., the storm had delivered five inches of rain to the city.

Department directors are regularly reporting updates at the City EOC. So far, water and sewer services are operating normally without any issues and canals, which were lowered prior to the storm, are still below normal levels. Firefighters are responding to EMS calls and coordinating with FPL for downed power line calls.

"Our preparation for this storm was top-notch," said Fire Chief Jerry Forte. "In an event like this, every single city employee is essential personnel, and they did their part to ensure this city can get back on its feet as quickly as possible. We prepared for the worst and are glad that the worst never happened. We're urging caution as the effects from this storm will still be felt throughout Wednesday." 

The biggest risk right now is traffic -- residents getting out of their homes and driving around. Another risk is trees that have pulled down power lines. We ask that people stay home as we are still under a hurricane warning and storm conditions can reduce visibility. 

Once Dorian passes later Wednesday, firefighters will visit nearly 100 assisted living facilities to conduct a welfare check and provide any assistance they may need. Community Development will begin damage assessments first thing Thursday morning. 

"We are so fortunate," said Mayor Milissa Holland, "that this storm wasn't as serious as it could have been for Palm Coast. Our hearts are with everyone that was impacted by this storm, especially those in the Bahamas. I am proud of our city and how prepared we were for this storm and am grateful for all of the sacrifices that were made to keep Palm Coast safe."

City offices will reopen Thursday and Friday for normal hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Garbage collection will resume normal pickups on Thursday and Friday with a special yard debris pickup day on Saturday for any storm debris. 

Parks and recreation facilities will remain closed through Thursday, Sept. 5. This includes all scheduled activities, facility reservations, and tee times through that day.

The City Council Special Budget meeting for Wednesday, Sept. 4 has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 5:05 p.m

Limit water use if power is lost

The City of Palm Coast would like to remind residents that if they lose electric power they should reduce water consumption as much as possible with the goal of having the least amount of water going down the drain.

The wastewater sewer system can't move sewage to the treatment plant without electricity, and even with generators, the system will not be operating at full capacity.

It is especially important for residents with PEP tanks (Pretreatment Effluent Pumping System) to drastically decrease water usage if they lose electricity. PEP tanks will not empty into the wastewater system if there is no power. If the tank fills to capacity, there is a risk it could back up into your home.

If power is lost, whether you're on the gravity sewer system or have a PEP tank, do not do laundry. Flush as infrequently as possible. Put as little water down your sinks and showers as possible.

If your PEP tank alarm goes off, please call Palm Coast Customer Service at 386-986-2360. A crew will be dispatched as soon as it's safe to do so.

Palm Coast Utility has a comprehensive plan for returning full function back to the wastewater system. With a combination of tank trucks and generators, the city will utilize all efforts to pump down the system as much as possible until such time full power is restored.

Please continue to check the City's website at www.palmcoastgov.com for updates. The City is also providing information throughout the event on these social media accounts:

Closures, cancellations

City offices for Flagler Beach and Bunnell are closed Tuesday and Wednesday. They will assess their abilities to re-open later this week as more information is known about the storm. Palm Coast is closing municipal offices Tuesday and possibly Wednesday.

Court closures for the 7th Judicial Circuit have been extended through Thursday, Sept. 5. However, first appearances for Thursday will be held at 1:30 p.m. in Volusia County and as scheduled in Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties. Regular operations are expected to resume on Friday, Sept. 6. The 7th Circuit includes Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties. This closure affects the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center in Bunnell.

The Florida Department of Health-Flagler offices will be closed at least through Thursday.

Flagler County Parks and Recreation Department closed campsites and community centers on Sunday to make the facilities available for emergency uses if necessary. The Wickline Senior Center will be closed until further notice for the same reason.

Stay informed

Check for current information on Flagler County's website, www.flaglercounty.org, and follow "Flagler County Government" or "Flagler County Emergency Management" on Facebook or Twitter.

The county's social media team will provide updates through these official accounts:

About the Authors:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.