Curfew lifted & alcohol sales resume at Jacksonville beaches

Hurricane Dorian moves north, but officials say surf is still dangerous

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Hurricane Dorian did not hit Northeast Florida head-on, but the storm's outer bands brought a lot of wind and heavy rain to Jacksonville Beach, especially around the pier Wednesday morning.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced that the evacuation order for zones A and B and the curfew were lifted at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Alcohol sales also resumed at the beaches at that time and businesses began to open back soon after. The public's desire for life to get back to normal could be seen at a packed Waffle House and about a mile away at the Lynch's Irish Pub, where customers were trickling in. Pete's Bar in Neptune Beach was also open for business.

Though the storm was moving north by Wednesday evening, Curry and the National Weather Service Jacksonville warned the surf will still be dangerous and the risk of rip currents will remain through Thursday.

Lifeguards will return to duty at the beaches Thursday, but people are warned to stay out of the ocean as it is still treacherous. Curry said he and the beach mayors were not happy to see so many people going to the beaches and going into the water despite the fact that Duval County's beaches were closed at midnight Monday.

"That is extremely dangerous and the thing that was the most concerning to me and the other beach mayors, you can get caught up in a rip current when you're in just a couple inches of water," Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser said Wednesday evening. "We want people to know it's very dangerous."

Hundreds had been showing up to watch the ocean despite the fact that Duval County's beaches were closed for much of the week. 

"I wanted to see the ocean. The hurricane is on the way out. I wanted to see the effects of it, the light rain," said John Labban, who was visiting the beach Wednesday night. "Just to see the raw effects of nature"

Fortunately, Glasser said, there were not any drownings or injuries leading up to and during Hurricane Dorian, but there certainly could have been and beachgoers need to realize that pre-hurricane warnings are not to be taken lightly.

"It's really a top priority of ours. We had to do some rescues. Some private citizens did a rescue yesterday," Glasser said. "It's very unfortunate."

Earlier on Wednesday, the weather in Jacksonville Beach was mainly dry around midnight. But by 3 a.m., the outer bands of Hurricane Dorian started to reach Jacksonville Beach with torrential downpours so thick that visibility was limited.

Mark, a beaches resident who's ridden out several hurricanes, pointed out around 9 a.m. that the storm's worst had yet to hit the area.

“This is just the beginning. This is just her clearing her throat before she gets to us," he said.

Many folks had evacuated the beaches, but plenty decided to stay and some of those who stuck it out opted to host hurricane parties.

“We have water. We have noodles and beer," Jacksonville Beach resident Melissa Kennedy said.

“We got it locked down. We got everything we need inside. We’re just enjoying the storm to be honest. We’re going to stay up, have it come through here. We’re having a good time,” Jacksonville Beach resident Jack Mackanac said. "The locals down here, we’ve been through it. We know what to expect. The people not from here, they’ve already left.”

All three beach communities were under a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. Wednesday. Police were seen enforcing that curfew early Wednesday morning:

Though there were heavy winds and rains, one beach resident said the local impact of Dorian did not compare to Hurricanes Irma and Matthew.

“This one here, I believe, is nothing special. It is pretty big and it’s hunkering down, and slow moving, which is different, but other than that, It’s nothing special," Atlantic Beach resident Ron Kennedy said.

Despite the advice given repeatedly since the weekend, Jacksonville's beaches saw a steady parade of visitors Tuesday and some decided to risk the dangerous waters Wednesday morning.

After warning three swimmers who came out of the ocean at Jacksonville Beach not to try a similar stunt again because the beaches are closed, Jacksonville Beach Ocean Capt. Rob Emahiser said the waters are just too dangerous to take chances.

"It's really rough, very, very dangerous. You can tell it's that bad cause there's no one out there trying --not even any surfers," Emahiser said. "It's just a bunch of whitewater. It's not worth it. And it's completely closed, so please heed the warning. The beach is closed. ... no water activity at all."

Capt. John Phillips, with Atlantic Beach Ocean Rescue, said Tuesday that Hurricane Dorian preparation had been nonstop. And, despite the mandatory evacuations, spectators were out all day -- not an ideal situation. 

“We have had a busy morning, we’ve had a busy week,” Phillips said. “Right now, we are trying to keep the people out of the water from swimming.”

WATCH: Jacksonville Beach timelapse

Phillips said that one of the constants that officials had to deal with is getting people out of the water.

“Swimmers in the water, people see them in the water, and they’re reporting it to 911 as somebody as in distress, being swept by the current,” Phillips said. “So, we’ll go down, assess the situation. Multiple times, we’ve had to respond to swimmers in the water.”

Another concern besides people being on the closed beaches had been the sand dunes. Heavy equipment was all over the beach Tuesday as tractors and bulldozers shored up spots along the dunes and piled up over beach access paths to keep potential storm surge out of the streets and people's homes.

Beach locals were relieved Wednesday those efforts did their job of protecting the rest of the coastline. 

"Happy we didn't have to see a Cat 5 or really anything compared to past hurricanes," beachgoer Michelle Kauffman said Wednesday night. "This one was very light."

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