Irma's wrath damages docks along St. Johns River

Storm debris in water poses dangers to boaters

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter , Corley Peel - Reporter

For homeowners along the St. Johns River, it's going to be some time before life returns to normal after Hurricane Irma.

Even traveling along the river is downright dangerous right now, according to experienced mariners.

News4Jax on Wednesday toured a portion of the St. Johns River with the Freedom Boat Club. The club recommends its members stay off the St. Johns River for several days because of all the storm debris in the water.

It didn't take long to realize the dangers -- remnants of Hurricane Irma -- that still lurk underneath the river's surface.

Pieces of wood from windblown docks could be seen floating in the water, as well as a partially submerged boat, which might be impossible to spot from the surface during high tide.

"You won't be able to see it at high tide, so you could run over it. Anything like that would be horrible for the hull of your boat or your engine -- anything," said Kloe Thompson, with the Freedom Boat Club.

There were also numerous overturned boats partially exposed, which presents a hazard to mariners. 

Debris in the river, docks that had been completely washed out and damaged homes could be seen in Fleming Island. 

Damage wasn't the only sign of Irma's impact. Fleming Island resident Angelina Grant said a boat she had never seen before somehow ended up near her home.

"There's a boat floating around in my backyard and it kept running into my neighbor's dock," she said. "I thought I would go retrieve it and secure it somehow. So, hopefully, I can find the owner."

Grant evacuated ahead of the storm. But when she came back, she said her home was unrecognizable.

"It looks like a bomb went off in my front yard," Grant said. "I could've never imagined in one million years that it would be this bad. I was not prepared for that."

Grant said she's staying optimistic, and can't complain because her family and children are safe. She said she also plans on looking up the registration number on the boat to hopefully get in touch with its owner. 

On the tour, News4Jax saw a catamaran overturned in Doctors Inlet, and more destruction in Doctors Lake.

Overturned vessels also littered the waters in Mandarin. The scene was the same in Orange Park and San Marco.

Damage at the Epping Forest Yacht Club was also an area that suffered extensive damage. The rising waters covered the sea wall, which is designed to protect the boats, capsizing a 40-foot catamaran and several other vessels.

"It looks like Epping sustained a lot of damage. The docks came loose. A few of the boats are capsized. Hopefully, they'll get it up and running," Thompson said. "When you're trying to prepare for a hurricane, every boat is only as strong as the next one. If one comes loose, everything is done."

The damage to the docks along the St. Johns River is in the tens of millions of dollars. According to some boat owners, it's prompted some of them to rethink the way in which they will rebuild their docks, in case the waters rise in another hurricane or storm.

"Anytime you have a disaster like this, you try to build it better, safer and more secure," Thompson said. "I think a lot of these docks will be rebuilt better." 

If you do decide to venture out on the water, and you see debris that needs to be removed, you can contact Sea Tow at 1-800-4-SEATOW (473-2869) or Tow Boat U.S. at 1-800-391-4869.    

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