JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It’s been almost one year since Hurricane Irma ravaged Northeast Florida and caused the worst flooding in Jacksonville’s 250-year history.
The Category 4 hurricane broadsided Cudjoe Key, Florida, on Sept. 10 and churned north across the entire peninsula. The storm had weakened to Category 1 by the time the eye passed about 100 miles west of Jacksonville in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, but Jacksonville was not spared from its wrath. Irma’s position and the flow of the St. Johns River combined to create a menace to the area.
DOCUMENTARY: Watch our Hurricane Irma Special: 'High Rise'
“Remember, the St. Johns River flows northward. Irma's track was to the west. That westerly track allowed for southerly winds to grab all that water from Palatka to Bostwick, all the way past the Buckman Bridge. It shoved (all of that water) right into this big bowl here and the downtown flooded like it hadn’t since 1846,” News4Jax meteorologist John Gaughan said.
Gaughan, who has studied the weather in Jacksonville for over 30 years, said he’s never seen anything like the flooding when the St. Johns River backed up, causing the river’s tributary system to back up, too.
“It was the Trout River. It was the St. Marys River. It was the Nassau River -- locations that hadn't flooded in a long, long time. There were neighborhoods underwater for weeks after Irma.”
Irma, one of the strongest hurricanes on record in the Atlantic Basin, made landfall a total of seven times. One of those times was just 30 miles east of Key West in Cudjoe Key.
In nearby Big Pine Key, there's still damage one year later.
Glenn Evans, who's lived there since 1990, rode out Hurricane Irma.
"It's kind of hard to put your mind around it," Evans said. "Your world's gone."
He emerged from a neighbor's home only to find his own home had washed away.
"I probably shouldn't have stayed either if something bad had happened, which could've easily happened," Evans said. "In other words, I put myself in harm's way. The question is, why do it if it's not necessary?"
Dustin Greer felt it was necessary to stay. He makes a living renting boats.
After weighing his options, Greer, who lives aboard a sailboat in Key West, and his business partner decided to ride out Hurricane Irma.
After doing live call-in reports with News4Jax, viewers lost track of Greer when the storm hit. He calls riding out Hurricane Irma “tricky,” but feels it was the best decision he could make considering the circumstances and considering the size and strength of his boat.
“She's a 70-foot steel-hulled vessel, built in 1976 in Holland,” Greer said. “She's an old girl. She's got her quirks, but she's a solid vessel and we knew it. We knew that if we pointed her in the right direction she would make it through the storm.”
Greer not only survived the storm, but several weeks later was spotted walking along the docks and was asked to audition and cast in a movie alongside Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey.
"I play a mugger, so I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing," Greer said. "But we had a good time. That day was a lot of fun."
The movie, "Beach Bum," will be out next year.
"The thing about Irma's power, if I recall correctly, Irma went east of Key West, which meant that (Greer's) location was on the weak side of the hurricane," Gaughan said. "He's lucky that that played out, because had the power side come through, I don't think the outcome would have been the same."
As for the people of the Keys who survived Irma, they're hearty people. They're used to living on a narrow island chain and dealing with hurricanes, but that doesn't mean it's not dangerous.
In Monroe County, 17 people died from Irma. Three of the deaths were directly from the storm.
Forty-four people in the Caribbean and United States died as a direct result of Irma. Seven of those deaths were in the U.S. and two of them were in Jacksonville: A man and woman drowned in the floodwaters of Hurricane Irma.
If you missed the special report called, “High Rise - The Flood and Fury of Hurricane Irma," you can watch an encore presentation at 8 p.m. Monday on Channel 4 or the video at the top of this article.
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