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After Irma: Northeast Florida Deals With Flood Damage After Waters Recede

Sherry Krol
From her second floor window, San Marco resident Sherry Krol watched flood waters rise higher than she'd seen in 36 years.

The worst flooding in 150 years has left many in Northeast Florida without homes, businesses and cars.

Hurricane Irma arrived in the Jacksonville area just as a nasty nor’easter was leaving, and the one-two punch sent lifelong residents fleeing from storm surge much higher than anything they’d ever imagined.

Irma toppled trees, damaged property and knocked out power for more than a quarter-million customers in Duval County alone. But what took many by surprise was the historic flooding around the St. Johns River and its tributaries.

The St. Johns crashed through streets in what looked like ocean waves, and right through homes in historic neighborhoods. Many residents, who’d awoken thinking the worst was over, as wind died down, now faced rising floodwaters.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry told them to stay put, with help on the way.

“Please put what represents a white flag—anything white— somewhere on the house that can be viewed visibly from outside. We have search-and-rescue teams ready to deploy,” he said Monday morning, Sept. 11.

All told, 356 families were rescued by boat or truck in Jacksonville. But getting to safety was just the beginning.

“I walked in a day later after the water had gone down, thinking I was just going to come back to my house being completely fine,” San Marco resident Laura Mauldin said, “and I immediately started crying because I had no idea. I really was shocked.”

Mauldin lost childhood mementos from her grandma, who recently passed away.

In the same neighborhood, Linda Olsavsky had to break the news to her daughter that her possessions are all gone.

“FYI, people, plastic tubs don’t mean anything because the water will get in them,” she said. “I had everything in plastic tubs, and as you can see, they’re all filled with water.”

And Sherry Krol, who never thought she needed flood insurance, is dealing with the aftermath of water covering the first floor of her house. She says she knew this storm was different as she watched the flood spill over the curb.

“Once it got where it had never been before in 36 years, I knew I better scurry on upstairs,” she said, “but I have a two-story house, so I went upstairs and watched it come up.”

About 40 minutes south of Jacksonville, many business owners in the tourist hot spot of St. Augustine don’t know when they’ll be able to welcome customers again, including the usually bustling night spot Dos Gatos, completely gutted after being inundated with water.

“Mainly we’re just dealing now with trying to get the mold out,” Manager Quinton Burke said four days after the storm. He said the bar will reopen as quickly as crews can work.

"We have a couple of companies come in that professionally did the floor. We have heating lamps in the walls now just to try to suck up the moisture.”

And in neighboring Clay County, hundreds of home owners are still displaced after Black Creek crested at 28.5 feet, the highest level in recorded history.

This story first aired as part of the "After Hurricane Irma" special produced by Florida Public Radio at WLRN. Hear Part 1 and Part 2

Contact Jessica Palombo at 904-358-6315, or on Twitter at @JessicaPubRadio.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP
Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.
Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.