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St. Johns County assesses extent of Nicole's wrath

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Erosion from Tropical Storm Nicole left a home on South Ponte Vedra Boulevard teetering on the edge of a cliff Friday morning.

Tropical Storm Nicole pummeled the coastline in St. Johns County, but it will take time to figure how many homes remain unsafe, how much beach was lost and how badly the roads were damaged.

Fixing it all will take even longer.

Emergency management officials say they knew Nicole would cause destruction, but the results were worse than usual when coupled with the damage from Hurricane Ian less than two months ago.

Reports have emerged of homes teetering over the beach, and State Road A1A was left in shambles, impassable from Vilano to Guana immediately after the storm.

State and county crews managed to get the road open, but it still will require rebuilding, according to the county's director of emergency management, Joseph Giammanco.

"We kind of we knew that the expectation was this going to be a severe coastal event," Giammanco said in interview Friday with WJCT News. "But you know, we had Hurricane Ian not too long ago, which really weakened the dune system, and then Nicole coming in and kind of taking out the rest of it. So we can just imagine if we didn't have that protective dune before Ian what it would have looked like this time.

"The significance of the weather really did a number on the coast. I don't think it was expected that we would have this much damage on A1A, but we did expect severe damage along the coast."

Giammanco said county crews were in the field Friday to assess damage to homes and the beach. Asked how many homes might have been damaged, he said: "I don't have that information yet. We just sent the teams out this morning."

The county announced Friday that the county's fishing pier, both beach access points and the splash park will remain closed until further notice. The parking lot, pavilion, volleyball courts and pier gift shop will reopen Saturday. Libraries also will reopen Saturday.

Residents were encouraged to move all storm debris to the curb, separating trash from vegetation. Crews are removing debris as quickly as possible, but the process will take time, the county said. Updates are available at sjcfl.us/hurricane or by calling the St. Johns County Emergency Management Citizen Information Line at (904) 824-5550.

Longer term, the county hopes to develop solutions to lessen the toll of storms.

"If Mother Nature wants it, she's gonna have it," Giammanco said. "But we are doing our best to put resiliency measures in place to harden infrastructure to lessen the impact for future events. Those things take time, and we are trying our best to work those issues out now ... so we could be protected for future storms."

For now, he asked for patience from residents.

"As crews are out there assessing the damage and working to restore normalcy back to the coastline, just be patient with us as we go through that process. It's going to take a little time to do that."

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or Rtroncoso@wjct.org and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.
Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, where, as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. You can reach Randy at rroguski@wjct.org or on Twitter, @rroguski.