Early reports from Anastasia Island were brutal. Hurricane Matthew was reported to have unleashed “catastrophic” damage to the barrier island just south of Jacksonville. And it was personal for me; that’s “my beach” and a family vacation destination for more than 30 years now. As soon as the storm cleared I as on a plane to Florida (Thanks, JetBlue for the assist in changing destination and dates!) and then a car to get to St. Augustine Beach, Crescent Beach and the rest of the island.
The approach to Jacksonville International Airport showed standing water in many areas around the region. That is to be expected with the massive rainfall but still worrisome to see in person. Arguably the late season nature of this storm was a blessing on that front; cooler temperatures made it more tolerable in general and hopefully will reduce mosquito breeding in the newly formed pools.
We were incredibly fortunate as a family; our property was unscathed. We also happen to be on high ground, such as it is, with dunes protecting us on the ocean side and elevation saving us from the storm surge on the intercoastal side. Many others on the island were not so lucky.
At the south end of Anastasia Island, near Matanzas Inlet, chunks of road were completely washed away. Old A1A runs right along the waterfront. At least it used to. A Google Street View of the area shows the old asphalt road holding its on, though constantly under attack from the sand and winds.
That same area today has almost nothing left. The homes are still standing but many saw massive water damage, with waves pushing through the buildings rather than going around.
And the road is done. Massive chunks of asphalt were upended by the storm surge, pushed inland along with sand and other debris. They now sit as yard decorations rather than as a road. The power of the water in this storm was incredible.
Further up the island but still in the lower parts of Anastasia Island the damage was similar. Looking at the exterior of the buildings it is hard to know just how much damage was done. But seeing families piling their entire lives out on the curb for trash collection makes it clear that water intrusion into those homes was significant.
Access to the intercoastal side of the island is somewhat restricted through neighborhoods and communities but I know of a few areas that were generally open. Dondaville Road is home to Saltwater Cowboy’s, a waterfront restaurant sitting out on the intercoastal. The situation there is not particularly optimistic. There was obvious storm surge and water damage visible outside the restaurant. It remains to be seen just how well the interior survived.
And then there was the bar last night on A1A Beach, up near the St. John’s County Pier and the heart of St. Augustine Beach as a city. It was packed with locals and visitors alike, all eating and drinking mostly as if things were normal. Sure, the water supply is suspect with a boil requirement for consumption. And telecom services in that area are still struggling to come back online and stabilize. But the kitchen was open and some folks managed to enjoy the experience.
Further north, into St. Augustine, the reports are similarly bad. I have not ventured up in to that area yet but likely will today.
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