There are very few in Florida who weren’t affected by Hurricane Ian, one of “the most powerful hurricanes to hit Florida in history”, either directly or indirectly. We sincerely hope that those affected are getting all the help they deserve from local, state, and the federal government. This is sometimes a sketchy proposition with FEMA as we have all seen over the last decade or so. But, at least initially, it looks like Florida and the Feds are making nice and having good results. Certainly, our Governor, Ron DeSantis, is getting very high marks for his leadership with extensive preparation for, and execution of recovery efforts.
Camping in an RV is always a dicey situation in any kind of significant storm but having a Category 4 hurricane barreling down on you when all you see is that you are “in the path” is especially unnerving. Although the county emergency services recommended evacuation for all RV’s and mobile homes, we made the informed decision to stay based on 3 criteria: we would not be negatively impacted by a power outage, having the ability to “boondock” as a self-contained rig; we were on high ground in the campground, at the same level as the other two permanent structures, which historically have never been inundated by flooding; we were also situated adjacent to and downwind from one of those permanent structures, which made a good windbreak from at least the steady winds. We did some pre-storm preparation, removing all the outside stuff in our site away to our storage facility, filling our fresh water tank, emptying our waste tanks, charging our emergency cell phone power pack, and moving our truck and Jeep out from under our shade tree (a magnificent several hundred-year-old oak, who has doubtless survived many large storms).
Viewing the National Hurricane Center report as the center of the not-even-cat-1 degraded Ian brushed past us here in Palm Coast, we can tell you that being inside the “high winds” green zone brought considerably more nervousness than a summer thunderstorm would produce.
Our concern was justified with the steady winds (about 35-40 mph) and gusts (to 75 mph) blasting through the campground. The windbreak provided by the structure next to us helped, but it didn’t stop us getting rocked frequently by gusts that felt like they slammed into the side of the rig hard enough to dent something. Nothing dented, by the way. I shudder to wonder what it would have been like without the windbreak, and whether we would still be standing upright.
One big concern was a tornado. It’s no fun imagining what a tornado could do to our rig, although we did have a concrete block shelter (actually the campground bathroom and shower building) nearby that could have saved our lives. Here is a “before” and “after” shot, showing that building.
Tornados spun off by hurricanes are overwhelmingly “east and southeast” phenomena, meaning that they occur most frequently in the southeast quadrant of the storm. We felt a very small hint of hope in that we would be to the west of the center as it passed, and therefore less likely to experience one. But statistics aren’t certainties, so we added that to the top of the worry pile. We are happy to report that we haven’t seen a report of any confirmed tornados in our area at all, so pile that bit of data onto the statistical heap.
Water is the biggest threat from a hurricane. Storm surge is the big villain as is totally evident by the horrific pictures and videos coming out of Southwest Florida. Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, and Naples were hammered by 150mph winds, but it was the 15-foot storm surge that did 95% of the damage. There was one guy that had just taken delivery of 2 new vehicles, a Bentley and a $1M McLaren P1 sports car. They were both swept from his garage and ended up blocks away, with the P1 resting atop a toilet that had been deposited in a front yard after the house it was once in was obliterated by the surge.
With all the real suffering going on in that part of the state, it’s hard to feel sorry for the guy who watched $2M worth of cars wash away. I would have gladly driven the P1 to safety before the fact, all he had to do was ask.
Even though downgraded to a tropical storm by the time Ian hit the east coast of Florida, the storm surge pushed up the coast in front clobbered Flagler Beach, just 2 miles east of us. 15-foot waves tore 100 feet off of the iconic Flagler Pier and washed it away.
Flagler Beach includes the long barrier island on our stretch of the Atlantic Coast, and the entire island was evacuated along with the communities that front the river. That area completely flooded as the Atlantic surge of +5 feet on one side got matched by the same surge on the Intercoastal Waterway, in this area the Matanzas River. We ventured out on Thursday late afternoon when the storm had passed to take a look, and it was astonishing.
The storm surge contributed to our drainage canals backing up just when they are needed the most to move 12” of rainfall away to the ocean. But the canal system here is extensive and capable, and handled the volume well, even though the water rose up to and slightly over the banks, about a 4’ increase overall.
If you look closely, there is a pair of eyes peeking out of the water at you. That’s Eddie, a local gator who gets kind of aggressive about following you because many of the campers here stupidly feed him, and he thinks you might have something for him. We steer clear and have never seen anyone walking small dogs near the canal. Once in a while someone just carrying a leash, but no small dogs. We kid.
On our Thursday expedition (the right word for the trip as there were downed trees, flooded areas and debris covering all the roads) we were primarily interested in surveying our 2 properties. We have a house under construction, and at peak flood it came through just like it was planned. You can see that the “swales” (streetside drainage ditches) are full to the top, but where the slab soon will be is easily 2 feet above that level. The swales were draining a full volume as the drainage system around our neighborhood is robust, and our property is near enough to the Interstate to be classified as high ground (one of the reasons we are building there). We were horrified to see the Palace of Poop, our magnificent Port-A-Potty vanquished by the storm and lying pitifully on its side, only to discover later that the service company had come around pre-storm to pump them all out and put them on their sides to avoid that horrible fate.
Our other property, recently purchased as a temporary home, also came through high and dry. It is built in a golf course, one of the original areas that was “raised out of the swamp” that became Palm Coast 50 years ago. The smart planners built the golf course, the signature feature of the new city, high enough to avoid all floods, and our neighborhood sits right in the center of it, also one of the reasons why we bought it there.
The storm broke Wednesday night, and Thursday dawned as a beautiful cool fall day. We went for a walk to survey the damage in the campground, remarking that if we had a rake (which we didn’t) we could do some cleanup and try to get back to normal. Along our path we met a young woman who was raking, but her rake (that she had just purchased) only had ½ a handle. It had broken under the strain, and she remarked that she was throwing it away after she was done. We patiently waited for her to finish (2 minutes), and she gifted it to us. The Universe had, once again, provided for our wish.
Our cleanup was pretty straightforward, raking huge clumps of Spanish Moss into piles and getting them to street-side for eventual pickup. We swept the globs of moss off our vehicles, and I got up on top of the rig to sweep it off there as well. We won’t be reinstalling the screened tent since we will be moving in a month or so into Cooper, our golf course house, where we will spend the next several months doing some rehab on it to ready it for rental to our grandson Daniel’s family. They will relocate to here in June (after the school year is up) once we move into our new house.
The rest of the campground had considerable damage, mostly caused by trees that had either broken or fallen over. We’ve had a ton of rain over the summer, and much of the ground was already wet before we got our 12” of rain during the storm.
Given the severity of Ian, and especially considering the vast damage done in the southwest, we got off pretty easy and escaped with no damage at all. We made some educated judgements about staying vs. leaving, even though there really was nowhere to go if we left except Georgia or Tennessee to avoid all the possible paths predicted for Ian. One plus: we got to survey what our future home(s) will look like in a big storm and feel pretty good that they both survived nicely. And we got to experience at least one silver lining, a beautiful sunset.
Tippy, too, is happy to come through unscathed!