Hurricane Nicole: Beach houses in small Florida community washed away
Trip Valigorski’s beach house in the close-knit community of Volusia County, Florida had been in his family for nearly 15 years before it was swept away this week as the dangerous storm surge and powerful winds from Hurricane Nicole swept through Florida.
“This home was my grandmother’s favorite place,” Valigorsky told CNN. “Some of the best memories with her were made here.”
Valigorksy is just one of many residents near Wilbur-By-The-Sea Beach whose houses were damaged or destroyed by the storm.
In Volusia County, at least 49 beach properties, including hotels and condos, are considered “unsafe” after Nicole hit Florida’s east coast south of Vero Beach as a Category 1 hurricane early Thursday morning before weakening to a tropical storm and eventually becoming a post-tropical cyclone on Friday afternoon.
Video from the county shows homes collapsing, reduced to rubble, as Nicole’s waves erode the shoreline. A separate video shows the county’s beach safety office collapsing into the swollen water.
Sea levels in this part of Florida have risen at more than a 100-year rate, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with most of that rise occurring in the past three decades.
Scientists and researchers have long warned that rising sea levels lead to more erosion and high-tide flooding — especially during extreme coastal storms.
This has further strained seawalls meant to protect coastal communities from high waves and water levels, many of which were destroyed this week by storm surge. One seawall installed Tuesday, which Valigorsky and his neighbors hoped would protect their property from damage, had collapsed into the ocean by Wednesday, he said.
“It was stressful wondering if it was going to fall, and here we are,” Valigorsky said.
On Wednesday morning, Valigorsky decided to grab his essentials and his dog to evacuate the area as he watched the storm grow stronger. When he returned, only the garage and front yard remained of his house.
As his community begins to rebuild its neighborhood after Nicole, Valigorsky said he plans to rebuild his home along with his neighbors who also lost their homes.
Another resident, Phil Martin, lost his entire home during the hurricane this week.
“It was the most devastating thing I could see,” Martin said. “We didn’t think it would be this bad.”
Martin said he had lived in the area for two years and that the home was his permanent residence where he spent time with his children and grandchildren, playing soccer in the yard or walking to the beach.
“There’s no politics on the beach, everyone gets along,” Martin said, adding that his community and those surrounding Wilbur-By-The-Sea keep his spirits up.
“Everything happened very quickly with this,” he said. “But we will rebuild, we have this.”
Just six weeks ago, Hurricane Ian’s storm surge eroded parts of Florida’s east coast, hitting the area where the sea wall was built behind Martin’s house, as well as his neighbors. Now, he said, that sea wall is gone.
The interacting nature of the storms makes the seawalls — which are already aging — more vulnerable, Brian McNoldy, a senior research fellow at the University of Miami’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, previously told CNN.
“You don’t really need a big storm – you just need big tides or storm-driven tides to wash them away or put extra stress on the walls,” he said. “Having these two storms six weeks apart, if you don’t give room for repair or replenishment, each storm definitely leaves its mark.”
Arlisa Payne, who has lived in the beach community for most of her life, told the CNN affiliate News from the spectrum 13 that she had “never seen anything like it” after assessing the damage caused by Hurricane Nicole.
Although her house survived the storm, Payne said she is concerned that the wall in front of her house is in danger of collapsing.
The mother of four said many of her neighbors’ homes were not damaged by Hurricane Ian, but were hit hard by Nicole, making it difficult for the community to prepare for such storms.
“I think this caught a lot of people off guard,” she said. “How do you prepare for this? People can’t prepare for it.”
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