MIDDLEBURG – As Hurricane Irma tore through Miami, Black Creek residents carefully followed its path. With each minute, the storm approached Northeast Florida. While they hoped for a westerly turn, …
MIDDLEBURG – As Hurricane Irma tore through Miami, Black Creek residents carefully followed its path. With each minute, the storm approached Northeast Florida. While they hoped for a westerly turn, eventually Irma would rip through their backyards.
When the storm arrived, high winds toppled tall trees, and storm surge invaded their homes. Water levels rose to record heights. The nightmare had begun.
After the storm had passed, residents of this semi-rural part of Clay County returned to find their homes engulfed by water. For Black Creek resident, Dallas Arthur, the return was like stepping into the “Upside Down” from an episode of the popular Netflix show “Stranger Things.”
“It was like real life, but it was an alternate universe of how it’s supposed to be,” Arthur said.
She found her walls covered in black slime. Her appliances had been toppled over in the kitchen. A heavy couch in her daughter’s room was flung across the room. Her family’s home along the South Prong of Black Creek was uninhabitable.
Flood preparation is nothing new to Black Creek residents. A 100-year flood struck the area several years ago, but according to Arthur, this was much worse. Clay County Emergency Management Director John Ward said the north and south prongs of Black Creek crested Sept. 12 at 28.5 feet, which broke the previous record of 24.3 feet, set in 1923.
“In 2012, we had about four feet of water on the ground and under the house, but there was no water in the home…there are generations of people who have lived on Black Creek their entire lives, and they’ve never flooded. We really did not anticipate anything. This was completely unprecedented,” Arthur said.
Due to the severity of the storm, Arthur had evacuated with her mother and daughter to Tallahassee. They brought only photo albums and hard drives, to preserve irreplaceable memories. After the storm took a northwestern turn, they quickly realized they needed a new plan. They headed north to Atlanta.
There, they would wait out the storm until Monday night, when Arthur and her mother decided to head back to Jacksonville. She wanted to reunite with her husband, who had been forced to stay in Mandarin because of work.
While they traveled home, her husband and her father drove over to Black Creek to assess the damage. When they arrived, they found nearly a quarter mile of water surrounding their house.
“The street up to our house had turned into a boat ramp. People were backing trailers with full-sized motor boats into the water to go save our neighbors,” Arthur said.
Due to the severity of the storm surge, Arthur and her mother waited until Wednesday morning to return to the home. Though the water was still five feet high, their hope was they could kayak to the front porch.
Upon arrival, they found that the water had receded just enough for them to pull the kayak on to dry land. The wooden doors to the house were swollen with water, making it difficult to open. Nothing would prepare her for what she found inside.
The sofa had been thrown across the room. Contents of the toppled refrigerator were scattered across the floor. A nightstand from their bedroom found a new home in the kitchen. She discovered the black slime covering the walls was sewage from the backed-up septic tank. Then she noticed the water line.
“It was defined in different ways, in different rooms. I’m 5’4” and it was about two or three inches above my head. In most areas of the home, it was close to six-feet,” Arthur said.
Since the house is unlivable, Arthur and her family have spent time at both her brother’s home in Mandarin and her parents’ home in Arlington. However, Arthur and her family won’t be displaced for long.
“The silver-lining in all of this is my husband and I have been looking to buy a home for the last year. We had signed a contract for a house in Mandarin and our original closing date was supposed to be Oct. 13. We just didn’t think our last month in the cabin would be like this,” Arthur said.
The damaged house, owned by her parents, is currently being assessed by insurance adjusters. It has been in the family for decades and Arthur said it’s the only place her daughter has ever lived. While it hurts Arthur to see her family home so dilapidated, she’s grateful her family survived.
“Thankfully we’ll have a place to go from here,” she said.