Irma destroys Black Creek homes, but not residents’ resolve

By Jesse Hollett
Posted 9/14/17

MIDDLEBURG – April Jones stands at the water’s edge, the turnoff to her street.

Further down Byron Road in Middleburg, mailboxes sit almost entirely submerged by the three-and-a-half foot …

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Irma destroys Black Creek homes, but not residents’ resolve

Posted

MIDDLEBURG – April Jones stands at the water’s edge, the turnoff to her street.

Further down Byron Road in Middleburg, mailboxes sit almost entirely submerged by the three-and-a-half foot storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Irma’s arrival into Northeast Florida early Monday morning.

Her husband left on a canoe with a neighbor 45 minutes earlier to check how their home fared during the catastrophic flooding of Black Creek. And while the condition of her home weighs on her conscience, her hope right now is that her husband makes it back safe.

“I just hope my husband comes out OK at this point,” April Jones said.

The canoe emerges in the distance and floats down the flooded street. April could see her husband’s smile from halfway down the street, but that doesn’t stop her from giving him an earful.

“You’ve been gone 45 minutes,” she yells from the water’s edge. “I thought you were dead. I was about to call Clay County rescue.”

“There was some people in dire need down there,” said Lance, April’s husband. “The house is fine.”

Lance and his neighbor who owns the canoe, Tim Merritt, dock at the corner of Byron and Henley roads.

Merritt, like the Jones family, lives along Black Creek. Just last week, homes sat quaint and cast their shadows along the creek, which is long-prone to flash floods.

On Monday, however, after the worst of Hurricane Irma had passed, the roofs of homes looked like nothing more than lily pads on the water’s surface.

The historic flooding along Black Creek astonished April, whose home sits above the 100-year floodplain. According to Clay County Emergency Management, both the north and south prongs of Black Creek crested Tuesday morning at 28.5 feet and likely will not recede below flood stage until Friday. The previous record was 24.3 feet, set in 1923.

She’s never seen anything like it, she said, “never, never. Before, we lived in Lake Asbury when Tropical Storm Debbie came through, and we never saw anything like this.”

The Jones family is new to the creek. The flood occurred while they were still embroiled in a home remodeling project.

Some were not so lucky.

John Griffiths, who has lived on the creek since 1976, stands on his porch, a cat on his feet, Monday morning shortly after the storm had subsided. The creek he loves has crept up almost up to his front door, suspended several feet above a wheelchair ramp and stone staircase.

As for the water, “I hope that it gets out of here,” Griffiths said.

As for the creek – “I’m not leaving,” he said. “I love it out here. Black Creek is one of the most beautiful creeks around.”

It’s a feeling shared by many of his neighbors.

“This is definitely different, I’ve been here 25 years and it’s never been like this, never,” Merritt said.

He spent Monday during the storm assisting neighbors whose homes drowned, he said, are crushed, but not broken.

“They’re miserable, they’re miserable,” Merritt said. “But that’s what you do when you live on the creek. This is part of living on the creek. Nobody likes it and nobody wants it, but that’s part of it.

Merritt looked out over the flooded neighborhood and smiled.

The damage is worth living on the creek, “to me it is,” he said. “This is a minor thing compared to the joy you get off this creek.”

Rescue efforts continue for those trapped in their homes along Black Creek. On Monday, emergency personnel rescued 173 individuals and 43 pets from homes affected by flooding. Crews rescued an additional 72 people and 18 pets by Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott toured the creek by boat and surveyed the damage. In a press conference, Scott said those affected should remain aware of pro- grams offered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency as they rebuild. He praised rescue efforts.

“The biggest thing we have to do is keep everybody alive,” Scott said. “As you know, you can rebuild your house but you cannot rebuild your life or your family...we all anticipated the storm surge, we anticipated the wind and the rain, I think the flooding shocked people.”

Scott said the next step is to restore electrical power to homes and businesses and refuel so people can return to their homes.

“You just feel sorry for people,” Scott said. “No one plans for a disaster, and if you listen to this, nobody anticipated the water would come up like this. The water came up fast...I’m thankful that it looks like we didn’t lose any lives, but now it’s going to be a lot of work to rebuild their lives.”

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