Business owners began removing plywood from their storefronts on Wednesday, many anxious to see how well the interiors survived the high winds and flooding visited on St Augustine by Hurricane Irma this week.
Historic City News reporters observed widespread evidence of flooding, downed power lines, and wind damage as police began allowing access to evacuated areas of St Johns County. Aided by out-of-town crews, contracted to assist local utility providers, most major roadways were cleared even before curfews and mandatory evacuation orders were rescinded.
Electricity was restored to businesses along major arteries within the City of St Augustine yesterday allowing merchants to begin the major clean-up chores ahead. Some locations off the main roads are still awaiting the return of power, telephone, Internet, water and sewer or other utilities — but, for the most part, business owners are hopeful that by this weekend they will be able to resume at least partial operations.
Mainland attraction operators have resumed advertising events and welcoming visitors back to town as of Thursday, which may be overly optimistic. St Johns County beaches remain closed from Ponte Vedra Beach south to Marineland and into Flagler County.
A representative from the National Park Service reported that the area around Castillo de San Marcos National Monument experienced significant flooding. Although cleanup of debris is happening today, at this time, restrooms are still not functioning.
Fort Matanzas National Monument has suffered extensive debris and dock damage. A shoreline assessment and a check of Fort Matanzas will take place later today when tides are favorable.
National parks in South Florida, the Caribbean, and along the Atlantic coast are currently closed to all visitor use and access; including motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, due to safety concerns while cleanup operations are ongoing. Parks will reopen as soon as it is safe to do so.
So far, 107 National Park Service employees from outside the impacted areas are working in the parks now or on their way, with additional resources expected to be ordered in the coming days.
Downtown, Karla Wagner spent time yesterday drying out the Corazon Cinema and Cafe, which she said had filled with two feet of water after Irma came through. “It’s devastating,” Wagner said. “We spent tens of thousands of dollars repairing the cinema after Hurricane Matthew and now Irma has left it soaked once again — and damaged the roof to boot.”
Photo credits: © 2017 New York Times by Historic City News; photographer Johnny Milano