After days of watching and waiting for Hurricane Dorian, Flagler County residents woke up Thursday to clearing skies and typical early September weather. While Dorian brought lots of wind and rain to the county, power outages and downed trees were the only reports of problems as the slow-moving storm churned offshore.
County offices and services resumed normal operations Thursday and Palm Coast city offices also reopened Thursday for normal hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to a city news release.
Garbage collection was set to resume normal pickups on Thursday and Friday, with a special yard debris pickup day on Saturday, including unincorporated Flagler County.
In a sign of a return to normal, Flager Beach Police Chief Matthew Doughney said he saw surfers out by the city’s pier early Thursday morning riding the waves.
“Surfers are out there now and they’re loving it,” he said.
Doughney said officials from the Florida Department of Transportation inspected the State Road A1A construction zone for damage Wednesday and were scheduled to return Thursday while structural engineers were set to evaluate the pier for any damage from Dorian. The pier will remain closed until inspections are completed.
“We want nothing better than to reopen the pier as soon as possible to return things to what they were pre-Dorian,” Doughney said.
Dorian’s impact on Flagler County businesses was also less than feared, even with preparations taking place over the Labor Day weekend.
Amy Lukasik, interim executive director at the Flagler County Tourist Development Office, said while some tourism-related businesses suffered from the storm, others did not.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” she said. “The highway hotels do really well, though maybe not normally for Labor Day, but for the hurricane they were sold out. Where one suffers, another one gains but it is a totally different situation.”
As far as the Labor Day holiday, Lukasik said the long weekend is not traditionally a big tourism draw for Flagler.
“It’s definitely not a holiday where we see significant increases,” she said. “It’s not a big holiday for us. Usually if the weather is nice there are more day trippers for the restaurants and shops.”
About 60 sheriff’s deputies patrolled through the night Tuesday into Wednesday and did preliminary assessments of the damage Wednesday morning. Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly said there were about 1,700 homes without power at the height of the storm around 4 a.m.
But FP&L crews were quickly restoring many of the impacted homes. By 9 a.m., some 600 homes remained without power. During Wednesday afternoon’s press conference, Lord said that number had whittled down to about 200.
About 400 residents took refuge in the county’s two emergency evacuation shelters at Rymfire and Bunnell elementary schools at the height of the storm, Flagler County Schools Supt. James Tager said. The special needs shelter at Rymfire drew in 120 residents along with nearly 60 caregivers accompanying the guests. Officials noted the shelters started clearing out early Wednesday.
During Wednesday’s press briefing, Tager said district officials are working out a plan to make up the missed school days and classes were set to resume Friday.
Staly said officers handled “very few” reports before dawn, but there were some downed wires in a few spots in the county and deputies did make a couple domestic-related arrests.
Evacuation and curfew orders were lifted in Flagler County effective 12:05 p.m. Wednesday. Also, an announcement came on Wednesday that schools would reopen in Flagler County on Friday.
“It was an uneventful night,” Staly said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “It was basically a quiet night with low traffic and no significant curfew violations.”
The sheriff said the most significant incident reported so far was that a car struck a tree that had fallen across Seminole Woods Boulevard but there were no serious injuries.
A drive around Palm Coast showed mostly palm fronds and other small tree debris down on Wednesday morning. Water had risen to the top of seawalls or above the seawalls in the canal sections of the city.
Jeanie Schreiber, who lives in the canal section of Palm Coast and monitors water levels for the Flagler County EOC, said overnight she measured 4 inches of rainfall.
“The water came up to 27 inches above the mean high water level,” she said, noting that is was not as high as it was during Hurricane Matthew, which is what she was expecting. “It’s currently 23 inches above but high tide isn’t until 4:15 p.m. so we are still watching.”
During Hurricane Matthew, Schreiber said the water levels raised 6 feet, but with Hurricane Dorian it’s only risen 3 feet.
She isn’t worried about the water levels reaching Hurricane Matthew levels. However Schreiber said she’s been without power since 1:40 a.m. although she said it’s expected to be turned back on by 4 p.m.
“We have a generator and have four long extension cords snaking through the house keeping the fridge and freezer going,” she said. “Plus and fan and a few lights. As long as it does not get hot we are okay.”
There were no reports of significant flooding throughout the county, and State Road A1A remained passable, although there were areas with standing water. That’s due in part to Flagler’s recently designed $20-million dune system, which appears to have held up well against Dorian’s strongest push.
Although the coastline sustained some erosion, there were no breaches, according to Lord. He indicated county public works crews are assessing damages to the berms along with Florida Department of Transportation inspectors and city officials from Flagler Beach, Beverly Beach and Marineland.
“While we may have made it through Hurricane Dorian, we’re only starting to approach the peak of hurricane season,” Lord said. “So all those great things you’ve done in the past week or so to get prepared. Keep those supplies, keep your plan in place in case we have another hurricane.”
Palm Coast officials also were breathing easier by Wednesday.
“We are so fortunate,” Mayor Milissa Holland said in a written statement, “that this storm wasn’t as serious as it could have been for Palm Coast. Our hearts are with everyone that was impacted by this storm, especially those in the Bahamas. I am proud of our city and how prepared we were for this storm and am grateful for all of the sacrifices that were made to keep Palm Coast safe.”
The Palm Coast Fire Department had received reports of downed trees and power outages, said Patrick Juliano, public information officer for the Palm Coast Fire Department.
“No other incidents have been reported as of yet,” Juliano wrote.
The City Council Special Budget meeting from Wednesday, Sept. 4, has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 5:05 p.m.
In Flagler Beach, State Road A1A held up. Portions of the coastal highway, which routinely suffer washouts during severe storms, are under construction. But Doughney said those segment of A1A remained intact.
“Hurricane Dorian presented a lot of challenges, which we knew we could overcome,” he said.
Doughney said trash collection and other city services will resume Thursday, but the pier would remain shut down until the engineer inspects it and determines how much the storm surge impacted it.
He also warned swimmers not to venture out into the Atlantic Ocean yet, because the beach won’t be manned with any lifeguards.
“It will be at your own risk,” he said. “It’s still unsafe.”
One structure that didn’t survive in Flagler Beach was the second-story deck on Mike Troutman’s rental across from the beach near 15th Street North.
The deck dropped to the ground, falling on a garden. Fortunately, no one was on it or under it when it fell.
Troutman was sitting at home about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday as the winds picked up from Hurricane Dorian, which was still to the south. That’s when Troutman heard what he thought was a loud clap of thunder.
“Then my neighbor came over and told me the deck had collapsed,” he said.
Staff writers Aaron London and Nikki Ross contributed to this report.