Hurricane Nicole: Beachfront homes in small Florida community washed away


Trip Valigorsky’s waterfront home in a tight-knit community in Volusia County, Florida, was home to his family for nearly 15 years before it was washed away this week as dangerous storm surge and strong winds from Hurricane Nicole swept the state.

“This home was my grandmother’s favorite place,” Valligorski told CNN. “Some of the best memories with her are here.”

Valigorksy is just one of many residents of the waterfront community of Wilbur-By-The-Sea whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

In Volusia County, at least 49 waterfront properties, including hotels and condos, were deemed “unsafe” after a Category 1 hurricane hit Nicole south of Vero Beach on Florida’s east coast early Thursday. , then weakened to a tropical storm and eventually a tropical cyclone Friday afternoon.

Video from the county showed houses crumbling and reduced to wreckage as Nicole’s waves eroded the shoreline. Another video showed the county’s beach safety office falling into the rising water.

Sea levels in this part of Florida have risen by more than a foot in the past 100 years, and most of the rise has occurred in the past 30 years, according to NOAA.

Scientists and researchers have long warned that rising sea levels are causing more erosion and high tide flooding — especially during extreme coastal storms.

That has put more pressure on sea walls designed to protect coastal communities from high waves and water levels, many of which were destroyed by storm surge this week. A seawall erected on Tuesday that Valigorski and his neighbors had hoped would protect their property from damage collapsed into the sea by Wednesday, he said.

Trip Valigorsky's destroyed home in Wilbur, Florida, after Hurricane Nicole.

“There was a lot of pressure to wonder if it was going to fall, and here we are,” Valligorski said.

On Wednesday morning, Valigorsky decided to evacuate the area with his essential items and his dog as he saw the storm get worse. When he returned, all that was left of his house was the garage and front hall.

As his community began rebuilding theirs after Nicole, Valigorsky said he planned to rebuild his home with neighbors who also lost their homes.

Another resident, Phil Martin, lost his entire home in this week’s hurricane.

“It’s the most damaging thing,” Martin said. “We didn’t expect it to be this bad.”

Martin said he has lived in the area for two years and the house is his permanent home, where he spends time with his children and grandchildren, playing football in the backyard or walking to the beach.

“There’s no politics on the beach, and everyone gets along,” Martin said, adding that his community and the people at Wilbur’s Sea have kept him in high spirits.

“It happened very quickly,” he said. “But we’re going to rebuild, and we have this.”

Phil Martin at Seaside Wilbur's home after Hurricane Nicole.

Just six weeks ago, Hurricane Ian’s storm surge eroded parts of Florida’s east coast, hitting the area behind Martin’s and a neighbor’s house where a seawall was being built. Now, he said, that seawall is gone.

Brian McNoldy, a senior researcher at the University of Miami’s School of Oceanographic and Atmospheric Sciences, previously told CNN that the back-to-back nature of the storm is making the already aging seawall even more vulnerable.

“It doesn’t take a really strong storm — you just need high tides or storm-churned tides to wash away or put extra pressure on the walls,” he said. “The two storms are six weeks apart, and if you don’t give places any time to repair or replenish, each storm will definitely leave its mark.”

Arlisa Payne, a resident of the waterfront community for most of her life, told CNN affiliate Spectrum News 13 that she “never saw anything like this” after assessing the damage from Hurricane Nicole.

Although her home survived the storm, Payne said she feared the sea wall in front of her home was in danger of collapsing.

The mother of four said many of her neighbor’s homes were not damaged by Hurricane Ian, but were hit hard by Nicole, making it difficult for the community to prepare for such a storm.

“I think it caught a lot of people off guard,” she said. “How are you going to do this? People can’t prepare for it.”

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