Hurricane Nicole: Waterfront Homes in a Small Florida Community Swept Away


Trip Valigorsky’s waterfront home in a tight-knit community in Volusia County, Florida, had been in his family for nearly 15 years before it was swept away this week, when dangerous storm surge and powerful winds caused by Hurricane Nicole devastated Florida.

“This house was my grandmother’s favorite place,” Valigorsky told CNN. “Some of the best memories of her with her were here.”

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

In Volusia County, at least 49 beachfront properties, including hotels and condominiums, have been deemed “unsafe” after Nicole hit Florida’s east coast south of Vero Beach. as a category 1 hurricane early Thursday before weakening to a tropical storm and eventually becoming a post-tropical cyclone on Friday afternoon.

A video from the county shows houses crumbling, reduced to rubble, as waves from Nicole erode the shoreline. A separate video shows the county beach safety office collapsing in the rising water.

Sea level in this part of Florida has risen more than a foot in the last 100 years, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with most of that rise occurring in the last three decades.

Scientists and researchers have long warned that rising sea levels are leading to more erosion and flooding at high tide, especially during extreme coastal storms.

This has put even more pressure on levees that are meant to protect coastal communities from high waves and water levels, many of which were destroyed this week by storm surge. A seawall that went up Tuesday, which Valigorsky and his neighbors hoped would protect their property from damage, collapsed into the ocean Wednesday, he said.

“It was stressful wondering if he was going to fall, and here we are,” Valigorsky said.

On Wednesday morning, Valigorsky decided to take his essential belongings and his dog to evacuate the area as he watched the storm grow even more severe. When he returned, all that was left of his house was the garage and the front hall.

As her community begins to rebuild its neighborhood after Nicole, Valigorsky said she plans to rebuild her home along with her neighbors who also lost theirs.

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

“It was the most devastating thing to see,” Martin said. “We didn’t think it would be that bad.”

Martin said he has lived in the area for two years and that the house was his permanent residence where he spent time with his children and grandchildren, playing soccer in the backyard or walking to the beach.

“There’s no politics on the beach, everyone gets along,” Martin said, adding that his community and those around Wilbur-By-The-Sea keep their spirits high.

“Everything happened very fast with this one,” he said. “But we are going to rebuild, we have this.”

Phil Martin's house in Wilbur-By-The-Sea after Hurricane Nicole.

Just six weeks ago Storm surge from Hurricane Ian it eroded parts of Florida’s east coast, hitting the area where a boardwalk was built behind Martin’s home and his neighbors’. Now, he said, that boardwalk is gone.

The back-to-back nature of the storms is making already aging seawalls more vulnerable, Brian McNoldy, senior research associate at the University of Miami School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, previously told CNN.

“You don’t really need a strong storm, you just need high tides or rough storm surges to wash or put extra stress on the walls,” he said. “Having these two storms six weeks apart, if you don’t give places time to repair or replenish, each storm definitely leaves its mark.”

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

Although her home survived the storm, Payne said she is concerned that the boardwalk in front of her home is at risk of collapsing.

The mother of four said many of her neighbors’ homes were undamaged by Hurricane Ian, but Nicole hit them hard, making it difficult for the community to prepare for such storms.

“I think this caught a lot of people off guard,” he said. “How do you prepare for this? People can’t prepare for that.”

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