Residents of Daytona Beach Shores are challenging public safety officials about whether or not their oceanfront condominiums are safe to return to, blaming overly cautious authorities, instead of Tropical Storm Nicolefor being displaced from their homes.
Officials say 25 buildings in Daytona Beach Shores have been deemed unsafe due to concerns that Nicole undermined critical infrastructure, and there are concerns that damaged beachside buildings could still collapse.
Many Castaways Beach Resort residents, however, have stubbornly defied public officials and law enforcement who continue to pressure residents to leave their homes. Castaways is located at 2043 S. Atlantic Ave.
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They say the storm surge only breached a protective levee outside the seven-story building, but failed to break through, leaving the resort building unscathed.
“Our building is so high up, solid as a rock, there is no reason for these people to have to vacate,” said Robert Longmire, a resident of the resort. “This is their house, no one has the right to tell them to leave. This building is fine. Further down Wilbur-by-the-Sea there is some severe damage, I get it, I’m not an idiot. But they also forced us out, for absolutely no reason.”
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Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety Director Michael Fowler responded Saturday afternoon when he spoke outside the Castaways Beach Resort about concerns about residents who have chosen to prematurely return to buildings, like the resort, that public officials are not have considered safe.
Fowler stressed that public safety officials want residents to return home as soon as possible, but not until proper process is followed to ensure safety.
He had a strongly worded message to those returning to buildings that have been prematurely evacuated and deemed unsafe, they are on their own.
“This morning we already started receiving EMS service calls from people who need medical help in structures that had been evacuated,” he said. “We are not going to put the lives of our rescuers at risk for people who defy the order of the construction manager. We will not enter any of these structures to provide any services. If you have chosen to come here, when you have been told it is not safe, you are on your own. We can’t help you.
Fowler said the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office sent 100 deputies into the community to go door-to-door during the storm to conduct emergency evacuations of unsafe structures. The City of Daytona Beach Shores then put in place an official process to deem structures safe before residents can return.
“We had approximately 25 buildings deemed unsafe, at risk of eminent structural collapse, by our construction manager,” Fowler said. “Almost all of them are high-rise structures, they are multi-family. they are condominiums. We have hotels that were affected. This is affecting hundreds and hundreds of people.”
“At this point, no structure has been determined to be safe,” Fowler said. “Unfortunately, what is happening is that people, on their own, have decided to go back and reoccupy these dangerous buildings. They are at risk of collapse.”
He said residents, or management companies, who want their buildings deemed safe must submit an independent structural engineering study for review; a process that could take a considerable amount of time, and Fowler said there is no timeline in mind.
“Each of these properties needs an independent structural engineer to come in and provide a report on what the safety level of the structure is,” Fowler said. “They will provide that to our construction manager… He can do an assessment based on that report, he can also follow up and go back to the property, and after that, it will be determined if it is safe or not. .”
Fowler said officials want to help residents return home quickly, but the danger they pose to residents of unsafe buildings outweighs the inconvenience.
“We did everything we could to help these people,” Fowler said. “Volusia County provided them with a safe place to stay, and almost everyone ignored it. It was possible to safely evacuate and not have to return to these properties. Hundreds of people did, and they did so on very short notice.
“The problem is all these people … defying the order and then calling us and expecting us to come back,” he said.
Damaged or not? Castaways Beach Resort Residents Question Authorities
Longmire, 66, is a North Carolina resident who has lived part-time in the resort building during the winters for seven years.
He owns two units at Castaways Beach Resort, one on the third floor and one on the fifth, and felt police intimidated residents into leaving their homes.
“It’s ridiculous, it’s so out of place, there are buildings along this beach that have really been severely damaged, and I can understand those people, but it’s up to us. If we feel like our building is safe, it’s our home,” he said. “Nobody has the right to tell us to leave, and that’s what they did.”
“We lost power during Ian, we didn’t evacuate, but we didn’t take any damage,” Longmire said. “This hurricane comes and puts a little chip on our boardwalk, and the next day we have 100, and I’m not exaggerating, 100 police blocking the building, blocking the hallways. They went door to door…in their swat suits, scaring people.”
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Longmire said the resort building survived Tropical Storms Ian and Nicole largely unscathed, and believes it’s the reluctance to return full services to the building that is putting residents at risk. She criticized the decision to deny emergency services to neighbors who live in the building.
“We all come back the next day, our power never went out, our water is on, they don’t turn our elevators back on,” Longmire said. “We have seniors there right now. If the building caught fire, they would have no way to get down.”
Longmire then pointed to two motorized elderly scooters left abandoned on the lobby floor, recalling that he himself had carried some of his elderly neighbors up and down the stairs because the building’s elevator was turned off.
“We literally carried these guys up the stairs to the fifth floor, they can’t walk,” Longmire said. “A lot of these people are on fixed incomes, they’ve been homeowners here for years. They have nowhere to go, they have no family.”