Trip Valigorsky’s beachfront home in a tight-knit community in Volusia County, Florida had been in his family for nearly 15 years before it was washed away this week, as the dangerous storm surge and powerful winds caused by Hurricane Nicole swept across Florida.
“This home was my grandma’s favorite place,” Valigorsky told CNN. “Some of the best memories with her were here.”
Valigorksy is just one of many residents in the beachfront 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 condos, have been deemed “unsafe” in the aftermath of Nicole, which hit Florida’s eastern coast south of Vero Beach as a Category 1 hurricane early Thursday before weakening into a tropical storm and eventually becoming a post-tropical cyclone Friday afternoon.
Video from the county shows homes crumbling, reduced to wreckage, as Nicole’s waves erode the coastline. Separate video shows the county’s beach safety office collapsing into the rising water.
Sea level in this part of Florida has risen more than a foot in the past 100 years, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and most of that rise has occurred in the past three decades.
Scientists and researchers have long warned that sea level rise is leading to more erosion and high-tide flooding — particularly during extreme coastal storms.
This has put even more stress on seawalls that are meant to protect coastal communities from high waves and water levels, many of which were destroyed this week by the storm surge. One seawall that was put up on Tuesday, which Valigorsky and his neighbors had hoped would protect their properties from damage, crumbled into the ocean by Wednesday, he said.
“It was stressful wondering if it would fall, and here we are,” Valigorsky said.
On Wednesday morning, Valigorsky decided to grab his essential belongings and his dog to evacuate the area as he watched the storm become even more severe. By the time he returned, all that remained of his home was the garage and the front foyer.
As his community begins to rebuild their neighborhood in the aftermath of Nicole, Valigorsky said he plans to reconstruct his home alongside his neighbors who also lost theirs.
‘People can’t prepare for it,’ resident says
Another resident, Phil Martin, lost his entire home during the hurricane this week.
“It was the most devastating thing to see,” Martin said. “We didn’t think it would be this bad.”
Martin said he has lived in the area for two years and the home was his permanent residence where he spent time with his children and grandchildren, playing soccer in the backyard or walking down to the beach.
“There’s no politics at the beach, everyone gets along,” Martin said, adding that his community and those surrounding Wilbur-By-The-Sea are keeping his spirits high.
“Everything happened very fast with this one,” he said. “But we’re going to rebuild, we’ve got this.”
Just six weeks ago, Hurricane Ian’s storm surge eroded parts of Florida’s eastern coast, hitting the area where a seawall was built behind Martin’s home as well as his neighbors’. Now, he said, that seawall is gone.
The back-to-back nature of storms is making seawalls — which are already aging — more vulnerable, Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, previously told CNN.
“It doesn’t really take a strong storm — you just need high tides or storm-agitated tides to wash away or put extra stress on the walls,” he said. “Having these two storms six weeks apart, if you don’t give places any time to repair or replenish, each storm definitely leaves its mark.”
Arlisa Payne, who has been a resident of the beachfront community for most of her life, told CNN affiliate Spectrum News 13 that she’s “never seen anything like this” after assessing the damage caused by Hurricane Nicole.
Although her home survived the storm, Payne said that she is concerned the seawall in front of her house is at risk of collapsing.
The mother of four children said many of her neighbor’s homes were not damaged by Hurricane Ian but they were hit hard by Nicole, making it difficult for the community to prepare for such storms.
“I think this caught a lot of people off guard,” she said. “How do you prepare for this? People can’t prepare for it.”