At least one person died as Hurricane Irma’s winds, rain and flooding hit St. Johns County Sunday evening and Monday morning, authorities said at a press conference at the St. Johns County Emergency Management headquarters.
St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said the death happened in Palm Valley, where there was significant damage.
“An elderly couple was trying to protect themselves from water, and one of them suffered what we believe to be a heart attack,” Shoar said.
Shoar said emergency rescue crews laid their lives on the line overnight to rescue people who were stuck in the storm.
“[That includes] being up to their chest in water to save some of our residents,” Shoar said.
Officers also rescued people in St. Augustine South who made a “frantic call” because of flood waters.
“[It was a] very close call that we didn’t lose a first responder,” Shoar said.
While crews are still getting a sense of the damage in St. Johns County, it appears to be more widespread than Hurricane Matthew.
Shoar and St. Johns County Administrator Michael Wanchick urged people at a Monday press conference to stay in place and not venture out on the roads. They also said it could take days before it’s safe to drive again.
“Stay off our roads,” Wanchick said. “There’s no reason to be out on the roads at this point in time. You’re only obstructing the first-responder activities.”
Tropical storm conditions were expected to continue into Monday evening, and beyond that there is debris, flooding and downed power lines through much of the county, and trees are down, officials said.
Entry to barrier islands isn’t going to happen soon, so there’s no reason to wait at the foot of a bridge, Wanchick said.
The county’s bridges are locked down, and authorities are getting into areas where people need help. The recovery process could take a long time, Shoar said.
“Today, tomorrow, the next day are not the days for driving around,” Shoar said.
The county’s curfew is still in effect, Shoar said. Bridges will not be opened until they’ve been assessed for safety, until authorities feel every vulnerable person on the other side has been helped, and until engineers say it’s safe to open the bridges, Shoar said. That includes the Palm Valley bridge.
“We’re not going to set a time for when we’re going to open the bridges. We don’t know.”
Also, thousands of people were without power as of 1 p.m. on Monday. FPL reported that of its nearly 87,000 customers, some 76,000 were without service.
For information, people can call the county’s hotline at 824-5550 or go to sjcfl.us/hurricane.