John Roush has been here before.

 

The allure of Clark’s Fish Camp isn’t the food anyway. It’s the experience. A restaurant, filled with all manner of taxidermy and a live alligator to boot, sitting at water-level on the Julington Creek. A bad storm comes and diners can see the water rise above the deck outside.

Roush has owned the restaurant since 1974. If it’s possible to turn storm recovery into a routine, then Roush may have done it. For more than four decades, the restaurant has bounced back from storm after storm.

But this? “This is the worst we’ve ever seen.”

Jacksonville is a large city, and Hurricane Irma and the flooding didn’t hit everyone equally. For most residents, Irma was an inconvenience, a few hours without power, some fallen branches and leaves covering the street.

But for plenty of others, they are just now beginning to venture back into homes that flooded, or they’re opening cars and finding damp seats and ruined electronics, and hoping the insurance they bought was comprehensive. If they have power, they’re opening refrigerators. If they don’t, they’re lining up outside restaurants, hoping for a hot meal. It’ll take time before officials know the full extent of the damage and it’ll take time before some people can even begin restoring their lives.


SLIDESHOWS: IRMA'S AFTERMATH

First look at flooding, damage across Jacksonville

Urban water rescues, beaches cleanup in Irma's wake

Ponte Vedra oceanfront homes hit hard by Irma

Hurricane Irma aftermath at Jacksonville's beaches


Raymond Lutzen, a 27-year firefighter, spent Monday rescuing people in flooded areas of San Marco. Then on Tuesday, he went to his family’s bar, Sherwood’s, to find water that smelled like diesel had filled the coolers full of beer. “The low-counter coolers that were stocked with beer, they were just completely full of riverwater and petrochemicals. It smelled like a fuel-spill wreck. It was terrible. … We’ve been here now more than 20 years at this location. We’re used to water coming into the front door, but nothing like this.”

When he was rescuing people, many worried about the costs that would add up. One lady said she hadn’t even paid off her furniture yet, so Lutzen and his fellow firefighters lifted the couch to higher ground.

In Riverside, a woman pulled into her house at the corner of Oak and Osceola. She’d bought the house just last December and she had just finished a top-to-bottom renovation. The house was more than a hundred years old, her neighbors reminded her. There was nothing to worry about. Besides, they were in flood zone C; there was no mandatory evacuation. But then Monday came and the water breached the seawall, and the National Guard and firefighters told people to leave now, and so she did. A day later, she found a car ruined and the crawlspace still filled with water.

A block toward the river, near Riverside and Osceola, a woman raked the water in her driveway. She already had multiple pumps trying to get the water out of her house. Her air-conditioning units were still submerged and the water reached some of the electrical outlets. Until the water was out, she said, she wouldn’t know what recovery would look like.

Rico Meade-Arauz was checking out St. Catherine Labouré Manor, a facility that provides short-term and long-term care for patients, before driving across town to pick up his mother-in-law. She, like many other patients across Jacksonville, was evacuated, but Meade-Arauz and his family hoped she could return to what’s become her home Tuesday and regain some sense of normalcy.

Across the city, while some people tried to get back into their homes, others were growing stir-crazy and doing what they could to get out.

The doors opened at 6 a.m. at Trout River Fish Company and the customers just kept coming.

“Believe it or not,” the owner, Bruce Nipper, said, “we sold 200 pounds of bait today. … People are restless. They’re not staying at home today.”

Just north of the river, North Jacksonville Baptist Church associate pastor Josh Reavis led a cleanup crew. The water reached the church’s doors, but no further. Reavis hopes to get the parking lot ready for recovery organizations like Red Cross and he said as people start heading south on I-95, the church’s location will make it perfect to offer rest to those on their way home.

Nearby, boats crashed ashore, and a welding and diving school’s officials feared high tide would bring water rushing back inside where it had already ruined electronics and equipment.

Meanwhile, back at Clark’s Fish Camp on the southern tip of Jacksonville, Roush worried it could take a month or longer before the restaurant returns.

“We’re almost professionals about cleaning up after a flood like this. It’s just if it hangs out for a long time like this,” then there’s little he can do, Roush said. The recovery “really depends on Mother Nature and JEA. And JEA seems to be doing, as far as I’m concerned, an admirable job.”