ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- There were at least 20 demolition applications following Hurricane Matthew in St. Johns County last year, and now the same process is underway in response to Hurricane Irma.
As of Tuesday, three permits have been handed out for home demolitions in south Ponte Vedra. Two homes that will be demolished were condemned by the city, including the beach house belonging to the Gray family.
Asher Gray said his family came together with their friends as the home was demolished Tuesday afternoon. They hope they can rebuild someday.
“A lot of memories right there in that pile of rubble,” Gray said. “This is my dad Bill Gray, the one who bought the house over 30 years ago, we have family and friends here, it’s a demo party.”
The plot of land has been through three major hurricanes, starting with Dora in the 1960s, followed by Matthew in 2016 and Irma, the final straw, in early September.
“We tried to salvage what we could before the looters got in and took what they took... They stole the shower, they took a complete shower in the upstairs bedroom,” said Gray's sister, Pam Whitaker.
Beach erosion mixed with severe weather threatens the future for many homes in St. Johns County. The Grays are well aware of it, but are hoping to keep the memories at the beach going.
“There’s not a whole lot of beach left so there are going to be some decisions to be made,” Gray said. “If we rebuild, which we will, we will have to build a seawall, it’s going to be a necessary evil.”
Families, like the Grays, are hoping the county will step in and help pay for the walls, but the county said they are only assisting with obtaining permits from the state and leaving the high cost to the residents.
Bill Gray said he will leave the next rebuilding project up to his kids and their families. He said they spread his wife’s ashes there in 2009 and he hopes the same will be done for him someday. It’s memories like that, he says, that ties them to the beach and the sea.