Back in the Day with GMJ; Remembering Hurricane Dora

Back in the day GMJ: Hurricane Dora

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Hurricanes can reshape a community in many ways including the mindsets of its residents and the landscape itself. These storms are named and there's one name in particular when mentioned to people of a certain age on the First Coast that will start a conversation.
Many people have stories to share about Hurricane Dora. The monster storm swept away homes and businesses. It was Jacksonville's greatest disaster since the great fire of 1901. Let's go Back in the Day with GMJ to September of 1964.

"I was a teenager at the time, so I remember it well," said Emily Lisska, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Historical Society. "We lost 42 houses in North Florida. More dramatically 22 were washed out to the sea. The beaches were absolutely decimated.”
As Lisska flips through a booklet filled with powerful images of the damage Dora left behind, she gasps at the sights and reflects on the haunting pictures.
“This is particularly dramatic,” said Lisska pointing to a row of flooded houses. “This image of Ponte Vedra, it’s just standing in water."

Legendary meteorologist George Winterling, 86 was just 30 years old when he predicted a direct hit of Hurricane Dora on the First Coast. Using early technology, a paper map and science- he spoke words many over the years were taught to doubt. The belief was that Jacksonville was somehow hurricane proof.
"I didn't see how it could miss us,” said Winterling. " I said this storm is headed our way and by Wednesday I drew 100 on the map right over the St Johns River and said winds would be up to 100 miles an hour and that got their attention."
"We do remember that and that it was going to be much more than a tropical storm and that we needed to take real precautions about it,” said Sharon Scholl.
Winterling's announcement caught her attention. She was a professor at Jacksonville University at the time.

"This was at an unfortunate period in that dorm students had just arrived on-campus," said Scholl. "We had to prepare for them to ride it out."

Just after midnight, September 10, 1964 Dora's eye moved ashore in Northeast Florida.
Seas were ten feet above normal. Storm surge flooded homes along the river, its tributaries and the beach.
"The rain that was washing against the windows it was just a loud hiss,” recalls Scholl. “You could hear things beating against the house, bushes and all." 

Dora's direction took an odd turn and showed its target no mercy.

"A thousand miles east of us it looked like it was going to make that classic curve that people here expect,” said Meteorologist, Tim Deegan. “We're watching it, it's making a turn to the northwest, it's making a turn to the north, it's passing us as it goes by. But Dora didn't do that. Dora was making it look like it was going to make a turn, it stalls and comes due west toward Jacksonville.”
Known as the U-turn storm, the category two hurricane left behind destruction most on the First Coast had never seen before.

"The yard did look like bombs had gone off because tree limbs and Spanish moss and leaves were everywhere around," said Scholl.

"What really stands out is how the St. Johns River came up so high and the entire parking lot downtown was under water and Riverside all along the River bank the river came up to a block or two away from the river,” said Winterling. “People had never seen the water that high before."

"The Ferris wheel which was also well known at the beach, it literally was folded in half on itself," exclaimed Lisska while peering at a photo of the twisted metal.

It was a dark time for Jacksonville and surrounding areas, the power was lost. The Scholls went without electricity for three weeks.

"I went around to some of the neighbors that we were friendly with and begged refrigerator space,” said Scholl. “So we got to be very friendly with the neighbors.”

Friendly neighbors, a resilient spirit and federal aid lead to the River City's slow recovery. President Lyndon B. Johnson arrived in Jacksonville on September 11, 1964 and surveyed the damage. It was a sign of much needed help on the way.

"I knew it was something we could recover from and it was just a matter of time and cooperation," said Winterling.
“The fact that within a week people here were sending their kids back to school in 1964 and the Beatles still played downtown it just showed me that as bad as other hurricanes have been, if Jacksonville can come back from that, as bad as Matthew and Irma was- I knew we could come back from those two hurricanes," said Deegan.

"I certainly learned that you need to prepare as thoroughly as you could for a hurricane,” said Scholl. “You don't just sit around and wait to see what happens."

Hurricane season ends on November 30. So far, the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season is among the top 10 most active on record.
 

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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