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New Smyrna Beach residents pick up the pieces of a watery wasteland left by Hurricane Nicole

Chases on the Beach. The deck didn't survive the storm surge of Hurricane Nicole and collapsed into the water. By Joe Mario Pedersen / WMFE
Chases on the Beach. The deck didn't survive the storm surge of Hurricane Nicole and collapsed into the water. By Joe Mario Pedersen / WMFE

What was once a sprawling shoreline of sand on New Smyrna Beach is now a watery wasteland with tons of leftover debris courtesy of Hurricane Nicole’s storm surge Thursday morning. 

“I've been surfing these beaches since I wish I could hitchhike over here with my surfboard under my arm at 13 years old. And I've never in my life seen anything like this in Florida,” said Tracy Baxter, a lifetime Floridian, and a resident of Las Brisas condominiums.

Two of the property’s buildings were condemned after the violent storm surge swept the sand dunes from out beneath the building. Las Brisas’ coast side perimeter looked as if someone took a bite out of the shoreline and left a rigid, toothy gap 6-feet high where sand dunes once supported the building.

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Tracy Baxter is a resident of Las Brisas condominiums. By Joe Mario Pedersen / WMFE[/caption]

Baxter, who rode the storm out at a friend’s home just a couple blocks away, wasn’t allowed to return to her condo. 

“The city officials came out the other night with 20 police officers to you know, get everybody to move out. He said that if our building went into the water, it could pull building five with it,” she said.

About a mile south, Chases on the Beach, a beloved tiki bar hangs off an edge of Earth, leaning toward the ocean. Beneath it are tons of destroyed lumber, which once held a large deck for the guests of the restaurant. Chases has been in the New Smyrna community for about 30 years and has weathered many tropical storms. Hurricane Ian, which struck the area in September, weakened the restaurant’s surroundings.

General Manager Joe Ryan says that was the beginning of Chases’ troubles.

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Joe Ryan, the general manager of Chases on the Beach, stands on what's left of the restaurant's deck after Hurricane Nicole. By Joe Mario Pedersen / WMFE[/caption]

“But, you know, I was worried about the beach, because every storm that comes in, it erodes a little bit more, and then when I saw when it came in, after Ian, and the deck was just kind of slanted, and I saw some of the pilings that were in the sand and there wasn't sand there anymore,” he said. 

Six weeks later, a system just outside of the Caribbean began developing and caught Ryan’s eye. 

“Then when it started to gain the tropical characteristics, I was like, alright, and then when I saw how big the wind span was and all that storm surge. I was like, that's gonna be a problem,” he said.

And it was.

Nicole made landfall Thursday morning as a category 1 storm, causing additional damage to the already battered restaurant.

It’s unclear when Chases will re-open. 

Back on the beach, Volusia resident, Becky Curtiss was walking the ruins of the coast, picking up trash, and sorting out debris.

"I take it back to my house and I sort it. I recycle it and do what I can. Because it's my beach. It's beautiful. I want it to stay beautiful and if other people aren't helping you, somebody's got to do it and I want to do it. I want to do it. I have to do it. I can't pass by it. It just drives me crazy," she said.

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A staircase south of Las Brisas was destroyed by Hurricane Nicole's storm surge. By Joe Mario Pedersen / WMFE.[/caption]

Outside of the Las Brisas building, Jim and Maureen Hampton, longtime residents of the area, stood underneath the building mesmerized by Nicole’s destruction of New Smyrna Beach, where the beach is nowhere to be found.

"This one came out of nowhere, right? And was stronger than expected. It ended up being a Cat 1 where they thought it was just gonna be a subtropical storm. So Ian kind of destroyed everything. And it was all set up for Nicole to come in and just wipe it all out," Jim said.

At the Las Brisas parking lot, Tracy Baxter was waiting on a city inspector to find out if she can return to her condo anytime soon, or any news of how the building’s board of directors may try to improve safety conditions for future storms. For now, she’s relying on friends for help and has been touched by the community’s kindness.

“I've I'm a little bit numb. But I tell you, we have this community of New Smyrna Beach that is just so remarkable. It's such a tight-knit community. And the reason that I've gotten through it and it makes me tear up is because of the love and the support of everybody. So it's been amazing,” she said.

Residents don’t know how long it may take before New Smyrna Beach returns to a state of normalcy. However, some have accepted that things on the coast may never return to what was.