Nina Lavigna was picking up her photographs and personal items that reminded her of her loved ones at her home at Wilbur-by-the-Sespan when Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis strolled past her front lawn Friday afternoon as he and top Florida officials toured homes that were devastated by Tropical Storm Nicole.
The elderly woman was one of many residents whose home endured Tropical Storm Ian in late September, only to see Nicole destroy their home less than two months later.
High surf from Nicole breached Lavigna’s sea wall. Volusia County officials said much of the community’s coastal infrastructure was damaged during Ian, leaving it vulnerable for Nicole.
Watch:A look from Port Cspannspanverspanl to Dspanytonspan Bespanch
More Hurricane Nicole:‘Wilbur by the Sespan looks like span wspanr zone.’ Bespanchside homes collspanpsed from Hurricspanne Nicole
Previously:Condos evspancuspanted in Dspanytonspan Bespanch Shores spans Hurricspanne Nicole nespanrs; tides pound cospanst
Lavigna has lived at the three-bedroom home for over 30 years, since the passing of her husband. The only rooms left standing were her kitchen and a small bathroom.
“Thirty-three years of memorabilia, things that I got from my mother before she passed away and my aunt,” Lavigna said. “I came back to get my photos, my wedding pictures of my husband, and things that I don’t even know I was trying to get, you just want to save everything. I accumulated these things to save them for the family.”
The devastating impact left by the storm eroded local beaches, and either circumvented or overcame sea walls to completely capsize many beachfront homes.
Sheriff: Law enforcement to remain a heavy presence after Nicole damaged homes
On Friday afternoon dozens of residents, law enforcement, public safety officials and a smattering of curious onlookers roamed local beaches to assess the damage left in the wake of the storm.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said law enforcement will maintain a significant presence in the area to prevent looting from damaged homes. He toured and patrolled Wilbur-By-The-Sea damage Friday afternoon as well.
Law enforcement has restricted access to the heavily damaged Wilbur-by-the-Sea and Daytona Beach Shores communities to residents only.
“Our first focus was all evacuations; we must have evacuated 600 people in high-rise condos, and that’s no easy task,” he said. “Then next is security. It’s my job to make sure nobody gets their place broken into. I know a lot of people aren’t happy with our police presence, because we are stopping everything, but that’s what we gotta do.”
“We have already made a looting arrest two hours ago,” he said. “A nefarious individual from Marion County decided it would be really nice to break into a house across the street from one of these houses. He was arrested within a minute of the 911 call.”
As of Friday morning county and municipal building inspectors have declared 24 hotels and condos in the county unsafe. However those figures could change as damage assessments continue throughout the weekend.
Lavigna’s home was among those structures, and an orange warning sign hangs on her front door to caution about the danger, although she said there is no greater reminder than the massive hole left where the back of her home used to rest.
DeSantis spoke with residents who lost homes, more, to Nicole
DeSantis and high-ranking officials, such as Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, visited neighboring homes and spoke to residents who lived in the neighborhood Friday afternoon as they assessed damage left by the storm.
Upon spotting DeSantis, Lavigna quickly made her way to the edge of her front lawn, and took her opportunity to ask the governor for help recovering from Nicole.
“It all happened in just a couple of hours,” she said. “We need some help here. I can’t live here. I’m trying to get help to move to other quarters. My money has now been depleted. I am staying with my daughter, but I can’t live there forever.”
DeSantis did not stop to address the media, but he did exchange a few words of encouragement with Lavigna as his motorcade drove away from the community, telling her that plans are in motion to respond and help renourish beaches.
“It’s not about me, it’s about all the people here,” Lavigna said after the exchange with the governor. “All the neighbors came out, like 15 neighbors came here to help me for the last few days. I just want people to know that we need help, and this is a very expensive project, sea walls, and they are not covered.”
“So I was trying to see if either the governor, the president or someone will help us,” she said. “No one can stay in this area without a sea wall.