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Flooding along St. Johns won’t recede quickly

Neighbors — Gene Gessler, left, and Kerry Kerlin, neighbors on Hontoon Road, have both experienced flooding. Kerlin lives on the side of the road closer to the St. Johns River, while Gessler’s home fronts a man-made canal leading to the river. The canal is also swollen, and blocked by a tree that came down during Hurricane Irma. 

Neighbors — Gene Gessler, left, and Kerry Kerlin, neighbors on Hontoon Road, have both experienced flooding. Kerlin lives on the side of the road closer to the St. Johns River, while Gessler’s home fronts a man-made canal leading to the river. The canal is also swollen, and blocked by a tree that came down during Hurricane Irma. 

BEACON PHOTO/ANTHONY DeFEO

Not supposed to be a boat ramp — At the Hontoon Landing Resort & Marina, at the southern tip of Hontoon Island, parts of a parking lot near several docks are flooded.

Not supposed to be a boat ramp — At the Hontoon Landing Resort & Marina, at the southern tip of Hontoon Island, parts of a parking lot near several docks are flooded.

BEACON PHOTO/ANTHONY DeFEO

The St. Johns River is mighty swollen lately, and officials don’t expect a reprieve from the flooding to come quickly. 

According to the National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, which tracks river flooding across the country, gauges at Astor, DeLand and Sanford show the river experiencing moderate-to-major flooding. 

In DeLand on the afternoon of Oct. 11, the river was measured at 5.39 feet, more than a foot above its flood stage of 4.2 feet. The gauge at Astor showed the river at 3.99 feet, above the flood stage of 2.8 feet.

Those numbers weren’t expected to budge much through Oct. 16.

That’s bad news for riverfront residents of Astor, Volusia, western DeLand and southern parts of DeBary.

At the Riviera Resort & Marina, west of DeLand on Hontoon Island, manager Gary Maddox said flooding is about as bad as it was during 2008’s Tropical Storm Fay. 

“Our seawall and everything is under the water. Some of our campsites up front are underwater,” he said. “Our fish-cleaning station has gotten about 6 inches of water on it.”

“It just looks like it’s going to be real slow going down,” he added.

Maddox worried that business at the marina, which also functions as an RV park and motel, could suffer.

Residents along Hontoon Road had similar experiences.

“Our dock is totally underwater. Our boathouse, the water is up to where the door goes into the boathouse,” said Gene Gessler. “I have a kayak in there that I can’t get out anymore.”

On the other side of the street, Kerry Kerlin’s backyard was “basically a swamp right now,” he said.

The river had flooded and surrounded his garage-warehouse, making it inaccessible unless one was willing to get his or her feet wet. Small fish swam in the pond the river created out of part of Kerlin’s backyard, attracting a variety of birds.

Gessler and Kerlin have lived on Hontoon Road for eight and three years, respectively, and the flooding is the worst they’ve seen during their time along the river.

What’s behind the flooding? Rain — and lots of it. 

September, which saw Hurricane Irma pass over Florida, was much wetter than normal. According to NWS records, a station in Sanford, the closest to West Volusia with climatological data available, saw 11.81 inches of rain — 5.63 inches above normal. 

Through Oct. 9, the same station recorded 2.63 inches of rain, or 1.19 inches above normal for October.

A flood warning remains in effect for the St. Johns from Lake Harney to Astor, according to the NWS forecast office in Melbourne. 

Areas around the river’s banks could be wetter than usual for weeks.

“The rate of decline in river levels will be very slow, with many areas remaining above flood stage for several weeks, even without additional rainfall,” the warning reads. 

To view river-gauge levels from the NWS, visit www.weather.gov/serfc and select “Melbourne, FL (MLB)” under the menu labeled “NWS Weather Forecast Offices.” Click on the colored icons on the map to view current and forecast levels for each gauge.

- Anthony DeFeo, anthony@beacononlinenews.com

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