The 21 apartment-style rooms are 4.4 miles north of the Hammock Dunes Bridge, in Flagler County.
By Dominic-Madori Davis
Three years after Hurricane Matthew nearly destroyed the Ocean Shore Villa on State Road A1A, land manager Michael Murphy said recently that the pool is fixed and the property is back to normal.
“It was something out of a horror film,” Murphy said, recalling the flooding during Matthew. “I’d come around the corner and the water was halfway up [the] door. It looked like you’re looking at an aquarium.”
During the hurricane, the pool was home for the sea animals which rode the six-foot water wave that hit the Villa, which is 4.4 miles north of the Hammock Dunes Bridge. And then, just as Murphy was to begin rebuilding the property, Hurricane Irma hit.
Once again the Ocean Shore Villa was thrown into chaos. And by the time Murphy could attend to the pool, it had succumbed to black algae, and cost $11,000 to repair.
“Everything else died,” he said.
The Ocean Shore dream
The Ocean Shore Villa is a small place. According to Murphy, it was built by a family from New York who wanted a place to escape to during the colder months. It has only 21 studio-apartment styled rooms, and it sees most of its activity from snowbirds or Disney vacationers.
Many residents even stay long term. “You can’t beat my rates,” Murphy said. “I’m the cheapest ticket in town.”
Murphy has worked at the Ocean Shore Villa for 13 years. And, after the Villa was hit back-to-back with near catastrophic hurricanes, Murphy has yet to leave.
“Since the first hurricane I haven’t left,” he said. “I sold my house in Palm Coast.”
Originally from Massachusetts, Murphy retired from his job in construction and moved to Flagler County so he could be closer to his aging parents.
He took on the land manager role at Ocean Shore Villa to make extra money and says though he was used to the strong nor'easters which would hit the Cape Cod coast each winter, he never saw anything as bad as Hurricane Matthew.
“I walked out that door and the wind started to pull me,” he said. “The maintenance guy had to grab my legs and hold me down and pull me back into the room, the wind was that strong. And I’m a pretty big guy.”
The day of the hurricane
Murphy still remembers the harrowing details of the day Hurricane Matthew hit the Villa –– the images of residents canoeing across the highway to check on the homes they had left behind; the dead deer and hogs in the parking lot; the water that had been polluted with septic spill; and there were so many looters that the National Guard had to block off the neighborhood.
“It was horrible,” Murphy said. “Like you wake up in the morning, you see yourself, [you say] ‘Why am I alive?’ It was that bad.”
Air conditioning units had been ripped from the walls, and a wall of water had knocked down all the telephone poles.
Murphy even had to hide his 12-year-old dog upstairs in one of the studio apartments, and leave his miniature black stallion in the laundry room downstairs.
“I had a 3-year-old beautiful Cadillac in the parking lot gone, pickup truck gone, Kawasaki four-wheel-drive Mule gone,” he said. “I personally, myself, lost about between $25,000 and $30,000.”
This was on top of the $20,000 damage done to the Villa.
Murphy knew it was dangerous to stay during the hurricanes. The Villa sits at sea level and was under a mandatory evacuation order. The ocean is less than a mile away, and Murphy knew he was risking his life by staying on the property.
But there were guests who refused to leave, so Murphy decided to stay with them.
“[They] said they’re not going to leave their belongings behind,” he said. “I felt kind of responsible because some are more elderly and I couldn’t make them leave …. so I figured I better stay here just to keep an eye on them.”
The days which followed were grim, and assistance didn’t come for months.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency refused to send workers to the area while the flooding waters were still contaminated with septic, Murphy said, so the Villa went almost a month without electricity and clean water.
“People really needed help back here, and a lot of them didn’t get any,” said Patricia Gordon, resident and housekeeper of the Ocean Shore Villa.
“The good thing was," Murphy said, " … Red Cross came and set up a [food] station out here every morning and every evening for the local people that stayed. They served hot meals and things like that, but [the aftermath] was just horrible.”
The road to recovery
After Hurricane Matthew, the Villa began to prep for Hurricane Irma.
Irma had near catastrophic winds, and spawned a tornado that touched down just across the street from the property.
“It’s taken a long time to recover,” her said. “It’s basically been three years.”
But now, the Villa is in full recovery mode.
The rooms are 100% rentable, and the only modifications to the property are for cosmetic reasons. The owner, who once thought about selling it after all the damage, has been paying out of pocket for repairs.
Aside from the new pool, the Villa put in new flooring, furniture, and had the whole property rewired. The inspector just approved the new pool, and now workers have come in to redo the windows.
This three-year journey is now nearing its end, and Murphy couldn’t be more relieved.
“See, from up north, I don’t know hurricanes,” he said. “But I do now and the next time I hear ‘hurricane,’ I’m scrambling … I’ll never stay through another one.”