Damage assessments are underway at Gulf Islands National Seashore in both Florida and Mississippi after Hurricane Nate. The park’s Florida portion remains closed for the next several days.
Here’s what we know, from park spokesman Brent Everitt:
“We did get a significant impact from the hurricane, and now they’re trying to evaluate what that exact damage is, and how it’s going to take us to get back up and running,” said Everitt.
In the Fort Pickens area, there’s a substantial over wash of sand and water on the roads and in the parking lots, and some standing water in the campground areas.
“The campground, we haven’t been able to evaluate the infrastructure there because we can’t do that until the waters recede,” Everitt said. “And in some places we have up to two feet of sand on the roadways. [It’s] just going to take some time to clear that roadway off so that we can let visitors back in.”
All reservations through Wednesday night are cancelled, and those holding them are being contacted. And, says Everitt, the same goes pretty much for County Road 399 – J. Earle Bowden Parkway – between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach.
“If you remember back to Tropical Storm Cindy back in June, we had some over wash that compromised some of the roadway there,” said Everitt. “We’ve had larger, significant impacts this time around. So it’s going to be some time before Highway 399 reopens.”
Before Nate entered the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend, the National Park Service implemented its Incident Management System, which was put into place after the September 11 attacks. Everitt says it allows for safe evacuation before a storm, and damage inspections afterward.
“A lot of folks around here know the bridges close [with] about 40 mph winds, and all of those areas are beyond those bridges,” said Everitt. “So we need to get our folks back before that shutdown happens to protect their own lives. This process allows us to do that.”
Standing water has the facilities and parking lots at Opal Beach closed, with no re-opening until it recedes. Also the park’s Okaloosa area.
“They’re just in low-lying areas,” Everitt said. “Once the water gets in there, the water table rises. It just takes a while for all that water to recede.”
If there’s a silver lining, it could be that there are no shorebirds nesting at Gulf Islands this time of the year. However, Everitt says it’s a different story for the park’s sea turtle population.
“We had a bumper crop of [turtle] nests this year, which was amazing and great,” said Everitt. “As of last week we still had about 30 nests still waiting to hatch. We’re anxious to get our staff back out there in the coming days to check on those nests and see how they withstood the storm.”
On Tuesday, the park’s Naval Live Oaks and Fort Barrancas areas are scheduled to resume normal operations. Johnson Beach at the Perdido Key area is set to open at noon. More information on the park’s status can be found at www.nps.gov/GulfIslands, and on Facebook.