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Several Waterfront Park trees blow down in what may have been a small tornado during Hurricane Nate.
By John Mullen
October 15, 2017 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA) – Hurricane Nate’s glancing blow was hardly felt in coastal Baldwin County, but his storm surge still washed out about 200,000 cubic yards of sand off beaches in Orange Beach.
On Oct. 10, a special-called city council meeting there authorized the city to spend about $39,700 to have Olsen Associates assess the losses.
“The biggest damage is going to be the beach erosion,” city Emergency Management Coordinator Lannie Smith said. “We did lose a good bit of sand on the beach. The surge and wave velocity made it all the way up to the dune and beach area and really eroded the dunes in several places. That’s going to be where we took the most hit.”
Another big blow was felt at the Gulf State Park Pier where much of the decking and utility lines running under the deck received damage. The pier reopened on Saturday, October 14th.
Photos by Louis Williams
Orange Beach’s new park area at the Perdido Pass fishing wall received minimal damage.
Inland damage was confined to some trees falling on power lines and minor flooding.
Orange Beach Coastal Resources Director Phillip West said sand loss on the beach is being estimated by impact felt during Hurricane Ida in 2009.
“We look at history to see what that’s similar to Nate, and the most similar storm with those same vital stats would be Ida,” West said. “Basically, the best thing we can do is make an assumption the damage is going to be similar, except Nate moved a whole lot faster.”
Where Ida removed about 10 yards of sand per lenier foot of beachfront, West said they estimated Nate’s damage would be about 25 percent less.
“Comparing all that data with Ida, but the duration was much less, so we’re going with about 7.5 cubic yards per foot which is a little over 200,000 yards,” West said. “At 10 bucks a yard, that’s a couple of a million bucks.”
The survey ordered by the council on Oct. 10 will give hard numbers to present to FEMA if there is a disaster declaration because of damage from Nate.
According to Smith, in the eyes of FEMA, the beach is considered a city facility and must be maintained to a certain level to provide protection from storms.
“With it being an engineered beach, it’s basically considered a city asset,” Smith said. “As long as we keep it up to the template that FEMA tells us we have to keep it to for storm protection, then it’s just like any other asset mitigation that you do that’s reimbursable.”
Or, as West says of the beach front, “it’s the first line of defense.”
The city has an annual beach monitoring contract with Olsen Associates and regularly checks to see if beaches meet FEMA guidelines.
“Luckily, we have the beach surveyed occasionally because it’s an engineered beach and FEMA requires us to keep it at a certain template,” Smith said. “So, we know what we had before the storm. We just authorized the same coastal engineering firm to come survey it again so we’ll know what we lost exactly.”
The most visible damage came in East Orange Beach in the area near the new Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach.
“It appears we had a little weak tornado come through and did a lot of damage around Waterfront Park and the Bay Circle area,” Smith said. “That was probably the most damage we so, but most of that was just trees down, power outages resulting from those trees down. We had one tree that was on a dwelling.”
Flooding didn’t cause any major problems in the city, he said.
“We had some minor flooding in storage rooms and things like that,” Smith said. “I’m aware of just a handful of flooding that affected any living area. Overall it was a pretty minor event damage wise.”
City officials completed damage assessments throughout the city following the storm and found no major impacts from Hurricane Nate. Some minor flooding was found around Little Lagoon including Windmill Ridge Road, West 8th, 5th, 4th and 3rd avenues and in the Laguna Key subdivision.