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A weak hurricane could drown Jacksonville. Will its leaders protect it in time?

Flood waters from Hurricane Irma inundate a park on the St. Johns River on Sept. 11, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. Officials there knew the city was flood-prone and have stalled on implementing plans that could fix the problem. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Flood waters from Hurricane Irma inundate a park on the St. Johns River on Sept. 11, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. Officials there knew the city was flood-prone and have stalled on implementing plans that could fix the problem. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE — William Andralliski followed Hurricane Matthew here last fall, chasing construction work. He found a job repairing the damage the storm left behind. He met a woman in the city, and they made a life together.

Less than a year later, another hurricane swept that life away.

Hurricane Irma forced flood waters under the door of the 28-year-old's tiny apartment. Andralliski, his girlfriend and her mother fled for the nearest shelter, running from the water pooling in his living room carpet.

Now they own little more than their phones and the clothes they were wearing. Their apartment is condemned.

"Irma came and washed it all away — all of our birth certificates, pictures," he said. "It's like we don't even exist."

Irma did all of that despite skirting Jacksonville, its eye passing more than 70 miles away. By then it was a tropical storm, its winds half the speed they were when it made landfall on the other end of Florida as a ferocious hurricane. Yet flood waters here were so high they lapped at the light switches in Andralliski's apartment.

Gov. Rick Scott was surprised by the damage. "I don't think many people thought they'd get all the flooding that they got," he said.

But the way Irma's waters surged into Jacksonville and sat in some neighborhoods for days was no fluke.

It was proof of something local officials have known for years: The city is dangerously flood-prone, making a hit from even a weaker hurricane potentially catastrophic.

Click here to continue reading our special report.

A weak hurricane could drown Jacksonville. Will its leaders protect it in time? 10/06/17 [Last modified: Friday, October 6, 2017 11:25am]
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