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New Smyrna businesses get slammed by Hurricane Nicole's waters

Chases on the Beach's deck collapses into New Smyrna Beach as Hurricane Nicole's storm surge sweeps the sand dunes from underneath.
Chases on the Beach's deck collapses into New Smyrna Beach as Hurricane Nicole's storm surge sweeps the sand dunes from underneath. (photo by City of New Smyrna Beach)

Chases on the Beach, a staple restaurant of New Smyrna Beach, was one of the many businesses to suffer huge damages as Hurricane Nicole made landfall.

At around 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nicole’s storm surge began assailing sand dunes supporting the deck of Chases on the Beach — a restaurant that has been in the community under different hands for over 35 years. The next morning, the deck, which used to seat about 100 guests, was gone. 

The restaurant is owned by Michele Zahn, a native Central Floridian, who purchased the store in 2019, according to Florida business records. Her husband, Richard, helps manage the location. The couple had just closed the restaurant last week for repairs necessary after Hurricane Ian and were caught off guard by the fast-moving November storm. 

“We were just getting ready to start some substantial repairs. And then all of a sudden, you know, here comes the storm. And, we’re sharp people but we just didn't think something like this was going to be that bad. And next thing you know, all of a sudden were like, oh, surprise,” he said. 


Volusia buildings compromised

Volusia officials are asking residents to stay away from the coastline as the county continues to assess the damages left by Nicole.

So far, officials have recognized 11 compromised buildings in Daytona Beach Shores and Wilbur by The Sea, but they're expecting much more. Wednesday's curfew was extended for all areas east of the Intracoastal waterway until 7 a.m. Friday as workers continue to document damages, said County Manager George Recktenwald

“The structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented. We've never experienced anything like this before. So we ask for your patience as we make our assessments. As always, your safety is our top priority. This is going to be a long road to recovery,” Recktenwald said.

Site inspections are ongoing as experts look at the foundation of buildings, some of which have older construction and may not meet the building standards of the modern era, said Resource Management Director Clay Ervin.

Some damage may lie under the surface.

"There'll be this preliminary analysis where we will be going in and documenting what we see and allowing for those who can return to return. Those who are ever are not able to we will work with them to address their sheltering needs in the future," he said.

Volusia shelters remain open and had received 200 people and 26 pets prior to Nicole's landfall.

Dangerous water lingers in Volusia

Although Nicole has passed, the shadow of its danger lingers over Volusia, said Chief Deputy of Ocean Rescues, Tammy Malphurs.

"If you go anywhere near the beach, you're putting your life in jeopardy. The current state of the ocean is unforgiving. You might not make it out if you step foot into the water," Malphurs said.

Volusia Beach Safety is flying double red flags as large debris remains in the water. To make matters worse, Volusia's coast still has powerful rip currents threatening anyone who ventures into the water.

Malphurs said she is not sure when the beaches will be safe for public visitation again.

Inland water remains a problem, as well. The St. Johns River in Astor has returned to a major flood stage, and county officials are expecting flood conditions to worsen as high tide takes effect under a full moon Thursday night. U.S. Highway 1 has a large amount of tidal flooding blocking the road from Dunlawton to Rosebay, Recktenwald said.

Flooded roadways are also blocking the western portion of the Seabreeze bridge, Holly Hill near the Halifax River, as well as New Smyrna Beach by Turnbull Bay.

"If you must travel and you come upon a road that is covered in water, if you see signs of any damage, please turn around," Recktenwald said.

Picking up the pieces for the future

Early Thursday morning, Richard noticed the Tiki bar on the backside of the dock had begun to cave in. Under it, were temporary poles supporting the deck after Hurricane Ian had weakened the infrastructure. A few hours later, the storm swept the poles away and eroded the sand.

“The deck, which was already previously damaged from the last storm a couple of weeks ago, is now severely damaged," Richard said. "So we've got our engineer, we're going to be rebuilding it and putting it back together but for the time being, Chases’ is unfortunately temporarily shut down while we fix all the damage from the first storm, and then you know complete the damage now from the second storm.”

Richard said Chases, which has 35 employees year around and 60 during its busiest season, will be closed for the foreseeable future. The Zahns will be working with the City of New Smyrna to, hopefully, create a reinforced seawall to secure Chase’s future, but the Zahns are also planning on renovating the restaurant and bringing into a more modern atmosphere with its plans for a "Chase's after-dark" concept, Richard said.

"It's been an institution for 35-plus years. And, you know, we want it to be a really nice location in the future," he said.