Hurricane Nicole anniversary: Coastal residents continue to rebuild homes one year after destructive storm

A number of Florida communities, such as Wilbur-by-the Sea, in Volusia County, were devastated by Hurricane Nicole in Nov. 2022, just weeks after they were struck by Hurricane Ian. Nicole ended up causing more than $1 billion in damages.

Severe beach erosion from Hurricane Ian, which struck weeks earlier, made homes vulnerable to the impact of Nicole in the quaint beach community where single-family homes fell into the ocean.

Volusia County officials said that 29 single-family homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea had damage and that 17 were deemed unsafe following Hurricane Nicole. Additionally, seven single-family homes in nearby Ponce Inlet and three homes in New Smyrna Beach were deemed unsafe by inspectors.

Wilbur-by-the Sea resident Ken Meister chose to rebuild entirely – tearing down the past, in order to move forward and focus on the future. 

"I was hoping that once it was demolished… reliving the experience would finally go away, and it has," he said. "It's a positive thing now, and you try to be optimistic, and you try to focus on what's ahead."

He is building another beautiful beachfront home in the exact same spot where the last one once stood.

"We have great neighbors, and I think it's going to be really fun.  We are going to have a big party in the neighborhood!"

After Nicole, half of Meister's old home was washed into the sea.

"I left most of the house that had not fallen in place for the last year up until three weeks ago. So every time I came back I had to re-experience the damage," he explained.

It took six to eight months, but he finally got the permits to build a 12-foot seawall around his property. He also brought in more than 100 loads of sand.

"I just hope by the two-year anniversary we can walk inside the front door and then offset it by walking in the front door last time and seeing the difference!"

Beth Ehley has a smile on her face, but if you bring up Nicole, it brings her to tears. One month after Nicole struck, she and her husband packed up and moved inland to Putnam County. She said they were exhausted after experiencing eight storms in nine years.

"I was losing it.  The kids had never seen me so sad," she said.

Back at her beachfront property, a new seawall is under construction. Once complete, she said they hope to put what was once her "dream home" up for sale, never to return.

"I would hope a couple will buy it and love it like we did.  If they don't have any storms, they will be fine.  Oh my gosh, if we hadn't had eight storms we would still be here and nothing would have changed."

The damages from the category 1 storm in Volusia County exceeded those from the much stronger Hurricane Ian, officials said. Hurricane Ian, a category 4 storm made landfall in southwest Florida in late September 2022 and tore across the state.

Nearby Flagler County was also hit hard by Ian Nicole. The iconic Flagler Beach Pier was destroyed. Crews will soon begin replacing the pier, which is expected to open in February 2026.