Even before Hurricane Dora’s eye moved ashore in Northeast Florida just after midnight on September 10, 1964, much of the new Jacksonville Beach Pier was destroyed by winds. While Dora caused no deaths in Jacksonville, buildings throughout North Florida were severely damaged or lost. At the beaches, bulkheads were destroyed and 43 homes were lost in the Jacksonville beaches area—20 swept to sea.
And the flooding was not from rainfall, which oddly was limited to less than six inches as the high winds roared over Jacksonville. The little town of Live Oak and other interior points experienced more serious rain. It was storm surge that impacted not only property at the beach, but also along the river and its tributaries.
In weather bureau recorded history, Dora was the city’s first direct hit. It was one of the few hurricanes in modern history to hit the mainland at a nearly perpendicular angle. The seas were ten feet above normal. Many homeowners along the St. Johns were forced to flee to avoid the flooding.
Dora was one of four hurricanes to affect Florida during the 1964 season. As it started off Cape Verde and moved northwest across the Atlantic toward the U.S., Dora was on a path thought originally to suggest a New England threat or a turn out to sea. However, a high pressure system to the north slowly forced Dora on a curve back to the west. While in the process of turning west,Dora peaked at 140 mph and slowed in forward movement.
Dora then weakened back to a Category 2 hurricane while moving westward towards the northeast coast of Florida. At this time Dora was a large hurricane. Dora then slowed considerably before reaching land, and consequently the winds and tides increased slowly. The strong, long-duration, onshore winds produced unusually high tides along the entire coast. Just before landfall on September 9, Dora regained hurricane Category 3 status before weakening back to a strong Category 2 at landfall. The eye passed over St. Augustine on the night of September 9-10 with winds reported at 110 miles per hour at landfall.
The storm cut a path across the northern part of the state before finally making a track to the northeast on September 12. As it moved into southwestern Georgia, Dora was downgraded to a tropical storm before moving back over Georgia and South Carolina.
Winds from the storm made one last return to Jacksonville about a week later as the system circulated back into the Atlantic Ocean. This time the winds were only at the tropical storm level, but they confounded the recovery efforts.
Power supply for Jacksonville and surrounding towns was lost; it was only restored after six days of outages. About $280 million ($2 billion in 2007 dollars) in damage was attributed to the hurricane, primarily due to extensive inland flooding. The highest rainfall amount recorded during the hurricane fell at Mayo, where 23.73 inches fell.
In downtown Jacksonville, the city’s (then) riverfront parking lots surrealistically appeared as part of the river with the occasional pole or phone booth dotting the water’s surface. The St. Johns River–six feet above normal–washed over the bulkhead in downtown Jacksonville filling parking lots. The John T. Alsop (Main St.) Bridge is in the background.
President Lyndon Johnson arrived in the beleaguered Jacksonville on September 11 to survey the damage throughout North Florida and meet affected residents. The area received $8.2 million in federal disaster aid, and $1.8 million to rebuild the 6-milelong seawall.
Despite the chaos that night, Jacksonville prepared for a quartet of singers known as the Beatles. The Gator Bowl was supplied electricity by underground power lines during the Sept. 10, 1964, concert (luckily for fans).
Anita Bigler gave birth to a daughter at the Naval Hospital at Jacksonville Naval Air Station during the hurricane. Naming the child was no problem. Infant Dora Bigler joined two sisters, Donna, 6, and Dianna, 2.
Yacht Club Road and the Pirates Cove area were among hardest hit of residential areas. After Dora had passed, tides and winds pushed the St. Johns River to an extremely high tide which inundated many exclusive homes in this area.