Don Pepe is one of seven people profiled in the Five Feet High and #Rising documentary which set out to tell the stories of those impacted by Hurricane Irma's historic and catastrophic flooding. The documentary airs Thanksgiving at 5 p.m.
"The main thing is, you're just totally unprepared."
Don Pepe, a resident of San Marco for nearly 30 years, is familiar with the routine street flooding his neighborhood sees at high tide. And he’s no Pollyanna about the twin realities of low-lying streets and rising seas.
Pepe lost his pickup truck and five motorcycles in the flood, along with his hot water heater, his washer/dryer, every appliance in his kitchen, and a few hundred photographs.
Pepe moved into the bedroom of his two-story house shortly after Irma’s floodwaters began shorting out his electrical outlets. He has spent the weeks since then living on protein shakes, trying to salvage what he can – pictures of his time as a pilot in Vietnam, his home’s hardwood floors -- and replace what he can’t.
Each purchase is made with an eye to the next flood: it must be washable, expendable, or high enough off the ground to avoid floodwaters. His new washing machine and dryer stand on a home-made platform 4 feet off the ground; the delivery men made him sign a waiver releasing them from liability.
Some things, however, cannot be replaced. Like his next-door neighbors. They are also his ex in-laws. But they were good friends, Pepe says, and their departure leaves a great void.
“They aren’t coming back and I don’t blame them,” he says. “Because this is going to happen again. The times have changed and we all know why.”