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A San Marco business and neighbor warn others to not take storm warning lightly

Local restaurant manager from Flame Broiler looks back to the impacts of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and lessons learned for the future.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — San Marco is an area of Jacksonville that is prone to flooding because of its proximity to the St. Johns River. 

During Hurricane Irma 2.2 trillion gallons of rain went into its watershed. 

First Coast News talked with a San Marco man, Don Pepe, who is ready for any storm that comes his way. We followed his journey for more than a year after his home was completely flooded in Hurricane Irma. 

It was five years ago this month and Pepe says he'll never forget. He says he felt helpless when Irma came through flooding his home. He lost just about everything. 

“You don’t realize you how much you take for granted with hot water until both your water heaters are lost, or just having clean clothes until you don’t have access to those things," said Pepe. 

Pepe made some changes to restore his home. He gave a tour and showed how he flood-proofed his home by putting his refrigerator and hot water heater on lifts that can be cranked above floodwaters.

His washer and dryer are installed on raised platforms four feet off the ground.

“How highly you value it is how high it is off the ground. The stuff you don’t really care about goes down here," said Pepe. 

Advice he could give to Jacksonville neighbors is to not take storms lightly and to treat every storm with caution.

A nearby business called the Flame Broiler can agree with Pepe. 

Ashley Hardin, general manager of the Flame Broiler, says the storm knocked the business offline for months. 

"The entire floor was under water. So all these cabinets and everything had to be replaced. You know the mold obviously got into the air system so we had to completely replace the air conditioning system," said Hardin. 

The damage cost the business 90 thousand dollars and since it was closed it wasn’t generating any income. 

“You know its people’s job security if there's not a store to be open there's no hours for people to work. We're super lucky to work for someone who actually cares about us because she spent time relocating employees to different stores making sure they still had those hours so they can take care of their families," said Hardin. 

Having weathered the storm, she has advice for other business owners. 

“Unplug all of your electronics, turn your air conditioning off during the store and you can try the sandbags at the door and see if they work, but the water is going to get through if it wants to. So unplug anything that you care about.”

Hardin says she encourages businesses to be prepared and have a plan in place. 

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