We all have a story about that day.
For those of us at First Coast News, the river filled our parking lot with more than two feet of water. It flooded cars and raised the real possibility of evacuating the station. The water began to recede just as it came close to breaching our generator wall.
We were lucky, but so many neighborhoods around the First Coast were not.
There was a moment in one news conference when Mayor Lenny Curry asked the residents to place a white flag in their window if they needed rescue. A surrender to the storm. For a day and a half, it seemed Hurricane Irma had us beat.
Over the past two months, we’ve profiled a dozen or so hard-hit neighborhoods around Jacksonville. As journalists, we’re often quick to move on from stories. But for those living that story, reality moves a bit slower. Early on, our newsroom discussed ways to tell the stories of the people in those neighborhoods and continue to take part in helping our community recover.
Project One: One area of town that has struggled to overcome Irma’s obstacles is on the city’s Northwest Side, on Ken Knight Drive. The homes there are mostly rentals and were heavily damaged. We chose this neighborhood for a service project on October 28. Volunteers from around the city and dozens of First Coast News employees removed debris, painted fences and facilitated a roof replacement. The families living in those homes joined in the effort. It was moving to see the community come together. We plan to also adopt this street for Christmas.
Project Two: Early on we assigned a crew to cover San Marco. It’s an iconic neighborhood with older homes that suffered quite a bit of damage. This crew spent every day for the next 10 weeks on two to three streets shooting and documenting about the recovery. The resulting hour-long documentary, “Five Feet High and Rising,” airs on Thanksgiving Day at 5 p.m. The story reflects what we found in San Marco: a resilient neighborhood determined to rebuild, recover and move forward. Their positivity was contagious.
And that got us thinking.
Community should be celebrated. It’s where the idea for a Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of Cedar Street came from. On November 16, more than one hundred people came together ‘At the Table’ to celebrate life and the love of a neighborhood. The street that was once filled with 5 feet of water was filled with tables and food. It was beautiful.
What we’ve learned from both projects is this -- even after losing so much, there is still plenty to be thankful for.