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Hurricane Recovery Efforts A Challenge On East, West Coasts

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Peter Stefani used to look out at the sea as he showed up for work everyday.
The 58-year-old had worked his whole life to open the Island Room Restaurant on the water in Cedar Key, Fla. with his wife.

Still, the Nevada native hardly had an idea of what damage the tide could do until Hurricane Hermine hit Cedar Key.

“There were five or six foot waves in here,” recalls Stefani. “It was pretty emotional.”

When Stefani and his wife Gina returned to their restaurant, everything was either gone or ruined. A few structural beams from the 1985 building remained among a pile of debris.

“It was devastating,” says Stefani. “It pretty much wrecked our lives.”

Stefani’s insurance covered the majority of his losses from the hurricane, excluding lost revenue. He estimates they lost around $100,000 due to their closure.

Nine months later, Stefani says he wouldn’t prepare much differently.

“There’s nothing you can do to stop that. There’s nothing you can do to stop the water.”

***

Around the corner, Jordan Keeton was celebrating three-and-a-half months of open doors at 83 West when officials began warning a tropical depression could hit the area. He didn’t fear Hermine.

“Cedar Key usually gets lucky and misses a lot of hurricanes,” said Keeton, adding that it seemed small at first.

Despite officials strongly urging everyone to evacuate, he took what he could carry upstairs and waited out the storm with his brother.

When he came downstairs, he was devastated.

“It was pretty bad. It crashed down all of our windows out there, destroyed most of the equipment on the first floor, and we lost quite a bit of stuff,” Keeton said.

The first floor originally housed 83 West’s kitchen and bar, in addition to game tables and a large deck. The second floor was primarily for seating.

After the storm, Keeton worked with his contractor to add a kitchen and bar to the second story, allowing him to partially re-open within weeks.

That addition, plus the restoration of the first floor will cost Keeton around $350,000. His business was not insured; therefore, he is paying that out-of-pocket concurrently with the remainder of the bill for the original construction.

Reflecting on the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine, Keeton wishes he did more to prepare.

“I would’ve taken everything out of this first floor,” he said.  “It would’ve been a pain in the butt to do all that, but it would’ve been so helpful.”

***

On the East Coast, many are still rebuilding homes and businesses after the storm surge caught people off guard.

Caeri Howards lives on St. Augustine Beach and works on Amelia Island as head server of the Blackfly Restaurant.

She worked the night before to lift chairs off the ground and remove artwork from the building.

“We got a little complacent because we don’t get hit majority by hurricanes very often,” said Howards.  “I don’t think that we realized it was going to be as bad as it was.”

The Blackfly restaurant was lucky: it only took them several weeks to reopen because of a connection they had with a contractor. After replacing portions of the walls, cleaning up debris, and power washing the floors, they’ve been open for business.

Others in the area weren’t as fortunate. Looking forward, however, Howards hopes people adhere to warnings and evacuations to minimize damage.

“I think it’ll be taken a little bit more seriously,” she said.

***

In Cedar Key, both Stefani and Keeton hope to fully reopen in July.

Meanwhile, some of the homes near Blackfly have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

People in both coasts are hoping to finish their new, up-to-code structures before any more dangerous storms hit.  Meanwhile, officials across the state are urging residents to prepare now.

Angie Enyedi, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, believes preparation is key to minimizing damage.

“When it comes to preparedness, prepare every year as if this could be the year your community’s going to be hit,” she said.

For Cedar Key and St. Augustine, residents wish they had done just that. Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew hit hard, making recovery efforts a struggle even months later.

Thankfully, both coasts have had the help of their communities.

“We had volunteers, people who were married come here to help us out,” said Stefani. “They were incredible.”

About Grace King

Grace is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing grace.king@ufl.edu.

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Photo courtesy of Keone/Flickr.

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