Residents of the city's San Marco neighborhood on the
Tuesday marks the first anniversary of the hurricane that slammed
>> MORE COVERAGE: Irma, one year later
* 'No floor, no walls, no ceiling': Hurricane Irma recovery still underway for many in
* Repairing Jacksonville's Irma-damaged parks will take another year
Since then, some survivors have moved elsewhere.
Others still are repairing or rebuilding their damaged homes using lessons learned from Irma.
All are awash in memories, with many telling the Times-Union they're thankful to have weathered the hurricane and heartache in its wake.
SAN MARCO NIGHTMARE
Flooding at high tide is routine for many San Marco residents. Few if any, however, anticipated the massive storm surge that flooded their homes and apartments in the upscale
He and his fiancee,
The couple stocked up food, water and other hurricane supplies and kept tabs on the approaching storm. They'd evacuated for Hurricane Matthew the previous year because of concerns over flooding but that didn't happen. Looney assumed Irma would be just as underwhelming, so they stayed home and went to sleep.
The shrill shriek of their car alarms jolted them awake. It was the first inkling they'd made a dangerous decision. Then, the sound of water sent Looney to look out the window.
"I looked out the window and realized the river is up against the building," said Looney, recalling he then opened the front door to look out there. "I'm obviously seeing something wrong. It's literally the whole river. It's not street flooding. The river is up like two steps from being inside."
The water kept rising. The couple hastily rolled up rugs, piling them along with personal items on counters, beds and other furniture to get them as high off the floor as possible. Grabbing what they could carry and stuff into backpacks, they headed into the storm.
"The water had not come into our place when we left. The main reason we left was because it was low tide and we knew the water was going to come up another 1 or 2 feet and we knew for sure it was coming inside," he said.
Looney said the couple waded about a mile through churning waist-deep water to a friend's home on higher ground. He returned a few hours later when he knew the tide was on its way out to check on the damage.
A high water mark on the outside of the building showed the waters reached about 5 feet high. However, only about 4 inches actually got inside their apartment -- leaving mud and foul-smelling debris behind. The wood flooring, wall board and and many personal possessions were ruined. In addition, the force of the floodwaters dislodged the hot water tanks for each unit and broke a pipe -- adding more water to the flooding, he said.
Looney said they lost their vehicles as water rose inside to the steering wheel, their furniture including an entertainment center, desks and anything that was on the floor. He knew at first glance everything was ruined.
"The second I walked in there and saw the water had gotten. I knew we couldn't live there anymore. I knew we'd have to move out," said Looney, an insurance adjuster who realized extensive restoration work would be needed to make it habitable again.
The couple now live in the Lakewood neighborhood. Their former
A few blocks away from the
Welch got 16 inches of water in the garage of his home in the 1800 block of
"Because all of my living quarters are second floor, I was basically spared," Welch said as he pointed to nearby homes that were inundated with flood water requiring extensive renovation. "Just depending upon the elevation of your building particularly in this block, it was really, really bad. It was a disaster"
Welch said he'd evacuated at about
"Stupid me was walking bare foot down the sidewalk ... and I couldn't see what was under the water so I just gave up and went back," Welch said.
It was nine days before Welch was able to move back home, he said. But he's not complaining.
"A lot of people lost a lot. I was very, very fortunate," Welch said.
>> SLIDESHOWS: Hurricane Irma's aftermath
* Downtown, San Marco
A year ago,
"To see that much water. You're about a football field from the creek and that's normally land and all of a sudden it's full of water. ... That's when it really hit home it was kind of a different deal than before," Rice said of the storm surge barreling over the creek banks.
A major tributary of the
Flood waters topped out at 28.5 feet on both the North and South prongs
The Rice home and others perched on high ground -- historically safe from the creek's flood waters -- were cut off at best. At worst, they were submerged to their roof lines.
"We were very fortunate in comparison to a lot of people. We only got about a foot and a half in our house," Rice said of his family's
Rice along with his wife,
"The closest it's ever been before was about 8 feet. It had never even gotten to our foundation before much less inside the house," said Rice, who teaches physical education as well as coaches football and weightlifting at
Little could be salvaged. The family had to replace all the wood flooring, carpet, drywall, baseboards -- basically everything from the floor upward four feet on the walls. The water destroyed much of their furniture as well as sentimental items they didn't have time to remove before evacuating.
"It was certainly in the tens of thousands of dollars if not more," Rice estimated of the damage to their home and contents. Many items such as photos and heirlooms, however, were priceless because of the their sentimental value, he said.
Despite the extensive damage, Rice said they were fortunate. No one was hurt, their home was damaged but not destroyed and they had insurance.
"It was devastating to us. But we were so blessed and fortunate in comparison to many, many others. I can't imagine what my neighbors and others up and down the creek went through," he said.
Rice said they are lucky to live in such a beautiful place. It's where he grew up and where they've made their home. They have no plans to move, he said.
"This was a once-in-a-generation or lifetime flood and we won't see another one. But realistically, if it's going to get in again, it's going to do what it did last time," said Rice, noting they did make some precautionary renovations such as replacing the carpet with tile.
It's a sentiment shared by many
"It's home," Rice said of why they are staying.
The San Marco and
Looney said the hardest part was picking through their water-logged possessions -- pieces of their lives -- to see what could be salvaged then having to throw away what couldn't be.
Nonetheless, the experience has made them stronger as a couple.
"I honestly looked at the whole thing as a positive experience because we were forced to live in a hotel for three weeks. I feel you learn a lot about yourself and your relationship, how you communicate and how you work together. It made us a better couple," Looney said. "We had to find a new place as a couple and all
Neither was killed or injured.
Still, they don't plan to press their luck the next time a hurricane threatens, his fiancee will evacuate but because of his job he must remain -- but he will stay on higher ground, he said.
The bottom line, he said, is possessions can be replaced.
"People need to understand, it's just stuff," Looney said.
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