Home Heartache: Lower Keys residents struggle to rebuild after Irma

(WSVN) - Hurricane Irma slammed into the Lower Keys in September 2017, and now, a year and a half later, some people are still struggling to rebuild. 7’s Brian Entin has the story of their “Home Heartache.”

When the sun came up on the Keys after Hurricane Irma, residents knew recovery was going to be a long, hard road.

Jennifer DeMaria, Hurricane Irma survivor: “The house was destroyed.”

Jennifer DeMaria lost her home on Big Pine Key, and a year and a half later, her business, “Deer Run Bed and Breakfast,” is still not open.

Jennifer DeMaria: ‘Three rooms. It’s only three rooms that we’re trying to rebuild here, and it’s taking over 18 months!”

She says construction delays have been caused by a perfect storm of problems.

Jennifer DeMaria: “Insurance issues, permitting issues, building and local government.”

Bryan Bogun is also struggling. He was the manager of Dean’s Trailer Park on Big Pine for 24 years — until Irma wiped it away.

Bryan Bogun, Hurricane Irma survivor: “Half the trailer park, the RV park was basically, you know, gone.”

Now he’s living in what’s left of the park in this camper, while the owner negotiates with the county to reopen.

But strict building codes are making it difficult.

Bryan Bogun: “We can’t even get a building permit to get a permit for the trailer.”

Right now, he’s living here without the county’s permission.

Bryan Bogun: “I wake up every morning just worrying, you know, what next? Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?”

Emily Schemper, Monroe County: “I know this has been very trying for many people.”

Emily Schemper is senior director of planning and environmental resources for Monroe County.

Emily Schemper: “Right after the storm, we did see a huge increase in our building permit applications.”

That’s because more than 4,000 homes and businesses in the Keys were damaged by Irma.

Emily Schemper: “It’s just really critical that our community builds back in a way that’s more resilient.”

Stephanie Villasuso, Hurricane Irma survivor: “My Keys Mobile Repair. How can I help you?”

Then there are people like Stephanie Villasuso, who are dealing with a different type of post-Irma problem.

Stephanie Villasuso: “I haven’t stopped moving and bouncing around every six months. We’ve been in the camper for a year and a half.”

The home her family was renting was damaged during the storm. Then the owners decided to sell.

Now, with fewer homes available and prices going up, they can’t find a house they can afford.

Stephanie Villasuso: “I do get angry. I get frustrated. I know people that work three or four jobs in order for them to just stay afloat.”

Jobs. Housing. Rebuilding. Life on Big Pine Key is hard, and with no solution in sight, most residents aren’t sure what the future will hold.

Jennifer DeMaria: “We’re down to the wire now.”

Jennifer hopes Deer Run will finally be ready to open in June. Like her fellow Keys residents, she is planning for the worst and hoping for the best — as the 2019 hurricane season looms on the horizon.

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season is just four weeks away. It begins June 1.

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