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Sunset Harbour Business Owners Prepare for Hurricane Irma Onslaught

Sunset Harbour under 4.5 inches of floodwater in 2013.
Sunset Harbour under 4.5 inches of floodwater in 2013.
National Weather Service Miami
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Over the past couple of years, Miami Beach's hip Sunset Harbour neighborhood has weathered its fair share of big storms.

After a thunderstorm last October, Pubbelly Sushi flooded with nearly six inches of water. A dispute over the street levels led an insurance company to refuse to pay a claim from the same storm at the nearby Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante. And this past August, Tropical Storm Emily swamped the South Beach neighborhood with torrents of water.

With Category 5 Hurricane Irma now on its way, business owners in one of the lowest-lying parts of South Beach aren't exactly brimming with confidence about how their neighborhood will handle the onslaught.

"We’ll cross our fingers and pray. That’s all we can do," says Pietro Vardeu, one of the owners of Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante. "You can put out all the sandbags you want, but..."

Around the corner at South Beach Storage, general manager Zach Butts was already fielding calls from customers worried about their belongings Tuesday afternoon. Butts says the building hasn't sustained any major damage since the business opened in 1998, giving him some hope as he heads into a week of uncertainty.

"I hope this storm doesn't change that," he says. "We’re doing plastic sheeting, boarding doors, sandbags, basic preparations everyone takes. We’re not freaking out yet."

Most store owners and managers say they are hanging tight until meteorologists are better able to predict the trajectory of the storm, though many of them express doubt about whether the city's system of pumps and generators would be able to do its job in a Cat 5 storm.

"The pumps are not supposed to resist anything like that, so we know we’re going to get flooded," says Camilo Joya, general manager of TKS Miami, a swimwear and sporting goods store that took on about six inches of water in Tropical Storm Emily.

"This area gets flooded all the time," agrees Fabien Bernard, owner of Savory Bakery & Cafe. "The sea levels are high, plus the wind? Forget about it."

Others say the City of Miami Beach has done a poor job of helping businesses prepare. Asked Tuesday if anyone from the city had reached out in advance of Irma, Pubbelly Sushi general manager Joe Rodriguez said, "No, not at all." Beach Boutique owner Patricia Costa says she called during Emily with concerns that the building's electrical panels could cause electrocution when wet and couldn't get a straight answer.

"Unless you were dying, no one was able to help," she says of the response in early August.

As for solutions, most businesses have the same plan.

"Sandbags," says Cheryl Herger, owner of the boutique Frankie. "Other than that, what else can we do?"

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