Still Recovering From 2016's Hurricane Matthew, Florida Restaurant Owner Prepares For Dorian

Sep 2, 2019
Originally published on September 2, 2019 3:36 pm

Slow-moving Hurricane Dorian is expected to move dangerously close to the Florida coast late Monday or early Tuesday, authorities say.

Although Dorian has been downgraded to a Category 4 storm, the National Hurricane Center stills cautions residents in Grand Bahama Island — where the hurricane is battering homes with 150-mile-per-hour sustained winds — not to go outside as “winds will suddenly increase after the eye passes.”

For the Southeast and lower Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S., the center is warning of potential “heavy rains, capable of producing life-threatening flash floods.”

Of the Florida residents bracing for Dorian is John Lulgjuraj, co-owner of the Oceanside Beach Bar and Grill on Flagler Beach, a barrier island north of Daytona Beach. Lulgjuraj says to prepare for dangerous storms like Dorian, his wife and children either travel north to stay with relatives or rent a cabin inland.

Right now, he and his family are waiting on updates about the storm to determine next steps.

“We’ve been waiting for this next update and just really seeing what’s going on with the storm, since they’re so unpredictable, especially when they start evacuating the vulnerable. I mean, that’s just kind of heads-up saying, ‘Better safe than sorry,’ ” says Lulgjuraj. “That’s when me and my brother, we pull the trigger, and we get our own vulnerable population out of the county or even the state.”

Interview Highlights

On dealing with past hurricanes

“We’ve seen a lot of devastating storms, even with Hurricane Andrew being one of the most fearsome storms ever to hit Florida. If this thing even stays 100 miles off the coast — You know, we’ve just seen that with Matthew, and Matthew was absolutely devastating. Almost had an island around the restaurant. We lost big chunks of the road on each side of us. And it’s unbelievable what kind of damage that can occur and the economic impact afterwards. Like, no one ever sees the before and after: the week before, all the sales you lose, employees that you lose too. And it took almost a year and a half to get back to where we are, and we finally started to see some light at the end of the tunnel. This has been a very tough year for Flagler Beach as it is, because of the major road construction, and this was repairing from three years ago from Matthew.”

On the risk of staying too long before the storm

“So, we’re definitely not putting anyone’s lives at risk. We have more than 36 hours to evacuate from any severe impact from the storm. We’re usually the last ones to close and the first ones open, and we do this for our community, and everyone looks out.

“Even though we are closed, I had some locals still come in, and I’m still taking care of them, and police chiefs. I mean, … people still need money. They still need hours. So, the people that are choosing not to leave, hey, voluntarily if you want to come in, this is what we’re doing. Like, we’re prepping every amount of food that we have in here, and we want to go donate it to any shelters, because at the end of the day, that’s going to be lost, and we’re trying to prepare for that.”

On rising tides and whether it’s prudent to shutter his business on the coast

“Oh, you know, it’s something, it’s just realistic views and what can happen. You see so many different catastrophic events, and the king tide, I mean the king tide, I can’t believe the timing of this. You know, the water is so high even over my dock already, and the storm is still 36 hours away. It’s just one of those things where the timing of this storm, if we were ever going to go under and flood, this would be it. And this is gonna be a true test to see what’s going to happen, what is Flagler [Beach’s] future going to look like, or even the Florida Central Coast, because so much of us have been impacted just in the last few years. To see this many storms back to back is pretty unheard of.”

On having the resources to stay safe during the storm

“My brother has been, God, our anchor here. He has a H1 Hummer, and he usually is the first one to report on the scene, and he feels that it’s his duty. We’ve been here now for three generations. I mean, we have everything here. And if this gets wiped out, we literally are left with nothing. But at the end of the day, we pray, and we thank God that hopefully we’re not going to go through any crazy amounts of devastation. But believe me, we are staying, but we are fully prepped. We have the tools. We have the resources. So, I urge everyone, if you’re not fully prepared, if you don’t have a vehicle with a snorkel on it that can get through five, six, seven feet of water — then you get out. We’re fortunate enough that we do have tools at our disposal that will keep us safe.”

Jill Ryan produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtJackson Cote adapted it for the web. 

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