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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 28, 201707:00 AM EST

Irma destroyed Bonnie Arnold’s home and business, but she's not giving up

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“I’ll just do it differently,” 76-year-old says. “I’ll figure it out.”
by: Caren Burmeister Contributing Writer

Flooding from Hurricane Irma destroyed Bonnie Arnold’s home and floral business, but it hasn’t dampened her resilience or the generosity of friends.

For five days this month, floodwaters containing untreated sewage ebbed and flowed on her riverfront yard in the St. Nicholas area, entering her home, rising to her door knobs at high tide and returning every 12 hours.

A GoFundMe,com campaign set up to help Arnold, owner of Bonnie’s Floral Designs, has raised nearly $5,000.

Arnold evacuated safely to her daughter’s home in Atlanta, but she returned to the damage.

Irma flooded Jacksonville’s Downtown, San Marco, Riverside and Ortega areas and knocked out power to about 284,000 customers and more than a dozen sewage pump stations. About  1.5 million gallons of untreated sewage overflowed, according to the JEA. 

Arnold’s house is the oldest and the lowest on her street. Built in 1922, it took the biggest hit from the storm.

To protect herself from mold and mildew, Arnold used a respirator mask to inspect the inside of her home with adjusters from FEMA and State Farm insurance.

Her business, Bonnie’s Floral Designs, will keep blooming. She will continue to make arrangements of fresh and silk flowers, but she will have to rent a refrigerator and arrange them in the efficiency apartment that a friend has offered.

“I’ll just do it differently,” Arnold said. “I’ll figure it out.”

An energetic 76-year-old who considers herself a private person, Arnold felt she couldn’t hide the truth from her Facebook friends.  

On Sept. 14, after returning to Jacksonville, she made the announcement: “Well, I've decided to forgo the pride and share my reality. Hurricane Irma has been devastating for me.”

Fuzzy, gray mold grows on the refrigerator inside Arnold’s home in the St. Nicholas area.

Within days, she received more than 300 responses and offers to stay at 40 homes. People she didn’t know — even business competitors — were contributing to a GoFundMe.com campaign set up by a friend. A stranger sent a $500 check. As of Thursday, campaign had raised nearly $5,000.

“I cried over the loss, and then I cried over the outpouring of love,” said Arnold, who has lived in Jacksonville since the early 1970s. “They’ve been so, so supportive, caring and kind. There’s a lot of people coming together. It’s beautiful.”

In the last few weeks, she has spent hours filing insurance claims and signing up for federal disaster assistance, which provides money for food, prescriptions and other emergency items.

“Tuesday was several hours with FEMA flood insurance adjuster and a $2,500 deductible,” she posted Saturday on Facebook. “[Friday] it was several hours with a State Farm homeowner’s insurance adjuster and a $3,000 deductible.”

Having allergies and asthma, Arnold wore a respirator mask to inspect the house with adjusters from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and State Farm.   

Along the shelves, drawers and refrigerator grew colonies of fuzzy gray mold. Her home’s wood floors had buckled and water squished from the carpet. 

The business studio behind her house was in shambles. She had invested thousands of dollars in the structure, adopting a European Courtyard theme after moving out of a storefront during the recession. 

Arnold was happy to receive the first $500 FEMA disaster relief check within three days. She’s also grateful for her car, beloved cat and dog, 8-by-4 foot trailer called “blossom,” and the suitcase of yoga clothes she took with her to evacuate. 

But she still has to pay the mortgage on the house, which she purchased in 2004, and will eventually have to find a permanent place to rent. She’s been told it could take two years for insurance and FEMA to reach a settlement. 

Until then, Arnold wants a home where she feels safe and at peace. No more dark wood floors, antiques and vintage décor, she said. She wants it to be happy, bright and cheery. 

“I’m living in the opportunity for a new beginning,” Arnold said. “It’s more fun to be excited with what’s to come.”

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