POMPANO BEACH (CBSMiami) — Five years after Hurricane Irma destroyed her big Pine Key Home, Piper Steffen has started over.

The storm was a life-altering event, but Steffen pushed forward.

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She opened Piper Gallery and Studio in the Hillsboro Inlet Plaza off A1A in Pompano Beach, which had been her lifelong dream.

The gallery features works of local artists and classes for aspiring Picassos.

It wasn’t exactly the life she planned. Steffen grew up in Fort Lauderdale and lived through many storms as a child.

“My dad’s attitude was prepare as best you can and ride it out.”

But nothing could prepare her for the devastation she faced returning to what was left of her house when Irma blew through the keys in 2017.

“It was terrible. Our stuff had washed out. Our neighbors’ stuff had washed in.”

“To see my windows knocked out, appliances gone, my kitchen gone, it was surreal.”

Steffen had moved into her Big Pine Key home just six months before. It was supposed to be her retirement home.

She decided afterward to leave the Keys and move 130 miles north to Pompano Beach.

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Her home now is a condo just a walk away from the shoreline.

She thinks about everything she lost from prized paintings to jewelry and wishes she had Taken more with her when she left the keys ahead of Irma.

“Unfortunately, we never know where these storms will end up. That was our downfall. We lost possessions I would have liked to pass down, but it turns out to be just stuff. I’m a minimalist now and a lot of things are just not as important to me now. What I value.”

Because it’s been five years since we had a direct hurricane hit here in South Florida and 17 years since that other big one, Hurricane Wilma knocked out power for weeks, emergency managers say there is a bit of storm complacency heading into the 2022 Hurricane Season.

“It takes only one, regardless of the predictions one storm is enough to change everybody’s life,” said
Tracy Jackson, Emergency operations director for Broward County.

Jackson said most South Floridians don’t like to think about preparing for a storm.

“They know it’s somewhere in the future and many people think I’ll deal with it when I have to,” he said

The answer is being prepared and having a plan.

“It’s better to be prepared and not have to use it than the other way around,” said Jackson.

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“Having an outline to follow helps you decide what do I need to do? Do I need to leave, am I in a flood
Zone? Most people remember what they set up to do.”