MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — A little more help is headed to the panhandle, almost a year after Hurricane Michael.
Governor Ron DeSantis announced that Mexico Beach would be the first community to get a taste of the state’s $25 million Hurricane Michael recovery grant program. The small Gulf Coast community was nearly obliterated by the powerful category five hurricane last October.
The state is now set to award the town $1.1 million for improvements to the fire department. Other grants to impacted communities will follow.
Lawmakers created the program during the last legislative session. Gov. DeSantis said he felt it was imperative the state step up to help out of concern the area dubbed the “Forgotten Coast” would be just that.
“It was kind of like a thing for a little bit with like the press and everything,” DeSantis said. “Then everyone just kind of went on their way. The national wasn't involved in anything. We were kind of like are people going to forget this happened? This was a category five storm.”
Mexico Beach still has a long road to recovery. Almost every building there was damaged. Estimates put debris cleanup at $60 million for a community that has an annual budget of around $3 million.
“The strain on local budgets we saw after Hurricane Michael, especially in fiscally constrained areas like Mexico Beach, was something our state had never experienced before, which is why today’s announcement is absolutely critical for their recovery,” said FDEM Director Jared Moskowitz. “Providing the necessary funding to Mexico Beach helps them immensely as they begin their fiscal year.”
For residents, the money was a welcomed sign state politicians were paying attention to their needs.
Susan Thiel lost the first floor of her home to Michael’s storm surge and was still waiting on insurance to come through. She said recovery efforts for Mexico Beach had been slow, but consistent.
“When you’ve been through this, you learn to be patient,” said Thiel. “You appreciate the little things.”
Governor DeSantis said he would be announcing more help in the coming days. He’s expected to return to the storm-impacted areas of the Panhandle during the hurricane’s first anniversary, in two weeks.