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"We were so utterly devastated" - How Mexico Beach is recovering 5 years after Hurricane Michael

Posted at 11:15 AM, Oct 10, 2023
  • Hurricane Michael smashed into Florida’s panhandle a half-decade ago.
  • The small town of Mexico Beach bore the brunt of the devastation and is still recovering.
  • In the video above, Capitol Reporter Forrest Saunders tells us the community plans to bounce back better than before.

BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Hurricane Michael hit this part of the panhandle five years ago Tuesday but behind all of these busted trees great signs of recovery. Cranes. Homes. People, rebuilding their lives.

Before this building boom in Mexico Beach an actual one. Michael was relentless when it made landfall, five years ago striking as a category five. Winds exceeded 160 MPH. Fourteen feet of storm surge and nearly a foot of rain killed at least three and damaged nearly every building in the town.

(Michael Scoggins, Killer Seafood) “We had to walk across 2X4s to get down to here. Got down here— just a pile of rubble that was on my site — was none of my stuff. It was all from the condos across the street that had been washed out as well.”

Michael Scoggins lost his eatery, Killer Seafood, to the storm. He’s since given up on rebuilding a brick-and-mortar replacement, instead finding success with a semi-permanent food truck which he plans to keep parked in the community he loves. “Everything I’ve done to interview or talk to anyone about Mexico Beach, post-hurricane, has been with the desire to get people back to Mexico Beach.” “Is that the message? We’re open?” “Absolutely”

But fewer businesses are open these days.

“We were so utterly devastated by Hurricane Michael.” The city administrator told us Mexico Beach lost nearly all of its commercial sector. “For a good year or two, maybe even going into year number three— there just wasn’t a lot here. The commercial still hasn’t come back completely. We only have one restaurant in town — then we have food trucks to pick up the slack.”

It’s working as recovery continues — and there’s more to do. The city needs a new pier to bring back anglers — plus a permanent police and fire station. The good news — people are coming back. After losing about three hundred residents post-Michael, census data shows around 100 have returned.

“When are you looking to be in?” “Four months ago… *laughing” Gerri Schultz trying to finish up her home. She feels privileged to be here after such devastation. “It was just so sad— but now look! I’m just really shocked it happened in a few years.”

And those who don’t call Mexico Beach home — also returning. The vital tourism industry again fills the sandy beaches late into the season.

“It seems in the last two weeks, things have really boomed.” Lynn and Garbo Thompson have been coming to Mexico Beach for 13 years since their honeymoon here. Even though this place has changed, they plan to keep coming for at least another 13.

“Today— everything is so negative — we’re so divided. I think anytime you see a community and build something that is close to their heart — we want to support that always.”

Mexico Beach may still be recovering — but the spirit of this community and those who love it never left. The next big question — what will the next five years bring for these communities that were in Michael’s destructive path? No one is certain— but there is a lot of confidence that these towns will come back bigger and better than before.