introduction By Alex Workman | Photography by Jeremy Cowart
Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle in October 2018 and left the town of Mexico Beach, Florida, completely devastated. A team of storytellers from Tallahassee partnered with individuals and entities from around the country to do something to help. They started the Never Forgotten Coast campaign, which created T-shirts for purchase and a website where survivors could share their stories. Through generous donations from people like you, they can help get the community back up and running. Read their stories. Give back. Together, we can make sure the people of Mexico Beach and their experiences are never forgotten.
By Kevin and Cyndi Lanier, KCSportfishing
In 2016, we began looking to move closer to family, and had looked at Destin and Panama City Beach, but after taking a fishing trip with Bonita Thompson (98 Realty) out in Washington State, where we lived, and talking with friends all over the country, we decided to check out Mexico Beach.
We had never heard of it, but we found that we really liked it and it filled the requirements we set: being on the water to move the charter business over and within a day’s drive of our family. Our favorite parts are the small-town atmosphere and the quietness and peacefulness. It’s never that crazy here, and you still feel like you get nature and a quaint little town all in one. It doesn’t take you long to get to know who everyone is.
With Hurricane Michael approaching, we had no intention of evacuating. It was supposed to be a Tropical Storm or a Category 1 Hurricane, which to us wasn’t a big deal since we’ve been through a few of them. On the Monday before it, we really just felt like we were prepping for a big rainstorm and anticipating losing power for a day at most.
When we saw that it had been upgraded to a Category 3, we realized we needed to do something with the boat. I (Kevin) stopped on my way back from out of town at a Home Depot in Alabama and got a generator and some gas cans. Having a boat in the water with a storm coming adds a different level of stress because you have to make sure you’re compliant with insurance rules. I was able to move it to Panama City and take it out of the water to put it in a boatyard.
Monday night, we just went to bed, and Tuesday, we kept on with our routine. Our daughters called, asking what we were doing, and when it was teetering on being a high Cat 3, we started really debating it. The final straw was when both girls conference called at around 10:00 p.m., very worried, and we knew we couldn’t put them through it, so just before 11:00 p.m., we packed the car and headed to Atlanta.
We thought maybe a window would break because we couldn’t board our house, but we were not thinking we could come home to nothing. We began to realize the magnitude of the destruction about the time we hit Marianna, Florida, on the way back. Thousands of trees were down for hundreds of miles. It took us four-and-a-half hours to drive fifty-seven miles.
It was shocking driving into Mexico Beach. What we saw on TV was nothing compared to real life. You can hardly believe what you’re seeing.
Someone was able to communicate that our house looked to be OK, and we got so excited to round the corner and see the shed still standing with our generator inside. But we felt guilty. Cyndi started crying because we kept asking ourselves why did we have a house when we have seen so much destruction. Why us?
It was shocking driving into Mexico Beach. What we saw on TV was nothing compared to real life. You can hardly believe what you’re seeing. It was hard to reference what you were looking at on TV because the landmarks are gone, but your heart hurts when you see this little town that you’ve fallen in love with so badly damaged. We never expected there to be so much damage.
Once we found out we had a home that was livable, we opened our doors to do whatever we could to help. It will be a long time before there’s anything “normal” in Mexico Beach. We were in survival mode at first, making sure people had food and water and generators. But now we’ve moved into reality. The adrenaline has worn off, and we are all tired. We know that Mexico Beach will never be exactly the same, but we hope it comes back similar to what it was. Our intent is to stay put and help rebuild. Professionally, we will have to adapt to things as they come because so much right now is up in the air. The canal where our boat was parked is full of debris and filled in with sand. It’s hard to say if KCSportfishing will look any bit like it did at the end of last year, but we want to rebuild, and that’s what we’re going to do.
— V —