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 Nate Odum, Mexico Beach Marina
My wife, Melba, and I were both born and raised in Miami, and we started vacationing on Saint George Island in the late 1980s, so that’s how we discovered the Forgotten Coast. For our twentieth anniversary, we went to Mexico Beach and began to wonder what it would be like to retire and move there to be near the beach and own a small business. In 2006, my sister, Debbie, and brother-in-law, Bill, ended up buying a condo in Mexico Beach right next to the marina. He and I had always joked about retiring and buying a marina, and shortly after they moved there, the marina became available for sale. So, in our mid-life crisis of sorts, instead of buying a Harley like normal people, we bought a marina.
[The media] started talking about Hurricane Michael on Saturday, October 6, and kept saying it wouldn’t be more than a Category 1 or 2, and by Monday, when we realized it was going to be more than that, it was almost too late to do much. When we woke up on Wednesday, we were watching the news and could already feel the winds. Melba really held it together, but when she started panicking, that’s when I knew we needed to take this seriously. Debbie had just had knee replacement surgery, so she wasn’t super mobile, and Bill and I had to weigh our options to figure out what was best for our families. We went into it saying we were staying no matter what, and, in the past, storms have always veered right or left of us. There is usually dry air, but this time, there was no reason for it to slow down, and by the time we realized it was going to be bad, we weren’t about to get seven adults and three pets in a car to try and beat it.
Have you ever been in an earthquake? It was very similar to an earthquake—you could feel it in your feet. If you pictured the eyewall, we were always on the wrong side of it. I don’t know why they called it a Cat 4, because we were experiencing 200-plus-mile-per-hour winds and holding onto doors, wondering when it was going to end because it seemed like it was so long.
We didn’t have boards on the window, so we could see the whole thing. When the whiteout was over and you could start seeing the damage, you knew it was going to be devastation. When you look for ground zero, it’s us.
We didn’t get out until the next day. The street was covered in debris. There were houses in the road. Our nephew—we don’t know how he did it—came in from Alabama through Panama City, before people even got out with chainsaws to start clearing roads, and he took Debbie and some of the other ladies out. All of our cars were flooded. You wouldn’t believe how many people we fit in his small SUV. We made it out of town to our ranch a few days later.
It’s a long road, mentally and emotionally, to rebuilding, and people get tired of looking at it. That’s when the insurance money and the offers get tempting. We saw it happen after Hurricane Andrew.
Right now, we want to focus on the things our town needs. The fishing side of this is going to have to wait because people need bread and eggs and things you can’t run twenty miles to get. We might be the ones to get that up and running sooner than later. We can’t wait three, six, or twelve months to clean this beach and canal up. We need to be thinking about that now. This is a fishing village; it’s a lifeline here. We need commerce back—restaurants, beach stores, another Tommy T’s for the kids. It’s all wrapped into the water. You’ll see other interests coming in, but there’s room for more.
Our world has been turned upside down, but the thought of not rebuilding has never crossed my mind. A lot of us aren’t built to give up. Is it bad? Heck yes, it’s bad; but that doesn’t mean it can’t get fixed. It won’t be the same, but a lot of things might come back better. I think we’ll always be able to keep that charm that brought people here, but it’s going to have to change a little bit to grow. We need to be smart about it. The people that we work with and see on a daily basis at the marina are incredible. This whole journey has been a dream. It speaks volumes to the people who live here and visit here, and that’s why you have a lot of people who want that special piece of Mexico Beach back.
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