Three years after Hurricane Michael, communities gather to remember

Hurricane Michael

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — On the third anniversary of Hurricane Michael, communities came together to remember that fateful day and celebrate how far they’ve come.

Mexico Beach was one of the areas hit the hardest by Michael in 2018, with the hurricane’s eye wall passing right over the town.

City administrator Doug Baber said he remembers that day all too well.

“I was sitting in the EOC in St. Lucie County working, and I remember… I get chills thinking about it, but I remember that every time they reached out trying to contact Bay County, there was no connection. It was just absolute silence,” Baber said. “I just get a chill thinking about, it was hitting them… It was a Category 2 and it ramped up to a five in just a heartbeat.”

After the storm passed, many national and state leaders visited the area to help, including Kevin Guthrie, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

“We were getting resources over here to the Panhandle, and we didn’t know if it was going to be enough. You know, a Cat 5 storm… we just didn’t know if it was going to be enough,” Guthrie said. “But we kept going and we kept going… We kept working with our partners here in Mexico Beach, with our partners in Bay County, with the partners in the Panhandle.”

During hurricane recovery, the “Stronger than the Storm” event began.

The third annual event was held on Sunday, and it featured live music, a variety of food and supportive T-shirts.

Event organizer Matthew Larson said it started out as a recovery effort in 2018, but is now a full-blown celebration.

“There’s a lot of great things in store for Mexico Beach in the future, and this is just a way to keep everybody inspired and keep the positive energy going so other great things can follow,” Larson said.

The Port St. Joe NJROTC spent the day volunteering at the event. Commanding Officer Nicolas Valenzuela said he wants to help out the Panhandle any way he can.

“It’s been really great to come out here and support the community, and it’s good to get our name out there to show the rest of the community that we’re here to help and that we can be out here in support,” Valenzuela said.

Since the storm, relief efforts and rebuilding have been taking place all across the area, especially in Mexico Beach. Baber said FEMA has funneled around $120 million to the city.

“My goal is to get them back to regular life and start building back some of the amenities that they’re missing out on,” Baber said.

And in a time of uncertainty for residents, Valenzuela said it was a day of normalcy and support on the beach.

“It makes me feel good to know that we’re on the way to being better as a community, especially in Mexico Beach,” Valenzuela said.

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