MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (WMBB)- One year later, Mexico Beach still sits in ruins. Although significant progress has been made when it comes to repairing the city’s infrastructure, it will take years to return the quaint beachside town to its former glory.
A majority of the people in this town lost everything, their homes, their jobs, the life they once knew as peaceful and put together. Long-time residents were forced to relocate and start their lives over from scratch.
“I found myself wanting to stay here and didn’t really know why with all the devastation,” said Mexico Beach Wine & Spirits Manager, Marc Rice.
Rice, like many others, lost something in the storm. His business, a wine, spirits, and convenience store, finally opened its doors to the public in the months before the storm. However, on October 10th, those doors were once again forced to shut after the power of Hurricane Michael destroyed it.
However, he refused to give up. Rice along with other staff and friends went around the town salvaging what they could to rebuild the store with the remnants of the town they knew and loved, Mexico Beach.
“So we went around and found old fencing and anything that was in the dump or the side of the road that was being trashed… we picked it up if we thought it had value and built the store out of those things,” said Rice.
Others who had evacuated the city of Mexico Beach closely watched the storm from a distance and were scared to see what they would be returning to. “When we were out of town, we looked at the satellite view and from that shot, and as far as it was away, we knew there wasn’t much of a house left,” said local radio host, Greg “Fitzdog” Fitzgerald.
All that remains of their once beautiful home is an empty slab. It’s a common sight all throughout the city, but Fitzgerald and his wife say things are looking up. “We just couldn’t see how we were going to make it, how we were going to be able to start over, but everything is going well so far,” said his wife, Tammy McGee.
Mexico Beach was ground zero as Hurricane Michael leveled the popular beachside town, making it unrecognizable. While there are many stories from the storm, there are a few that stand out.
“I was in my happy place, only to have it ripped up from underneath us,” Rice said. The day of the storm, 35 people stayed behind in what would soon become the most dangerous hurricane to ever hit the Florida Panhandle.
“We had just under 300 people that wanted to stay. 24 hours before the impact of the storm, it was down to 100. We were issuing permanent markers to write on their persons… their name and contact information,” said Mexico Beach Police Chief, Anthony Kelly.
Police Chief, Anthony Kelly, and his team went door to door, accounting for everyone but for some, leaving wasn’t an option.
Donald Martin Blood III has worked at the Mexico Beach Post Office for 20 years and he worked until noon on October 10th, witnessing the storm firsthand from the hardest-hit city.
“That’s when things went crazy. It was like a whiteout. It started blowing the other direction right off the water and you couldn’t even see across the street anymore and water started to come in the house,” Blood said.
He knows the entire community of Mexico Beach seeing as that is the city’s only post office location. Like many, he emerged from his home following the storm, assessed the damage and knew it was time to go to work. The Post Office was open two days after the storm as he and other staff cleaned up. In the days to follow, he would see his friends and fellow citizens and share stories of what Hurricane Michael left behind. “Of course you heard a lot of sad stories and all that but it was good to see everyone,” said Blood.
Kyle Rigsby grew up in Mexico Beach, spending a majority of his summers growing up in the beachside town. He stayed for the storm, experienced the wrath and saw the damage within moments of the storm passing.
“We had about 4 feet of water come rolling through the front yard and we live on the backside of 15th street so it was kind of weird to see that much water come through,” Rigsby said.
He and his family helped any way they could. “I found a BATCO that belonged to the city about two streets over. I’m actually a mechanic by trade so I hot-wired it and started cleaning roads,” said Rigsby. Cleaning up the town he once knew was one of the biggest challenges he’s ever faced.
“It was a hard thing to do, especially to see everything that once was, just gone,” he said.
Mexico Beach is a town like no other and Hurricane Michael is a storm that will never be forgotten.
“It changes the perspective of life entirely, you appreciate the little things more,” Kelly said.