MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) – In one of the hardest-hit areas of the Panhandle, Mexico Beach residents are still recovering from Hurricane Michael.
Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey puts the loss into perspective.
“The storm took away 80 percent of our cities. It took away well over 70 percent of the habitable structures in time. It took away most all of our mom-and-pop businesses,” Mayor Cathey said. “We have a few back, but a large percentage are not. And to date, 10 months and counting, we still have no bank. We have no grocery store. We have no gas stations.”
Cathey also owns the local hardware store, Cathey’s Ace, but it, too, was left in ruins last October.
“We are a forty-five-year-old business, as far as hardware,” he said. “Our family’s been in business here for 66 years. And, of course, our main building was destroyed. This warehouse held together, and we got back going.”
It took Cathey and his team about a month to re-open after the storm. But he says by running the hardware store, he’s become an eyewitness to the community’s fight for recovery.
“We get a lot of thank you’s for not only being here, but for being able to help the community. It’s very self-satisfying from a business standpoint,” he said. “It’s one of the most inspirational things that’s happened in my life is to see our community like Mexico Beach be so devastated and yet have the determination to be what we want to be, which is quaint and unique. We have a charm to our little city that’s different than most coastal communities…Michael took so much from us but what we will have back here will be just as charming and just as unique and justice quaint as what left.”
As for Mexico Beach, he believes where there’s will, there’s a way. And with time, the city will be restored.
“It’s a challenge, but when you lose so much of your city, you know it’s not going to come back quickly,” he said. “As far as our beach, it’s wide-open, clean, beautiful. Our canal is open for fishermen. Many of you are starting to see new rooftops. And some of the homes that were salvageable are being repaired. So, we’re starting to see some life come back…It’s going to be a slow process but in the end the product that is back here is going to be what people want. And that’s why they come to Mexico Beach to start with.”