MEXICO BEACH, Fla.-- It’s Bill Bramblett’s first day back in his vacation condo of several years. Hurricane Michael kicked him out last October. “Water just seeped in through the windows at 155 miles per hour.”
Though the home looks about as it did— the town doesn’t. The Category Five storm damaged almost every building. “The place has changed so much. It’s sad," Bramblett said.
Perhaps Michael’s biggest blow — tourism— the foundation of the town’s economy.
“That’s how we make all of our money. We’re a beach. People come down and vacation at the beach," said Destiny Brewer with Crazy Beach Pizza.
Though the pizza place is one of few eateries to reopen — businesses is far from booming. “We used to make thousands of dollars. Now we barely make a thousand," Brewer said.
Tourists are few and far between. Those that have returned find many shops, restaurants, hotels remain closed awaiting repair. Staff to fill them— gone.
The population dropping from 1,200 to fewer than 400.
“We need time to recover," said Brewer.
In the meantime, city leaders prioritized fixing the beach and canals— figuring they were the key to enticing visitors. The challenge now — convincing people to visit despite limited amenities.
“To lose all that has been awful," Bramblett said.
The loss will be tough to adjust to. But for Bramblett— well worth waiting for the community’s recovery. “You make do with what you can.”
Another challenge for Mexico Beach— debris cleanup. The community is anxiously awaiting federal dollars to help with the $60-million price tag. Their annual budget is only about three million.