MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — It’s been five years this week since Hurricane Michael smashed ashore in Florida’s panhandle. The small resort community of Mexico Beach bore the brunt of the storm when it arrived, on Oct. 10, 2018.
Recovery is ongoing — though the town’s spirit remains unbroken.
Michael was a Category 5 hurricane as it made landfall. According to a post-storm report by federal officials, Mexico Beach saw winds higher than 160 mph, a storm surge of 14 feet, and nearly a foot of rain.
The impacts were devastating. Michael was directly connected to the deaths of at least three in the area. Nearly every building in Mexico Beach received damage with more than 800 were destroyed.
Michael Scoggins lost his eatery, Killer Seafood, to the storm.
“Everything to do with the restaurant — was far as almost a mile away,” the restaurateur said. “My sea captain mascot there — he was found over on 15th street, wedged up under a boat.”
Scoggins has since given up on rebuilding a brick-and-mortar replacement, instead finding success with a semi-permanent food truck, which he plans to keep parked in the community he loves.
"We're intrinsically tied to the development and the success of this town,” he said. “Everything I've done to interview or talk to anyone about Mexico Beach, post-hurricane, has been with the desire to get people back to Mexico Beach.”
And people are coming back. Census data show the small community lost about 300 permanent residents following the storm, but has since reclaimed about 100 as a housing boom continues. Cranes line parts of the shoreline as more and more build residential properties.
Gerri Schultz's new house was among them. The future homeowner said she was stunned by the town’s pace of recovery.
"I'm just really shocked it happened within a few years," she said. "I thought maybe 10 years. That’s what they were talking— but look at it, it’s amazing.”
There are still issues. Mexico Beach lacks a permanent fire and police station. It still needs to replace its pier— a staple for local anglers. The town also lacks much of a commercial district.
"Right now— we need commercial," Chris Hubbard, Mexico Beach City administrator, said. “All of our commercial was pretty much destroyed when we left Hurricane Michael’s path.”
Hubbard noted that most of the city's restaurants are food trucks with only one eatery offering indoor seating.
"So — we're still coming through it," Hubbard said. "We’re going to get there and we’re a lot closer now than we were five years ago."
Adding to his optimism, was a return of tourists. Many have returned to packed beaches even as the vacation season gets late into the year.
"It seems in the last two years, things have really boomed," Lynn Thompson, who has been coming to Mexico Beach for years, said.
Lynn Thompson and her husband Garbo Thompson spent their honeymoon in Mexico Beach 13 years ago. Despite Michael's changes to the community, they expected to spend at least another 13 years returning.
"Everyone down here is just so nice," Garbo said. "It’s hard not to come here."
Mexico Beach can't return to what it was before the hurricane but, five years later, those who live and visit the community believe it's on track to become something greater.