In Mexico Beach, pain of Hurricane Michael doesn’t diminish spirits
MEXICO BEACH, Fla. – Two days after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida, WHNT News 19 arrived to see what was left behind.
The morning of Oct. 12, emergency vehicles were pouring into Mexico Beach, Fla. Sheriff’s deputies and police from as far away as the Orlando area came to help clear up the damage. They set up a barricade near Lookout Lounge, where the time zone changes, to prevent people from entering the city during the overnight curfew that was put in place.
By the beach, the smell of the ocean mixed with the smell of smoke from homes that burned after the storm. In one case, fire spread through a line of several homes after the storm, but the fire department didn't have water to use to put out the flames. Neighbors said it was adding insult to injury to see the homes survive the storm and then burn to the ground.
The sound of chainsaws filled the air as crews worked to clear debris and downed trees. In some areas, like U.S. Highway 98 in the area of 5th Street, roads were washed away.
Among the debris were items like a trailer that was washed more than a block away from its home by the storm surge. Many of the structures that were destroyed in Mexico Beach were mobile homes that were brought to the city prior to an ordinance that no longer permits them.
One of the closest places to get gas was Panama City Beach. Gas stations that still had gas after the storm had long lines of people -- some of whom turned their cars off to conserve fuel while they waited.
As people began to come home to dig through debris and assess the damage, they were positive for the most part. But a lack of cell service made it hard for them to contact loved ones and let them know they were okay.
Frank Barco stayed behind and survived the storm, but it was a battle.
"I mean the house was shaking," he said. "Trust me. At 145 miles an hour, it was definitely shaking."
A piece of plywood broke through his door, and he held the door close with his body weight as the wind raged. After 30 minutes and being knocked down several times, he was able to tie the door closed with electrical wire.
"It was harrowing, but I felt like if I wasn't there it would have been much more damage, and probably wouldn't have anything because of the breach," he said.
Danny Sinclair chose to evacuate and wasn't there when Michael came through. The drive home from Interstate 10 that would normally take him an hour and a half took five.
His home wasn't too damaged, but some of his neighbors lost everything.
"We didn't think it would be like this, no," he said.
As they and others continued picking up the pieces, the Florida National Guard came in to help.
"It's pretty bad in select areas, just where the center of the hurricane went through," said Sgt. Tameel Scott. "But in those areas, it's bad."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he had spoken with President Donald Trump and was talking with officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency every day.
"I start off with what's your biggest issue, and I'm going to solve that issue," Scott said. "I can call back and say 'Now what's your biggest issue?' Some of it was roads, some of it was food and water, some was telecommunications. Every county got impacted a little bit different."
For Mike Deller, one of the first steps to recovery was putting up American flags.
Deller rode out the storm in his home. He said two houses pushed up against his during the storm, and at one point, the bottom of his door blew out and water began pouring in.
"We were in water up to our chest," Deller said. "I thought I was gonna die. I thought I was gonna drown."
Afterward, as he worked to clear debris, the extent of the damage began to sink in.
"I mean, it's like a nightmare," he said. "I'm just waiting to wake up. It's awful."
As the weekend arrived, heavy machinery moved in to help clear roads, and crews went door to door, marking the status of houses and spray painting the pavement so helicopters could see what streets they were looking at.
Walking the dog through the neighborhood wasn't what it was a few days ago. Small talk isn't the same either.
"It's just like well, we all made it," resident Sarah Prater said. "Two or three times, we run into people on the streets and that's the first thought, and we are very fortunate."
After talking to dozens of people in the city, most said the same thing: It will look different, and it will take time, but Mexico Beach will be back.