Six months after Hurricane Michael, those affected still waiting for disaster relief funding

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MEXICO BEACH, Fla. - Hurricane Michael was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane, one of four in U.S. history. The storm was historic. But now, over six months later, the federal government still has not passed a disaster relief bill for areas affected by the storm.

Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey said he has the title of mayor, but he's no politician.

"In the private world, where I work and make a living, when the cart's in the ditch you get it out. You worry about all that other stuff later," Cathey said.

Mexico Beach and much of the Panhandle are still in the ditch.

"80 percent of our city was destroyed," he said. "We don't have time to deal with bureaucracy."

He said they feel forgotten, abandoned and buried.

"I mean we've got over $50 million in debris period. Debris, $50 million," he said. "Our budget is $3.5 million a year. Our whole city budget. How the hell can we -- how can we pay that?"

Congress still has not passed a comprehensive disaster aid package. The 35-day government shutdown delayed action at first, then there were clashes over funding hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico. Some Democrats blame Republicans, some Republicans blame Democrats, but Cathey says this cannot be about politics.

"The politics of the world, I can't solve all that. But I do know that in the process, that I feel like we're being held, hostage," he said. "Our money over things that we have no control over."

FEMA said it has spent one-point-one billion dollars on Michael response efforts, but Mayor Cathey said that's not enough.

"Don't forget us. I told President Trump that, I told Governor DeSantis that, I told Brock Long that, the FEMA director," he said. "I told everyone that, thank you for coming, thank you for shaking my hand. Thank you for having our picture made, but don't forget us."

He said despite the lack of financial help, Mexico Beach is resilient. and it's worth every ounce of energy to protect it.

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The scars from Hurricane Michael are still quite evident six months later. The Category 5 hurricane killed 49 people across 12 Florida panhandle counties and two states.

The hurricane made landfall in Mexico Beach, Florida, ground zero for the storm. The city was nearly destroyed in the hurricane, now they are trying to move forward but they are forever changed.

Imagine walking into your home town and almost nothing is there. Where would you begin?

For Mexico Beach mayor, Al Cathey, that is the reality.

"We lost everything but city hall. our pier is gone, our civic center is gone, the water tank is gone, police station is gone, fire station is gone. We're just sort of a ragtag bunch right now.

When it comes to getting a city up and running from almost nothing, Mexico Beach city administrator, Tanya Castro, said step one is cleaning it up.

"We're hoping by June we will have all of the debris most of the demolition. you know folks are still waiting on insurance in many cases," Castro said.

She said they just got approval from FEMA to start demolishing structures.

The city wanted to make the clean up as environmentally friendly as possible. they used concrete to make roads, and downed trees to make mulch.

"All of the metal that we collect from the debris, that's scraped and the city gets that revenue back," Castro said.

A next big step is getting the marina and canal back in order.

"We're currently dredging our canal, a lot of buried debris. We got a slow start on that because of all the buried debris, we had a lot of large things buried," she said. "You know we need to be who we are. But once that wraps up, we're hoping within the next two to three weeks, we'll have the canal open from the boat ramp out to the second sandbar so people can get back on the water and start healing."

The mayor said getting utilities restored all over the city is a major priority so residents, like the city, can begin to rebuild.

"It's a matter of hey, you know you can stay depressed or roll up your sleeves and go to work," Mayor Cathey said.

Six months after hurricane Michael, debris still lines the streets, and blue tarps still cover the roofs, but he said, this is progress.

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