Hundreds gathered in Mexico Beach on Thursday to celebrate the community’s resiliency one year after Hurricane Michael decimated the small coastal town.
“The heart of the community is real,” said Al Cathey, mayor of Mexico Beach.
About 500 people filled the parking lot of Mango Marley’s, a local restaurant that’s now operating from a food truck. Neighbors hugged each other and shared updates on their recovery. Many who left the city after Michael, returned for the event to reunite with their community.
“It helps a lot of us who have been keeping close on Facebook to really actually hug and talk and get together in person,” said Jennifer Peppers, who’s living with her husband in a camper on 31st Street as they finish rebuilding their home.
At the commemoration event, a local family was selling T-shirts to raise money to rebuild Sunset Park, which was the town’s main gathering place before the storm.
“There’s a lot of things that we could use donations for to rebuild,” Peppers said. “We still don’t even have street signs.”
Joanne Kennedy, who moved back into her Mexico Beach home three weeks ago, says she’s thankful that her community survived the storm and is moving forward with recovery.
“It’s so important for all of us to come together and appreciate what has happened,” Kennedy said. “We are building back.”
Less than 500 of the 2,700 residential units that were in the town before Michael are livable — and only a handful of businesses have reopened, most of which are operating out of temporary structures, said Al Cathey, mayor of Mexico Beach.
“We’re crippled up,” he said. “We have no bank or walk-in restaurant. We don’t have a grocery store, but we don’t worry about that. We’re going to take what we have and make it fit what we need and be satisfied with it.”
Over the next year, construction will move forward on dozens of building projects the city has issued permits for over the last few months, Cathey said.
“This time next year, there won’t be enough new stuff that you still won’t notice what’s missing, but we’re going to work at that,” he said. “And for those who invest in our town, they’re going to enjoy their new home.”