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Mexico Beach Slowly Rebuilding, Two Years After Hurricane Michael

Debris and Destroyed Buildings on Gulf Coast in the Aftermath of Hurricane Michael
lisa parsons/Lisa
Mexico Beach lost 75% of its structures to Hurricane Michael. The town's mayor says FEMA has so far reimbursed about half of what's needed for rebuilding.

It’s been two years since the Florida Panhandle town of Mexico Beach was leveled by Category 5 Hurricane Michael.

“There’s nothing we could’ve done for Michael. No matter how many windows we boarded up, you can’t prepare for that,” says Al Cathey, the town’s mayor of 14 years.

At just shy of 73-years-old, Cathey has spent most of his life in this coastal town. “I’ve been a resident of Mexico Beach for 68 years, and I have never experienced anything like that as a citizen, as a business owner, or as a mayor.”

Rebuilding has been slow and steady. The town still has no gas station, and the bank just reopened this week. “Our mom and pop businesses are coming back. We’ve had 150 building permits pulled since Michael for single family homes,” Cathey says of what he calls “our special little place.”

An aerial picture of Mexico Beach went viral when a single house was left standing in a waterfront neighborhood. Cathey says the debris is gone and a few houses have gone up nearby, but mostly empty lots remain.

The small town -- referred to as 'Mayberry on the Water' – has a population of roughly 1,200 year-round residents. They’re still awaiting about half of the FEMA reimbursements they expect to receive for recovery efforts.

Now, with Hurricane Delta heading for Louisiana, Cathey says he "doesn’t wish it on anyone.” Fresh pictures of a major storm in the Gulf of Mexico bring up memories of what Mexico Beach endured two years ago.

“75% of our city was destroyed. Now, you have to sort of think about that for a second. 75% of your structures are gone. That’s a massive rebuild,” Cathey says. “We’re going to get it done because what we have here is too special just to not do it.”