Mexico Beach residents looking to the future on anniversary of Hurricane Michael

Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 6:43 PM CDT
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MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Time is of the essence when it comes to hurricane evacuations, but ultimately it is a choice to stay or go.

The day before Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, officers went door to door giving out mandatory evacuation notices, but not everyone left. Resident Becky Daniel told NewsChannel 7 that the upsetting reality of it was that not everyone could.

Daniel remembers the pain she felt coming home after the storm. She had evacuated last minute the night before it made landfall in the small beach town.

“It’s heart-wrenching. Of course, the whole site here was heart-wrenching when you come back to it,” Daniel said. “I’m really glad that we did because our house was wiped out completely. And the three houses on the beach across the street from us came into our house.”

But not everyone was able to leave so easily or at all. Daniel said her elderly friend stayed put and sadly, did not survive.

“She stayed in a house across the street right down there. And her daughter tried to get her to leave but she wouldn’t leave. It would’ve been hard for her to leave because of her condition. But you know,” Daniel said.

Her friend was one of four people found dead in Mexico Beach.

The day before Michael, Mayor Al Cathey reviewed the headcount of people choosing to stay.

“We took names for those who said they weren’t leaving, we had a list, next of kin, and a phone number. And we had approximately 125 names on the list,” Cathey said.

He said fewer than half actually stayed but he knows for some, staying may have felt like the only option.

“The problem quite frankly is leaving and where to go,” Cathey said.

It’s a question so many were faced with a little too late.

Looking ahead while we’re still in hurricane season, it’s important to know your zone and know your home. Bay County has four evacuation zones listed as possible storm surge areas. Residents can find out if their home is in one of them by heading to the government website and typing in their address on the interactive evacuation map.

It’s also important to have a plan, know what you and your family will do if faced with another major storm, and have little time to react. There was a lesson learned from Michael and Ian that storms can strengthen and change course within 24 hours of hitting.

Moving forward, Cathey is reminding residents that Hurricane Michael is in the past and there’s no reason to keep looking back.

Every year, the community holds a “Stronger Than The Storm” fundraiser around this time of year to commemorate the storm. Cathey said it’s been an uphill climb rebuilding since 2018 and it didn’t come without challenges. But now that things are finally coming back to life, he said the city won’t be commemorating this day moving forward.

“I don’t think of it as a celebration. I don’t think of it as a date in time that needs to go down in our calendars. Don’t forget now 10/10 was the anniversary of Michael,” Cathey said. I would rather us talk about where we are going”

Cathey said Mexico Beach is open and ready for business. It’s not hard to tell if you drive through the area with new construction virtually everywhere you look.

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