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  1. Special Reports

The Driftwood

In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a family looks to rebuild in a ruined town
Shawna Wood, left, and Peggy Wood, center, attend a community gathering to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Shawna Wood, left, and Peggy Wood, center, attend a community gathering to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Jan. 25
Updated Oct. 11

ABOUT THIS SERIES

The Panhandle was devastated in October by Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm that grew rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico and tore into the coast near Tyndall Air Force Base. That placed its fierce front right quadrant over Mexico Beach, a town of just 1,200 people, which had subsisted for decades on an economy built around retirement, sunsets and recreational fishing.

Anywhere, Fla.

Recovery will take years, and residents will face a decision of whether to rebuild or leave. There are lessons in the cleanup for all Floridians, who by the whims of the weather could find themselves in the same struggle next time.

The Tampa Bay Times is following the Wood family, owners of the Driftwood Inn in Mexico Beach, as they attempt to rebuild. Along the way, they will deal with shifting regulations, difficult financial decisions and frequent reminders of what they lost. We do not know where or when the story will end.

We hope you’ll reach out as you read along. What do you want to know? What do you think you would do? Who should decide where we can build, and who will bear the cost?


PART ONE: DREAM, INTERRUPTED

Peggy Wood sits in her camper in early December, two months after Hurricane Michael destroyed the Driftwood Inn. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
January 2019

The Woods flee Mexico Beach before Hurricane Michael and return to find the splintered remains of a motel they spent four decades perfecting. Amid the ruins, they begin to think about what comes next. CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY


PART TWO: IF THEY BUILD IT...

From left, clockwise, builder Finley Cook, engineer Lance Watson, Tom Wood, Peggy Wood, Brandy Wood Jessen, Shawna Wood and architect Bill Bridges meet at the site of the Driftwood Inn to discuss plans to reconstruct the beachfront motel, which was destroyed by Hurricane Michael. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
February 2019

Three months after Hurricane Michael, leaders in Mexico Beach worry about paying bills from the storm while money remains a top concern for the Woods. The family sets a meeting with a contractor to hopefully learn how much rebuilding will cost, and whether they can afford it. CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY


PART THREE: A PLACE TO REMEMBER

Standing, from left, Annette Coffield, Jack Jessen, Brandy Jessen, Mackenzie Wood, Maverick Wood, Shawna Wood, Bart Wood and Marla Wood join Peggy Wood and Tom Wood (sitting) for a sunset behind the Driftwood Inn. It was the last time the entire family would be together at the motel before its demolition. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times) [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
March 2019

Five months after Hurricane Michael, it’s demolition time for the Driftwood Inn. The moment brings the Wood family together amid uncertainty about whether they will build a new Driftwood or if a final sunset is goodbye. CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY


PART FOUR: IN-BETWEEN DAYS

Peggy Wood, left, and her daughter Shawna Wood walk on the slab where the Driftwood Inn once stood in Mexico Beach. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times) [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
May 2019

Life has slowed in Mexico Beach, still desolate seven months after Hurricane Michael. The Wood family feels ready to move on but is stuck in a lonely interlude. Meanwhile, the next hurricane season looms weeks away. CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY


PART FIVE: YEAR ONE

Peggy Wood, center, attends a community announcement in September when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, announced a grant to help Mexico Beach recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
October 2019

One year since Hurricane Michael, the Driftwood Inn is not close to being rebuilt. But the Woods have clarity on their next steps. CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY


VIDEO: THE WOOD FAMILY RECALLS THE INN AND HURRICANE MICHAEL

VIDEO: THE WOODS TALK ABOUT REBUILDING

VIDEO: WITH DEMOLITION COMES DOUBT

VIDEO: THE DRIFWOOD INN, A PLACE TO REMEMBER

VIDEO: THE WOOD FAMILY DESCRIBES LIFE SEVEN MONTHS AFTER THE STORM

VIDEO: ONE YEAR LATER, MEXICO BEACH IS ‘DROWNING IN DEBT.’ CAN THE WOODS REBUILD?


VIDEO: MEXICO BEACH, DAY 365 SINCE HURRICANE MICHAEL





CONTACT US

Did you stay the Driftwood Inn? If you have a story or memories of your time there, we want to hear from you. Please email zsampson@tampabay.com or dclifford@tampabay.com.


HOW TO HELP

To learn more about how to donate to storm recovery in Mexico Beach, visit www.mexicobeachgov.com.


PREVIOUS COVERAGE

From left: Lee Cathey, 37, Mayor Al Cathey, 71, and Charles Smith, 55, survey damage from Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach on Oct. 11, 2018. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]

After the storm

Ground zero: See the damage Hurricane Michael inflicted on Mexico Beach (Oct. 11, 2018)

‘We’re broken here.’ Mexico Beach reels in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael (Oct. 11, 2018)

Images: Times photographers' eyewitness accounts show damage inflicted by Hurricane Michael (Oct. 11, 2018)

Hurricane Michael: Mexico Beach locals banding together to survive (Oct. 13, 2018)

‘There are no shelters in Mexico Beach’: Among last words from Hurricane Michael victim (Oct. 22, 2018)

911 calls from Hurricane Michael paint horrifying picture of what it’s like to not evacuate (May 30, 2019)

Recovery begins

Hurricane Michael destroyed their home. So they got married on the slab. (Dec. 4, 2018)

‘We don’t even have a Band-Aid on us yet.’ Mexico Beach residents worry they’ve already been forgotten. (Dec. 20, 2018)

‘We can’t not do this:’ Mexico Beach lights a Christmas tree amid ruins (Dec. 24, 2018)

‘We’re not going back to normal.’ They rode out Hurricane Michael, but were left without homes. (Dec. 27, 2018)

After the storm, ruins and rebuilding overshadow personal anguish (Jan. 4, 2019)

Ron DeSantis visits Mexico Beach: ‘Really, really devastating’ (Jan. 9, 2019)

Hurricane Michael recovery has a big problem: People aren’t donating. (Jan. 27, 2019)

Hurricane Michael retroactively upgraded to a Category 5 storm at landfall (April 19, 2019)

The two Florida Republicans who voted against Hurricane Michael disaster aid explain why. (June 4, 2019)

Hurricane Michael debris hasn’t been cleared. Why that really matters now. (June 6, 2019)

Eight months after Hurricane Michael, many fear a mental health crisis (June 13, 2019)

Hurricane Michael destroyed their homes. Then the insurance heartache began. (June 26, 2019)

More than 21,000 Hurricane Michael insurance claims are still open. That’s a problem. (July 26, 2019)

Dorian renews anxiety in Florida Panhandle, with Hurricane Michael’s wounds still fresh (Sept. 11, 2019)

Hurricane Michael: There are still 18,000 open claims. Florida lawmakers want answers. (Sept. 17, 2019)

Hurricane Michael: Insurance companies have been ‘terribly unhelpful,’ former Florida House speaker says (Oct. 5, 2019)

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