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.
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?
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
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
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
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