ABOUT THIS SERIES

The Panhandle was devastated in October by Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 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
Peggy Wood sits in her camper in early December, two months after Hurricane Michael destroyed the Driftwood Inn. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | 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
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
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


VIDEO: THE WOOD FAMILY RECALLS THE INN AND HURRICANE MICHAEL

VIDEO: THE WOODS TALK ABOUT REBUILDING


GALLERY: THE DRIFTWOOD INN, BEFORE THE STORM

GALLERY: THE WOODS IN MEXICO BEACH, THROUGH THE YEARS


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 [email protected] or [email protected].


HOW TO HELP

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


PREVIOUS COVERAGE FROM MEXICO BEACH

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
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

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)

Recovery begins

‘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)

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

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