One year after Category 5 Hurricane Michael barreled over the Florida
The year of recovery has meant victories finally over mountains of debris, exhausted budgets of cities and counties, communities unified as never before and realizations that many things will never rebound.
“I didn’t have a clue of where we would be a year after ...," said Mexico Beach Mayor
From landfall at the beachside getaway, the storm kept its hurricane strength until central
In Mexico Beach, where homes and businesses south of U.
“Now we need to get back in business,” Cathey said of a push to reopen rental properties, restaurants and mom-and-pop stores. “We can’t sit here with our hands out for charity.”
Cathey said the city’s progress includes extensive restoration of utilities, a rewriting of rules for construction and a surge of applications in the past 90 days for homes and business building permits: 44.
“Our No. 1 need is to get our rental inventory open,” Cathey said. “We can’t sustain our recovery without visitors.”
Another economic driver still largely out of action is
With a previous 300,000 visitors annually, the park had generated an estimated
Florida’s park service plans to rebuild roads, water and sewer systems and a pair of campgrounds. But the cost and timing remain unknown.
“There are so many factors; there is no good answer for that yet,” said
From the window of an airliner crossing Mexico Beach, the path of buildings and vegetation shredded by the storm was plainly visible months afterward.
Also not hard to see was that Callaway and Panama City weren’t precisely at landfall – which occurred between
“We are much better off but nowhere near where we need to be,” said
“More than 80 percent of the structures in our city -- houses and businesses -- were damaged or destroyed,” McQueen said. “It’s been a long slog, with having to overcome issues with insurance, then a shortage of skilled tradesmen, roofers, carpenters, etc.”
The city remains in a bind of not being able to get workers because there isn’t enough housing for them, but it is unable to build housing without workers, McQueen said.
More than 25 percent, or as many as 9,000 residents, moved outside of the city, including to the west in the relatively intact Panama City Beach.
McQueen said nearly 5,000 Panama City public-school students and their families are still “couch surfing, and not in a home of any permanent type.”
The city’s initial bill for debris and repairs to utilities was
Panama City had
But more businesses are reopening every week, boosting the local economy and reviving sales-tax revenues. A post-storm drop in assessed property values was partly offset when city commissioners raised the tax rate in September.
The trauma has had the upside of encouraging a cohesive vision for the city’s direction, McQueen said.
“It’s exciting to see the potential,” McQueen said. “We are going to be the premier city of the Panhandle.”
About 20 miles to the northeast, in the tiny burg of Broad Branch in
“It seems like five years ago,” Stone said.
He and his wife own a building-contractor business, having two employees – themselves – and hiring subcontractors. Business was modest before Michael.
Now they are building four homes, remodeling others and turning down work “all the time.”
He is working for friends, neighbors and acquaintances in rural
Meanwhile, to Stone’s amazement, the social and political ground is shifting beneath the traditional agricultural mainstay of timber, which was crushed by Hurricane Michael.
With a new state law this year, landowners along the storm’s path are moving to embrace hemp as a cash crop, which has uses for clothing, animal feed, packaging and building products.
“We are battling back,” Stone said.
To the north, Marianna’s city manager,
Dean has kept an eye on the city’s water, sewer and natural gas accounts. The number dropped by 130 in the past month, which means fewer residents and less essential income for the city’s budget.
Marianna is 60 miles from where Michael made landfall. Yet the storm was able to ravage two, critical contributors to the economy.
“We were told it would open in March or April, and then in August or September,” Dean said. “Meanwhile, the city bills are still coming due.”
Michael ranks as one of Florida’s strongest hurricanes. When it crossed the
A few miles past the river, Michael barged into
“I’m not in any way minimizing the progress we’ve made,” Ponder said.
But, he added, only a portion of hotels, gas stations and restaurants have reopened. Hundreds of streetlights are still broken. Hiring a building contractor is difficult and, at last count, 275 homes in the city and surrounding
That tarp count is significant because the battles with
Faith groups, construction companies, material vendors and local governments are sharing in fixing roofs; but the damage often is extensive throughout homes and includes mold infestations.
“So many people have moved away and so many have no way to move away,” Ponder said.
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