(WSVN) - We are less than two weeks away from the start of another hurricane season, but part of Florida is still recovering from the strongest storm to hit the state since Hurricane Andrew. 7’s Brian Entin has our special report “Pain in the Panhandle”
The 2018 hurricane season was winding down when this formed: Hurricane Michael.
Resident: “It’s like a nightmare, and you just want somebody to shake you and wake you up.”
The monster, Category 5 storm made landfall in Mexico Beach, Florida on Oct. 10.
CNN anchor: “We have just now flown over Mexico Beach, and it’s gone.”
Seven months later, driving into the Florida Panhandle, you can’t help but notice the trees.
They’re snapped and bent, and the closer you get to ground zero, the more damage you see.
You can tell right away when you’ve made it to Mexico Beach.
The town is almost totally gone.
Jaques Sebastian, Mexico Beach resident: “There was a lot of damage that wasn’t salvageable.”
Jaques Sebastian and his wife Bela retired in Mexico Beach.
Two months after buying their house, Michael hit.
This picture shows what was left of their dream home.
Bela Sebastian, Mexico Beach resident: “It’s kind of been forgotten.”
They feel forgotten because they now live in a FEMA trailer.
Their home was torn down, and there are not enough contractors to start construction on a new house.
Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey said 80% of Mexico Beach was destroyed, including his own business.
Mayor Al Cathey, Mexico Beach: “This was the old hardware store. Been here since 1974.”
Brian Entin: “All that’s left is the door.”
Mayor Al Cathey: “That’s right.”
You walk down the streets in Mexico Beach, and it’s eerily quiet. Not many people live here anymore. The houses have been torn down, and the ones that are still standing look like this one. The mayor said about 800 homes were totally destroyed by the hurricane.
Brian Entin: “How long until Mexico Beach comes back?”
Mayor Al Cathey: “Recognizable, three to five years. Reality.”
Sam Summers, resident: “We have beds for them. It used to be air mattresses.”
Some Panhandle residents still live in this tent city.
Their homes are gone, and they don’t have insurance to rebuild.
Sam Summers: “You can see it in their eyes. They don’t talk about it as much as they used to, but they know hurricane season is coming up again.”
But there is hope.
Driving around, we noticed this pickup truck that says “Miami Lakes United Methodist Church.”
Stuart and Gloria Bodin from Miami are helping rebuild.
Gloria Bodin, Miami Lakes United Methodist Church: “It looks like a post war. There is rubble and debris everywhere, and it’s just … it’s heartbreaking.”
Every month, they make the 600 mile drive to this Mexico Beach church, and they’ve made a lot of progress.
Pastor Stuart Bodin, Miami Lakes United Methodist Church: “What an amazing service that was to have them back in their sanctuary for the first time in five months.”
By the time hurricane season starts, the church should look as good as new.
But everything surrounding it still has such a long way to go.
Bela Sebastian: “If you live in California, you have the fires. Midwest, you have the tornadoes. Here, you get the hurricanes. Everywhere you’re going to go, you’re going to have to deal with something.”
Among the devastation, you see a lot of these “Not For Sale” signs.
They are a message to big developers: there might not be much left now, but residents will rebuild.
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