One Year After Michael - A 120-mile journey along Florida's Gulf Coast
Today, on the one-year anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Michael, we not only want to remember those impacted on St. George Island, but also those impacted to our west in places like Panama City Beach, Mexico Beach, and Cape San Blas. The category 5 hurricane caused catastrophic damage to the Florida Gulf Coast (to check our reports from last October about the impact to St. George Island click here and here), and we took a drive along 120 miles of Florida coastline to examine the damage one year after the hurricane’s impact.
Panama City Beach
Our journey started in Panama City Beach at the corner of Route 79 and Highway 98. As expected, there are still many tarps on roofs and work to be done. Churches have closed and there is still evidence of buildings ripped to shreds. However, you can tell that Panama City has stood strong, and residents and visitors alike have continued to work to restore the area.
Tyndall Air Force Base
Even Tyndall Air Force Base is still recovering from Michael. Airplane hangars and huge warehouses were completely torn apart by the strong winds. A NY Times article declared Tyndall AFB a total loss the day after Hurricane Michael, but it is clear that the Air Force is working hard to restore the base.
One of the most interesting things I found along highway 98 was the downed pine trees as a result of the hurricane. Approximately half of the trees were broken in half between 6 and 12 feet off of the ground. Most of the trees had also fallen in the same direction likely due to the 150+ mph winds.
Without a doubt, the area surrounding Mexico Beach and St. Joe Beach was the hardest hit by Hurricane Michael. When we drove through the small beach community, there were literally dozens and dozens of construction crews rebuilding houses along the road. According to mypanhandle.com, the last remaining section of Highway 98 (which has had a two-mile detour) has reopened just one week before the anniversary of Michael. However, damage to houses remains with one house even being pulled off of the pilings and leaning on another house. In case you’ve missed it, there is an excellent drone video of damage at Mexico Beach that you can find here. Continue to keep this area in your prayers.
Cape San Blas
While seemingly faring better than Mexico Beach, Cape San Blas was also impacted significantly by Hurricane Michael. As you enter Cape San Blas, there are piles of logs along the bike path from downed trees. Houses still have major damage and construction in the area continues. Similar to Mexico Beach though, hurricane damage cannot keep faithful visitors to the Forgotten Coast off the beach.
If you haven’t seen pictures of the beach restoration at Cape San Blas, it is truly amazing. Hurricane Michael caused a setback to the beach re-nourishment project on Cape San Blas, but heavy equipment continues to work hard to restore the beautiful white sandy beaches at Cape San Blas. For the latest on the beach re-nourishment project, click here.
St. George Island
St. George Island, which was, at one point, in the direct path of the hurricane, fared well compared to our neighbors to the west. According to our favorite general contractor, Builders by the Sea, they are currently finishing up their final major storm repair project following Michael. At this point, it actually takes some effort to find damage on St. George Island. The last major areas of damage are on the bay front streets in the West Gulf Beaches area (Bruce St., Marks St., and Cook St.).
Please keep our entire area in your prayers. Ironically, today (October 10th) is not only the anniversary of Hurricane Michael’s landfall, but it is also National Mental Health Day. A Tampa Bay Times article this summer focused on a mental health crisis that is forming along the coast as a result of the trauma from Hurricane Michael. Schools have closed, people have lost jobs and rent has skyrocketed. According to the article, more than 10,000 students and school staff in Bay County likely have clinical symptoms of depression, anxiety or PTSD as a result. If you know someone that could be suffering from these issues, please have a difficult conversation with them!
Overall, I was somewhat surprised at how well the area impacted by Hurricane Michael has bounced back from this horrific storm. Areas like Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas still have a long road ahead; however, it is clear that our area is intent on rebuilding into a major tourist destination and continuing our growth over time. We truly are, “850 Strong!”