Mexico Beach still rebuilding as new hurricane season approaches

Mayor of Mexico Beach says it will take 3-5 years to fully recover

By Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. - Outside the only hardware store in town, which his son owns, Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey looks up at a piece of jagged sheet metal painted into an American flag, given to him by a resident the day after Hurricane Michael made landfall on its coast. 

"Hope. Hope," Cathey said when asked what the flag means to him. "We won't be forgotten." 

It's an homage to the city of Mexico Beach, which is part of what's called the "Forgotten Coast." 

"I feel forgotten that we haven't received more help sooner but as far as our name being recognized as the 'Forgotten Coast,'  I like that," Cathey said. "We are a neat little community. We aren't corporate America. The people here care about each other." 

Mexico Beach officials said it's going to take three to five years before the tiny coastal town will be back to normal again. The power grid was completely wiped out, every power line and power pole is new, according to Cathey. He also said the city spent $60 million to clean up debris alone. 

On the seaside along Highway 98 are dozens of empty lots and concrete slabs. Near some of them are trailers -- some put there by FEMA -- where families are living, patiently waiting to rebuild. 

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"We have the trailer and just like we said, 'We are trying to do the best for what we got,'" Jenna Sebastio said while standing in her trailer where a "Beach house" sign is up. 

"It's funny because we bought the sign for the new house and it never made it to the wall," she said.

Sebastio and her husband closed on their three-story beach house on Aug. 10, 2018, exactly two months before it was destroyed by Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10. 

"I keep telling myself it will be over soon, this is temporary and we will finally see the light of the tunnel," she said. 

Sebastio and her husband lived in her gray minivan for two weeks after the storm. Then in a tent. Then someone donated an old trailer. Then in January, she got the keys to the FEMA trailer now on her lot. 

With all of that, Sebastio said she is luckier than her other neighbors. Her insurance covered the maximum amount it could for her home, she's already found a contractor for a fair price and she got her permits and plans finalized just last week. 

"In four to five weeks from now, the house will be built," she said. 

However, across the street her neighbor Larry Burks, who threw a Memorial Day barbecue with a makeshift smoker they built, isn't so lucky. 

"It's really a slow, slow process,"  Burks said. "It's been awful."

He's been stalled in rebuilding his town home, which is connected to others, waiting on those homeowners and their plans to perfectly line up. 

"The hold up over there is getting you plans done. You got to get an architect to do your plans and then the surveyors are like three weeks behind right now, so it's just a long process," he said. 

According to the latest FEMA update, 963 households are occupying travel trailers, mobile homes and direct lease properties across the five counties – Bay, Calhoun, Gadsden, Gulf and Jackson – authorized for direct housing assistance through FEMA. 

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