Mexico Beach was just a dot on the map before the Category 5 hurricane swept ashore with 160 mph winds pushing a 17.5-foot storm surge, obliterating everything in its path. It was a hidden jewel on Florida’s Forgotten Coast, and the residents – 1,072 based on the 2010 U.S. census – aimed to keep it that way. Now, with a storm-scoured slate, residents are not looking to rebuild bigger, just stronger.
The late afternoon sun bathes this gulf-front community in color. New condominiums, painted in shades of saltwater taffy, overlook turquoise water and a cotton-candy sky. But there are other colors, too, not so cheery. Blue tarps cover roofs and red-lettered “for sale” signs proliferate like a virus. The city is still struggling to regain its footing a year after Hurricane Michael’s ruthless assault left 852 of the town’s 1,900 homes substantially damaged or destroyed.