|US 98 heading west to St. George Island
|Home completely destroyed along US 98
|Remnants of docks line the coastline along US 98
When talking to a few of the locals who live south of Tallahassee, in Wakulla County, places like Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe may as well not exist at the moment.
Hurricane Michael decimated both these towns, and more, in October 2018.
Places they used to visit regularly, now are just map dots. Memories. And that's how they'd like to leave it - for now.
Time will weaken their resistance and curiosity will certainly overtake the sadness, but not today, not tomorrow and probably not in the months to come.
The hurricane did more than physical damage to structures and emotional, financial and psychological damage to the residents.
It gutted people who live hundreds of miles from the destruction. People who fell in love with the solitude, the peacefulness, the beauty of the area. Snowbirds who came for decades to camp at the multitude of RV parks dotted along this part of the Gulf. Vacation home renters who returned year after year to places that felt like home. The damage and sorrow extends beyond county lines, beyond state lines. Beyond the U.S. border.
|Same area today
We are trying to muster the courage to make our way from Crawfordville to Mexico Beach, but even we, who have never set eyes on that part of the world, are having a hard time reckoning with the destruction we would see. So many lives were forever changed on that day in October.
Midway between here, along the Forgotten Coast, is a small barrier island called St. George. This is as close to ground zero as we've managed to get so far.
Its miles-long beautiful white-sand beaches are spectacular. There are no high rises to block your view and the laid-back attitude rivals that of the Hawaiian Islands!
There was damage done to the roads and homes leading to St. George Island, and the Island did get hit hard, but, luckily, nothing like what happened where Michael made landfall further down the coast. The state park is due to reopen partially on March 1, but still has much tree clearing to do before the entire park and campground can fully welcome visitors.
The lighthouse, the third one built on the Island since 1852, thankfully, avoided damage this time round. The previous one collapsed into the sea in 2005 after surviving past hurricanes and even the Civil War.
After stopping at the visitor centre beside the lighthouse and strolling/shell collecting the main beach, we headed across the street to a quaint little coffee shop that was conveniently attached to a souvenir store.
Thirst quenched and shopping bag full, we then scoped out a delightful seafood (of course) restaurant across the tiny town.
We sat outside with the dogs, as the Island is very pet-friendly, listening to a guitar player from Port St. Joe who reminded everyone of the devastation and resilience of the local population.
|Marshland with Island Bridge in background
|4-mile long bridge to St. George Island
With the four-mile long St. George Island Bridge behind us, quiet, southern music to our right, and amazing seafood in front of us, we forgot, for an hour, how bad things from this point west must be.
No promises that we'll actually make the trek, but if we do, and I don't feel too much like unwelcome paparazzi, photos will follow.
I do know that businesses in Mexico Beach are reopening - slowly, and one at a time - and the spirit of the little town hasn't been squashed. They are eager to welcome everyone back who has fallen in love with the place over the years, and turn newcomers onto its quiet charms.
We wish them luck, but don't think they'll need it.