Piece-by-piece, veterans help Mexico Beach clear hurricane debris

Two days after the storm, all anyone in Mexico Beach could hear was the incessant droning of smoke alarms, left behind from thousands of destroyed homes.  Four months later, the blaring beeps have been replaced with the sounds of rebuilding. 

Eighty percent of the city was decimated by Hurricane Michael’s fury; Mayor Al Cathey says to date, there are over 600,000 cubic yards of debris. Now the community is depending on volunteer teams like Team Rubicon to bring them through it. 

“We’re getting a lot of work done,” said Team Rubicon volunteer Jim Bodine. “However, there’s still a lot more work to do.”

Bodine has been clearing debris all over the Panhandle for the last four months.  

The military veteran volunteer force is one of many still left in the Panhandle, tasked with helping residents like Martha Lee, who was inside her home when the storm surge rushed down her street.

“And the water rose in the house, and you could just watch it. It just came right up, like a sink was filling up,” Lee recalled.

For weeks, she says, nothing looked the same.

“It looked like what I would imagine an atomic bomb [would],” said Lee. “Because it was flat. There was nothing.”

From the outside looking into Mexico Beach, it doesn’t look like much has changed since the storm. Debris can still be found anywhere you look. 

But for people like Lee, who have been living it every day since October 10, it’s a miracle.

“People have come in and cleaned things away, some normalcy is coming back,” Lee said.
But that normalcy will come with a cost.

"Our debris removal bill is set to be within the $50-million range," Cathey said.

Governor DeSantis has already expedited $3-million in state funds for the city.

"And we're counting on that, because we don't have the means to get a loan to sustain ourselves," Cathey continued.

In the long road ahead, Cathey hopes his community has the energy to stay the course.

"This is a marathon we're in,” he added, “and we haven't even run a mile yet.”


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