Hurricane Michael left a trail of devastation along the Florida panhandle. Now, residents of hard-hit Mexico Beach are returning home for the first time. What they are finding seems to be just pieces of their lives scattered across the sand.
Nancy Register sobbed uncontrollably when she found no trace of the large camper where she’d lived with her husband. She was especially upset over the loss of an old, black-and-white photo of her mother, who died of cancer.
Nancy’s husband, Taylor Register, said he found nothing but a stool that he uses for cutting his hair, a hose and a keepsake rock that was given to him by a friend 40 years ago.
“That’s my belongings,” he said, pointing to a small pile beside his red pickup truck. With tears in his eyes, he said: “I appreciate God humbling me. Everybody needs it.”
Tears also ran down Lanie Eden’s face, who lives just up the road from the Registers. She and husband Ron Eden sifted through sand in search of items they left before evacuating from the small beach house they’ve rented each October for years. They didn’t find much, just a large pack of toilet paper and a son’s camp chair.
The Edens are from Fort Knox, Kentucky, and are temporarily staying in Alabama.
In a state of condominium towers, Mexico Beach was one of the few remaining places with small houses and a 1950s feel.
“Basically, we lost ‘old Florida.’ It’s all gone,” said Lanie Eden.
In Bay County, home to Mexico Beach and Panama City, more than half of the households and businesses remained without electricity. Inland, in Calhoun County, 98 percent of the customers didn’t have power on the morning of Oct. 17, according to the emergency management website. And in Jackson County, which borders Alabama and Georgia, about 83 percent were without power.
In many areas devastated by the hurricane, law enforcement officials are battling looting of homes and businesses.
Bay County Sheriff’s Maj. Jimmy Stanford said deputies have arrested about 10 looters each night since the storm hit. In some parts of the county, residents have spray-painted signs warning that “looters will be shot.”
The storm killed at least 16 people in Florida, most of them in the coastal county that took a direct hit from the storm, state emergency authorities announced Oct. 16. That’s in addition to at least 10 deaths in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.