After hurricane, Mexico Beach's mayor hopes town can recapture its old feel

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Before the storm, Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey says his city was a sleepy, beach town paradise.

“And then Michael came, on October 10, and our world changed,” Cathey said.

The Category 4 hurricane wiped out 80 percent of the small town’s three-and-a-half-mile stretch.

“We had approximately, pre-Michael, 2,700 homes,” Cathey said. “Now, we have less than 500 standing. And some of the 500 are just shells of homes that will eventually be torn down.”

Cathey didn’t lose his home. But his livelihood, the only hardware store in Mexico Beach, fell victim to Michael. What was left was moved to the warehouse behind his store.

“It’s sort of a makeshift operation, but better than not having any place to go,” he said.

That was the case for restaurant owner Michael Scoggins, who owned Killer Seafood right along the coast.

“When I walked up to the pile of the restaurant, it wasn’t even my building there anymore,” Scoggins said. “My building was completely gone, all of my contents scattered well deep into the woods. It was the condos sitting across the street on my slab. We were just wrapping up season number 15.”

In an hour, Michael destroyed what Scoggins had spent years building. But it wasn’t just his livelihood washed away by the storm. He had all of his employees to worry about -- employees like Codey McCarthy.

McCarthy, a cook at Killer Seafood, was taken in by Tony Whitfield, who owns the only sit-down restaurant currently open in the area, Shipwreck Raw Bar, in St. Joe Beach.

“Three employees from Killer [Seafood] are here,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got employees from Castaway. Tony is really helping the community by bringing in other local businesses to get us working and so other people can get on their feet and get their businesses back up.”

It's something Cathey says could take years.

“It’s going to take every bit of two years to see some seeds to start to sprout here, in terms of taking shape for our new town.”

A new town but with the same old feel.

“We don’t want to change who we are. Our community is quaint, it’s unique,” Cathey added. “It’s an old throwback Florida town. To stay the course and be true to who we want to be is going to take a lot of effort to do that.”