Hurricane Michael all but erased the tiny community of Mexico Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast, reducing some homes to mere concrete slabs and leaving others in shreds.
Rescuers and residents struggled Thursday to get into town to assess the damage and search for the missing after it was slammed by 155 mph (250 kph) winds and a 9-foot (2.7-meter) storm surge.
The town of about 1,200 residents had been a quiet weekend retreat for tourists and residents of the state capital, Tallahassee, offering a handful of independent hotels and restaurants. Many of those buildings are now destroyed.
Debris now litters the town’s streets, jammed together helter-skelter with vehicles and boats.
The area is on the western stretch of what’s called Florida’s Forgotten Coast, so named because it doesn’t have the heavy development of places like Panama City. Instead of students on spring break, it attracts visitors looking for quiet weekends and local oysters.
Just to the east and west, cities like Panama City, Springfield, Callaway and Port St. Joe also were badly damaged, with roofs torn off of buildings and stretches of U.S. 98 rendered impassable. In Panama City Beach, the roof of a large boat storage facility collapsed onto about 300-400 boats.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio remarked on Twitter that Mexico Beach was a slice of “old” Florida. “Its charm is that it feels like a trip back in time to a place unspoiled by development. I was told this morning that it is ‘gone.’”