Hotel rises as Mexico Beach recovers from Hurricane Michael


MEXICO Beach, Fla. (AP) — Standing on the deck of the new Driftwood Inn, 3½ years immediately after Hurricane Michael obliterated the old one, Tom Wood spoke of the months after the storm.

Just one of his daughters had urged him and his spouse, Peggy, to pocket the insurance policies revenue and leave the hotel driving.

The Driftwood was a nest of splintered wood and ruined history then: images, receipts, mattresses, tables, chairs, all tumbled with each other and streaked with mold. A 14-foot flood and 150 mph winds had dismantled Mexico Beach front, turning the gulf-entrance oasis into a 3-mile area of rubble.

Now 82, Tom was addressing a couple dozen visitors for the hotel’s ceremonial reopening the 1st weekend of June. The deck wherever they sat was 8 ft off the ground, portion of a building perched atop 97 concrete and rebar columns — increased to prevent an additional flood, sturdier to blunt the wind.

Mexico Seaside was residence to four resorts and motels just before Michael. The Driftwood, three tales higher with 23 rooms, is the initially to arrive again, a symbol of the city’s ongoing restoration. It is taller, much better — and additional pricey.

Rebuilding from Michael price about $13 million, according to Tom, far more than double the around $5 million they obtained from insurance plan.

Purple martins flitted and ducked into birdhouses off the deck. Compact waves rolled into the white sand. Tom, clutching a microphone, wore a straw hat, pearl earring and Hawaiian shirt.

These initially guests had been not spending. They have been people today the Woods wished to thank — architects and builders, spouse and children and good friends (old and new) who sent provides or picked via the wreckage.

Guiding Tom, on the western edge of town, the trees were being shadows of Michael, bare and bent, silhouetted by the fading sunlight.

The Woods had not remaining.

“I want to develop a monument to the town of Mexico Beach,” Tom reported, thinking back. “I want to go away a legacy.

“And we have.”

At daybreak on Oct. 10, 2018, Mexico Seaside was a eyesight of outdated Florida. Concrete-block duplexes, degree with the sand, lined roads that finished in the dunes. There was a coffee shop, a components shop, a pier.

By dusk, the town experienced been shattered. The storm ripped off roofs and floated them hundreds of ft inland, onto the two lanes of U.S. 98. The Woods’ resort hung in a state of semi-collapse, awaiting a wrecking crew to provide the remaining punch.

They hadn’t recognised what rebuilding would cost. $3 million? $10 million? Their monthly bill soared as months dragged and the pandemic designed staff and materials scarcer. Tom and Peggy compensated for blueprints of the new inn, which their daughter Shawna stated “looks like the previous Driftwood grew up.” They compensated to retain a couple of persons on employees. They compensated for concrete in the parking whole lot, metal on the roof and tile on the flooring. They paid for each and every chair, sink and toilet.

The family members marketed other qualities — an office setting up in Atlanta, a pizza shop in Mexico Seashore — to pump a lot more income into the inn.

All around the Driftwood’s skeleton, the city’s genuine estate marketplace, as in the relaxation of Florida, started off to increase.

Now, dazzling new multi-tale homes, lifted on stilts, soar higher than vacant heaps sprouting weeds. Holiday rental signals hang out front.

Mexico Seaside has not regained its pier, but the marina is flush with boaters. The city has a gas station, far too. And a Subway.

The inn sits on five beachfront loads. A fifty percent-mile down the street, a solitary vacant great deal is on the marketplace for $1.2 million.

“There utilised to be a property listed here,” the listing reads, “so water and sewer faucet service fees have been paid out.”

The “For Sale” signs and open land brim with alternatives — for some.

Each and every longtime resident appreciates buddies who ended up compelled out. They did not have the funds, the insurance policies or in some conditions the stamina to slog as a result of rebuilds.

The town had often attracted out-of-towners seeking for second residences, typically from Georgia. Now people come from farther absent and lease to vacationers until they can retire. Some shell out hard cash.

Shawna, 56, who will run the new Driftwood, mentioned there are no reasonably priced houses for retailer clerks and bartenders. She believes that’s why she can’t fill two housekeeper positions or discover a portion-time desk worker.

Her very own daughter, unable to cover rent, has moved 25 minutes away to Callaway.

“We’re no more time a sleepy small village,” Tom claimed. “We received so a great deal publicity following the hurricane.”

The new Driftwood’s doorways are heavy. The glass is thick. Slick, contemporary furnishings fills each individual space, instead of hand-picked antiques. Touchscreen pads have replaced keys.

Summer time rooms will price tag between $325 and $425, about 2 times as substantially as prior to the storm. When Shawna posted the fees on Fb, some people commented that they could not hold out. Others claimed they couldn’t find the money for it.

Following the rebuild, Peggy, 81, stated this is what the spouse and children has to do. They’ll miss some of the regulars who designed the Driftwood so exclusive. They purchased the unique inn for $138,000 in 1975, when it experienced only eight models.

They still really do not know how a great deal their flood and wind coverage will price tag, or house taxes. Liability insurance policies is up to $17,000 a 12 months, about double what they used to shell out, Shawna mentioned.

The final couple of years, Tom and Peggy’s little ones fretted that their parents would not live to see the resort reopen.

Peggy was in a wheelchair for the initial weekend following breaking her hip. Tom bounced all over, shaking fingers and leaning on his polished wooden cane. He sipped Food plan Cokes and Coors Lights, noting imperfections, like a stain the place drinking water dripped on the siding. He named for support when the elevator broke down.

Bart, 59, thought his dad looked youthful, as if the challenge of rebuilding experienced provided Tom life.

A main team of Mexico Beach front citizens confirmed up for the duration of the opening weekend to fete the Driftwood’s rebirth with heaping plates of gumbo, shrimp, oysters and cake.

While the metropolis — and lodge — have adjusted considerably, the men and women who managed to keep don’t talk so fearfully about Mexico Beach front dropping its attraction any longer.

“If persons dwell below, they’ve received the heartbeat,” said Cathey Parker Hobbs, a descendant of a metropolis founder.

“You simply cannot hate men and women for having an opportunity to occur in and locate their desire,” claimed Michael Scoggins, co-owner of Killer Seafood, a cafe down the street that serves po’boys out of a custom made trailer bought after the storm.

Bart looked about the Driftwood’s spacious occasions room, adorned with hanging wood boats. Higher than the gumbo table, he noticed a design schooner he created when he was about 14.

“There’s still a great deal of historical past below,” he mentioned.

The Woods’ fingerprints are all over the place, at minimum for people who know where by to look: fanciful white cornices, paintings by Tom, a whimsical birdhouse assortment.

“I’m hoping the Driftwood can build that helpful feeling,” Peggy explained, like a bridge to the Mexico Beach that existed just before Michael.

Fifty many years ago, the Driftwood was a aspiration.

Peggy still left Atlanta for Mexico Beach, the place her children could not skip school without having their mom locating out.

Bart, Shawna and Brandy pitched in by cleaning rooms.

Brandy, who pushed her mother and father to offer right after Michael, was tidying up for opening weekend when her personal youngsters remarked that she had appear complete circle.

At 55, on the again end of a job in corporate The us, Brandy seems to be ahead to organizing events at the new Driftwood, these types of as bingo evenings and bachelorette events. She and her spouse were married at the old inn.

The Wood children all have households in Mexico Beach. Christmases, they’ll commit at the resort.

On Saturday of opening weekend, Brandy woke about 5:30 a.m. and drove to the Driftwood. A woman sat in the lobby with her puppy, ready for espresso. Brandy apologized.

She lined up reclining chairs, $475 apiece, together the deck and dabbed at wine stains from the night just before. She laid out breakfast.

Brandy appeared around the beach front and viewed puffy clouds pad the horizon. She felt the gulf breeze. She stared at the water, and she didn’t see a ripple.


Instances team author Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report.


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