One year later: Wallace reflects on impact fo Hurricane Michael

Published 1:11 am Thursday, October 10, 2019

Today, a year ago, on October 10, 2018, Chip and Cot Wallace of Troy were keeping close eyes on Hurricane Michael as it was predicted to make landfall in the vicinity of Mexico Beach, Florida where the Wallace family owned and operated a pump and supply business.

Hurricane Michael made landfall around 12:30 CDT between Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida as a Category 5 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph.

The news flash came. “It’s all gone. Mexico Beach, tiny Florida town nearly swept away by Hurricane Michael.”

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Cot Wallace reflected on the devastation he found when he arrived at the family business the next day.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I got there,” he said. “My main concern was for our employees who had ridden out the storm. They could have been killed. I didn’t know what I would find.”

Wallace left Troy around 8 a.m. the day after Michael on a drive that, under normal circumstances, would have taken far less than three hours. He arrived in Mexico Beach in a little over 10 hours.

Wallace was relieved to find his employees had survived the deadly hurricane. But he could not believe the devastation.

“It was gone. The Mexico Beach that I knew was just gone,” he said. “There is no way to describe the devastation.”

Wallace Pump and Supply had an inventory that would be beneficial to the residents of Mexico Beach but it was not business as usual.

“We ran off a generator for five months,” Wallace said. “We had one computer and no internet service for seven months. We had to run credit cards at our pump and supply business in Brundidge. But we were fortunate to even be open.”

The three bay doors at Wallace Pump and Supply in Mexico Beach were boarded for three months but boarded houses and businesses were the norm for the small beach town.

And, sadly, not much has changed in the year following Michael unwelcomed visit.

“There are some signs of recovery and some people have built back but Mexico Beach is just starting to recover,” Wallace said.

An indication of how long the recovery might take can be illustrated in the number of trash collections being made in the small beach town.

“Before Michael, trash collections were around 3,000; now that number is around 300,” Wallace said. “There was once four motels. Not one motel is open. Of the four churches in Mexico Beach, only one has services. Neither of the two banks is open. Only two restaurants are open but they serve outside in the parking lot.”

Wallace said there are no gas stations in Mexico Beach and no grocery stores. But the opening of the bridge on Highway 98 two weeks ago is reason for encouragement.

“Recovery will be slow and Mexico Beach will probably never be the same,” Wallace said. “It will take time, maybe a long time, but I believe that Mexico Beach will recover from the devastation of Hurricane Michael.”