HORSESHOE BEACH, Fla. — After seven years of refurbishments, the Childers’ Horseshoe Beach residence was ready to host more memories. The home has been a happy place for the family for half a decade. Mark Childers, 66, said he thought their haven was safe, even as Hurricane Idalia tore through the area.
The Childers are just one of hundreds of Big Bend residents to lose their home last week to Idalia, with Horseshoe Beach taking one of the hardest hits of all. Officials estimate it may take up to two weeks to restore power to the area.
“Your nation has your back and we’ll be with you until the job is done,” President Joe Biden said during his visit to Live Oak Saturday. Both he and Gov. Ron DeSantis took separate tours of the destruction and met with local families, business owners and public officials.
“We had it raised, and you can see the foundation under it, so we thought we were good to go,” he said. “But it just tore it loose off that foundation, and you can see what’s left of it.”
A heap of rubble remained atop the concrete slab in the aftermath of Idalia, which struck Horseshoe Beach as a Category 3 hurricane. His children sorted through the damage to find any scraps of memories left behind.
“We’ve spent seven years putting it back together,” he said, eyes lined with tears. “And just like that it’s gone…It still hurts to see what’s left.”
The family scoured their property Saturday morning, looking for old pictures and mementos buried under the debris. Childers looked at his family as they searched.
“It’s been in my wife’s family for over 50 years,” he said, expressing his utter disbelief. “We’re just trying to get back a piece of something we lost.”
His daughter, Cari Childers, 38, searched for something more: lost time.
“I haven’t been up here in 10 years. I feel bad,” she admitted. “You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.”
Cari Childers currently lives in Miami and said it is difficult to visit as much as she would have liked. She beamed over her father’s dedication to upgrading the former “shack,” as she said she once called it and applauded his deep connection with the home. She estimates up to $300,000 worth of upgrades were completed prior to Idalia.
“He’s worked his butt off trying to get this place nice for the family to come up,” she said. “It was just a shack before.” Cari mentioned her father had just retired three weeks ago and recently bought a boat for the family.
“This is not really how he wanted to spend his retirement – or Labor Day weekend,” she said, aiming to find some humor in the situation.
Despite the tragedy surrounding the family, she said she was thankful the home wasn’t their primary residence. Horseshoe Beach houses are mostly second homes, yet the full-time residents are affected just the same.
“Some of these people live here. For us, it’s not our full-time home. It’s a memories house for us but not a full-time place, so we try not to complain.” As the Childers family counted their blessings, other residents were left with nothing.
Dennis Buckley, owner of the Horseshoe Beach Marina, is one of them.
Overwhelmed with the devastation, he declined to comment, but John Neal, 39, who said Buckley has been like a grandfather to him for the past 30 years, spoke of Buckley’s fervor for this community.
“We’re going to rebuild the marina – the town has got to have a marina. Even in his late age, he’s determined,” Neal said. “I’ve known Dennis long enough where if he says he’s gonna do it, he’s gonna do it.”
Neal described the marina as the fishing community’s own Mecca. Everything there has been lost. Fuel tanks, bait, tackle and merchandise were torn away by Idalia. His convenience store within the marina was the town’s only provisions shop, and it also included an Ace Hardware department inside. The interior walls were ripped away and flooded to ceiling height — leaving a skeleton of the store behind.
Buckley is an unofficial mayor of sorts, owning not only the marina but also the Main Street Plaza, which suffered major damage and flooding as well. He also owns five rental properties in town and its only hotel, the Angler’s Inn — all completely destroyed.
“He’s looking at somewhere between $3 million and $4 million in total damage between all of his properties,” he said.
His relative Andrew Neal, 69, was in agreement. He has lived in Horseshoe Beach for the past 25 years and said the marina is an indispensable part of the community. He said he’s in complete shock, and guessed at least 50% needs to be rebuilt.
“Pictures and film cannot fully describe what has happened here,” he said. Neal owns the heavy machinery the marina has been using to clean up damage.
“I’m volunteering, and that’s really the essence of the community here,” he said. “There’s a lot of good-hearted people that are volunteering.”
Community members have been pitching in, trying to make a dent in the cleanup. People went to see the canal-lined streets Saturday morning, looking at their damaged or lost homes. Their shared sentiment? They will rebuild together.
“Horseshoe has a piece of all our hearts for sure,” Neal said. “It always will.”