HORSESHOE BEACH, Fla. – In a town of under 200 people, one storm dismantled what was once a haven for fishing on the Gulf of Mexico.
This tight-knit community is now doing what it can to restore a sense of normalcy to the city known as “Florida’s Last Frontier.”
Hurricane Idalia made landfall on Aug. 30 at around 8 a.m. in Florida’s Big Bend region. It hit the Gulf Coast as a Category 3 hurricane with winds of up to 129 mph. Horseshoe Beach, which lies just over 90 miles southeast of Tallahassee, took the brunt of the storm.
Horseshoe Beach residents have come together, with help from around the state, to attempt to clean up and rebuild their homes and livelihoods.
“It’s going really good, and we’re making progress every day,” said Horseshoe Beach resident Wesley Benton, 72, referring to the cleanup of his demolished home. “Everybody’s helping everybody. Everyone’s furnishing whatever people need and they’re helping. I’m really pleased with the way they’ve come together.”
Benton’s house was reduced to rubble after the hurricane. A “lovely” couple, as Benton called them, came from Trenton, Fla. to help the cause. They were working on putting boards and structures back on Benton’s house and shed.
Two women came from Manatee County to bring food and supplies to the devastated Horseshoe Beach community.
“Well, last year we had the hurricane, and we had a lot of people help us out in big ways and small ways,” said Jamie Snyder. “We had supplies and food donated, and it made a big difference to a lot of people who wouldn’t have made it by.”
Snyder, and her friend Cindy Austin, talked about how much help it was to have volunteers bring stuff when they were hit by Hurricane Ian last year. Because of the help they got, the two decided to return the favor by helping in Horseshoe Beach, which is a four-hour drive from their hometown Myakka City.
“We just wanted to do our small part, and we figured if everyone does their small part, then it all comes together right,” Austin said. “So we brought our sandwiches and supplies; everything we could fit, and we hit the road.”
Not only did volunteers come to help restore Horseshoe Beach to its former glory, but emergency response personnel did as well. Workers from both the Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, arrived in town this week to help.
“We get called in by the state emergency management department, and we’re given a mission number and we show up to supplement with any type of hurricane relief in whatever capacity we can,” said Fort Lauderdale CERT Deputy Operations Chief Mark Miller.
Miller, along with Jessica Sandoval of Miami-Dade County CERT, said they come to places that have been severely affected by hurricanes or other disasters.
“We’re trained as first responders, so we can provide medical assistance if needed,” he said. “We also come to points of distribution like this to get these citizens or whoever comes through what they need. We do whatever needs to be done.”
One resident of Horseshoe Beach was towing a set of stairs so he could get back into his lifted home to assess the damage. Keith Brackett, whose permanent home is in Ocala, owns a seaside house in Horseshoe Beach that was heavily affected by Idalia.
“Mostly everybody here are volunteers, family or friends,” he said. “We really haven’t had much cleanup help from FEMA at all. Everything’s been local residents, friends and families.”
He said he wasn’t happy about FEMA’s lack of presence in Horseshoe Beach. He said that it is good for the community that they are coming together to help each other out, but they need professional help as well.
One couple who lives on a canal that connects to the Gulf sat in lawn chairs under their disheveled home with a friend who came from the Florida Keys to help out.
“I went through Irma, said Arnie Graham, the couple’s friend. “I know how devastating these types of hurricanes can be because Irma was devastating for us in South Florida.”
The couple, Renee and Tom Burke, have been living in Horseshoe Beach for five years. They own a house that is connected to a smaller home that Renee’s parents lived in.
“I had my elderly parents living in that apartment because I had to get them out of Fort Myers last year,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I had them up here, but thankfully I moved them out of here before the storm and up to Virginia with my son. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.”
Tom said that he and his wife got power back on Friday for the first time since the storm. He said that this was great for them because they could start to put things back in the refrigerator and get some air conditioning to combat the heat.
“This is so tough to look at and fathom,” he said while looking at the debris-ridden canal behind his house. “I guess this is the price you pay for living in paradise.”
He said that they have hope and togetherness in the community. He said that everybody who lives in Horseshoe Beach has been helping and will continue to help until their town gets back to the way it was.
“It’s gonna be a long, long road,” he said. “But two years from now, you won’t even be able to tell a storm came through here.”