St. Marks: One Year After Hurricane Michael

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By: Abby Walton | WCTV Eyewitness News
October 10, 2019

ST. MARKS, Fla. (WCTV) -- Boats tossed ashore. Docks in disarray.
Many people working together to clean-up water-filled stores.

In July of 2005, Hurricane Dennis barreled through St. Marks, Florida.
From then on, that storm was considered the "Big One" in this coastal town.

But that all changed one year ago Thursday.

Hurricane Michael brought more than seven feet of storm surge to several areas of St. Marks.

And while many homes and businesses are back to normal, the painful memories of that day are still very raw for people in this community.

If you live in St. Marks, chances are if you stop into Bo Lynn’s Grocery store, you’ll see Miss Joy ringing up customers.

"This is just me. This is home," said store owner, Joy Brown.

Pictures line the walls showing the store's rich history.

But now, prominently displayed on the counter is a new photo.

It shows the day Hurricane Michael tried swallowing the grocery store and the community’s spirit.

"I have never seen so much water in my life. The water was over my head in this store," said Brown.

One day after Michael, our WCTV cameras captured video of water-logged items piled up on counters.

“It looked like a bomb had gone off,” said Brown.

The situation wasn’t much better down the road at the Sweet Magnolia Inn.

“It was a mess. It was a terrible mess,” said former inn owner, Andy Waters.

A water line on the wall, Michael's lasting mark, showing four feet of storm surge inside the inn.

"You hear about the flooding. You hear about storms. I've been through all of them because I've lived here my whole life. But, you just couldn't imagine the devastation that water. Wow,” said former inn owner, Denise Waters.

The downstairs area was a total gut job.

Furniture was ruined.

The bar area totally gone.

But Denise and Andy said the most devastating part of the destruction was losing his baby grand piano.

"To me, that was like the gut punch,” said Denise.

About a mile from the inn, The Shell Island Fish Camp was also in disarray.

"You planned for what Dennis did. You don't plan for what Michael did," said camp manager Michele Rozelle.

A year later, the storm's power, and devastation that followed, is still hard to talk about for every person I interviewed for this story.

"It looked like what do we do? Do we pull together and try to save it or do we say everyone has to find something else to do,” said Rozelle.

While the painful memories remain, these businesses showed the community's strength in the months that followed.

"Everybody that could pitched in to do whatever they could," said Rozelle.

Now, the cabins and grounds are restored and reservations at the fish camp are full.

And at the Sweet Magnolia Inn, the lower level was totally renovated.
"It's hard to believe it even happened," said Denise.

The inn is also now owned by a new couple, John and Melissa Hines.
"I saw it again and looked at it. Then I looked up the town of St. Marks and I was hooked," said new inn owner, John Hines.

The inn was up for sale before the storm, but Michael caused the Waters to hit pause on their retirement plans until now.

"It almost feels like just turning the page to the next chapter," said Denise.

Back at Bo Lynn's, the thought of ending its story and closing after Michael was never an option.

"I just said ‘okay, we've been here before. Roll up your sleeves. You know what we have to do," said Brown.

And they have.

The community has worked hard to put Michael behind them, finding their coastal rhythm once again.

Many said while they’re glad things are getting back to normal, it is still hurricane season, so they’re not breathing a sigh of relief just yet.