Horseshoe Beach is still recovering two months after Hurricane Idalia
Over two months ago, Hurricane Idalia ravaged through the Gulf Coast of Florida, including Horseshoe Beach. This town and its community of fewer than 200 residents have come together to rebuild their homes, but it’s going to be a long road back.
Idalia struck Florida’s Big Bend region on Aug. 30 as a Category 3 hurricane with wind speeds up to 129 mph. The fishing and boating community of Horseshoe Beach was hit hard by the storm, which caused major destruction to homes, businesses and wildlife in the town.
While lots of the debris has been cleared out of the streets and canals in Horseshoe, there is still an immense amount of cleaning up to do and some people have been left without homes.
“The whole town was just about wiped off the map,” said Eileel Lilley, who has called Horseshoe Beach her home for five years. “I can’t move back into my house. It got a lot of water damage and the only way I could repair it would be to put it up on stilts, but I can’t afford that.”
Lilley said that new regulations have been put in place in the town that if houses on the ground have water damage, they must go up on stilts. These ordinances come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Title 44 in its Code of Federal Regulations. Living by herself, she said that she does not have enough money and will not get enough money from FEMA to execute this process.
Lilley said that her husband passed away two years ago. She said that she decided to stay after his death, but she will now have to look for a trailer to purchase as her home will eventually get demolished.
“Many other people are in the same boat,” she said. “You would go down the street and you didn’t know where you were. Everything was gone. Houses were in the canal.”
Lilley said that one positive the community can look forward to is that shops and restaurants will be reopening in the near future. This was reiterated by Kenny Butch, the owner of Florida Cracker Shrimp & Bait Co.
“We’re all but ready to open up for business,” Butch said with a smile. “We’ve got everything back up and running. I’m going to go out tonight to catch some shrimp and we’ll be ready to open after that.”
He said that fishing has a bigger economic impact on Horseshoe Beach than any other business. This is why he said he thinks it is important for his business to open back up. He said it would provide a sense of normalcy to the devastated town.
Butch said that while he is excited to reopen, he knows it is going to take some time before he gets back to regular business.
“Some of the people in town have a lot more important things going on right now than going fishing,” he said.
Jerry White is a St. Augustine native but owns a house in Horseshoe Beach and visits every couple of weeks. He and his wife have been trying to rebuild their secondary home since Idalia made landfall.
He said that everyone in the community has come together to help with whatever people need.
“Everybody who lives here has pitched in,” White said. “The gentleman across the street brought over his equipment to help us and it’s been an amazing community support from everybody in the town.”
Tom Burke and his wife Renee, who are residents of Horseshoe, had a separate part of their house that was connected via a walkway. This apartment was flooded during the storm and Burke said it was demolished a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s hard to fathom the amount of damage this hurricane has caused to our community and our home,” he said. “I can barely even recognize our house without the apartment and with everything that was broken by the storm.”
Burke said that even though his home is almost unrecognizable, he has hope that everything will be able to get back to normal at some point. He said the community as a whole, along with workers from FEMA and volunteers from around the state, have been able to provide help for those in need.
“Everyone has really got this place feeling like we can do it,” he said. “We’ve had help from friends all the way down in the Keys and I know tons of other people around Horseshoe have had either family members or friends come to help them out as well.”
Catholic Charities USA has provided a free-to-use laundry trailer equipped with washing machines and dryers for Horseshoe Beach residents to use as they please. Lilley said this has been a huge help and she hopes that they can stay as long as possible.
Construction workers and cleanup crews are still lining the streets trying to restore the beauty that was part of this small town’s identity.
“We have tons of people coming here still with huge trucks helping out,” Lilley said. “While our lives will forever be changed, our sense of community is still there and I think that is really important.”
Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.