When Hurricane Michael roared onto the Florida panhandle on October 10th, its lethal right eyewall and strongest winds passed within five miles offshore of Le Grand Merci. Thankfully, our home sustained only minor and cosmetic exterior damage without any flooding whatsoever on our property.
Here is the “bottom-line” regarding area conditions “post-Michael”: Cape San Blas carries a few scars, but in stunning contrast to the devastation that took place in the surrounding region, the award-winning beaches on our northern end of the St. Joseph Peninsula have actually grown wider and more welcoming than ever before. The truly wonderful people who make their homes and livings here have responded to Michael’s fury with amazing resilience and a demonstration of local community unlike anything Teresa and I have ever seen. While working through the impact of this event upon their own lives, they are “pulling out all the stops” and are making incredible progress as they rebuild this area and get ready to welcome you with the warm smiles and open hearts that have caused many visitors to nickname Port St. Joe, “Mayberry-by-the-Sea.” Most all of their livelihoods are in some way connected to tourism. Your visit during this season will help boost their morale and help them reboot their economy. Thank you!
If you have any specific questions about conditions on the Cape post-Michael or if you need any more information of any kind, please do not hesitate to contact us. We want you have a most enjoyable time on the Cape and we look forward to welcoming you soon!
Here is a video update on the condition of our beautiful neighborhood beach following Hurricane Michael.
Here is a video walk-through of the limited, cosmetic exterior damage to Le Grand Merci immediately following Hurricane Michael.
Our northern Cape Breezes neighborhood-only beach access point stepped walkover has already been rebuilt and an ad-hoc ladder temporarily set in place for access via the southern access point path, so you will not have any problem accessing the beach and Gulf. You can access the Bay on foot through our Gulf Breezes neighborhood-only bay access point provided you don’t mind picking your way around some fallen trees.
Although all of the dunes throughout the region experienced some level of erosion during Michael, those nearest to Le Grand Merci retained most of their previous height (if not their width), leaving our beaches wider than ever! By contrast, on the southern part of the St. Joseph Peninsula most of the dunes have been completely washed away and the beach now descends in a gentle slope all the way out to the water, with many of the homes on the southern Peninsula left exposed to future wave action. Thankfully, on the Peninsula’s northern end where Le Grand Merci is located only the western fringe of our dune structure washed away and the prevailing northerly winter winds have already begun to regrow them.
Since the homes located directly on our neighborhood beachfront weathered the hurricane much better than those in other parts of the Cape, our beaches have much, much less debris on them than other sections where properties were completely destroyed by the pounding surf. In our Cape Breezes subdivision beachfront and along the adjoining Rish Park beachfront, most of what you find scattered on the sand is simply clumps of Sea Oat grass which used to cover the part of the dunes that eroded during the storm. Government and civic groups have now begun formal cleanup of the beaches themselves after understandably prioritizing debris removal from alongside the streets and roadways. In any event, to put things in perspective regarding our northern Cape San Blas gulf-front compared to other areas affected by the storm, even before cleanup began our daughter jogged barefoot on our beach for a couple of miles every day during our Christmas stay without any problems or concerns at all as to possibly wounding her feet.
Here are some photos to give you a better idea of current conditions:
A glimpse of our “tarped roof” and our newly brown trees.
Sunset along our neighborhood beach during Christmas 2018.
Our northern Cape Breezes beach walkover, showing the sheer dune face caused by the storm erosion and the clumps of Sea Oat grass left that used to be planted on the top of the eroded dune structure.
The provisional ladder placed at the end of our northern neighborhood beach access path.
The dunes nearest to Le Grand Merci are already growing back, thanks to the prevailing winter winds!
A couple of miles to the south of Le Grand Merci, there is much more debris on the beach due to the implosion of some older beachfront condominiums.
Amazingly, our home sustained only minor and cosmetic exterior damage. We did not have any flooding under our house and the interior of Le Grand Merci came through the storm looking just like it did before! All of the contractors in the region are completely swamped, but ours was finally able begin work on Le Grand Merci on December 27th. They have already finished installing the missing railing around our deck. Barring any unforeseen weather or supply-chain related delays that would be outside of their control, they appear to be on track to finish all repairs by the end of January. One possible challenge to that timeframe, given the very high demand for supplies from all of the builders throughout the region, is related to our decision to completely replace and upgrade the roof. Our builder's emergency response team did such an excellent job double-tarping our roof after Michael that we came through a winter storm during Christmas week with 45+ mph wind gusts and torrential rains without any damage to the tarps or any leakage whatsoever inside the house.
There is ongoing construction and associated work crews on all parts of the St. Joseph Peninsula for the moment. As a result, there is also a bit more traffic on Cape San Blas Road right now compared to the normally extremely slow pace of life, but nothing excessive and it dies away once the work day is finished. Some of the work they are doing occasions infrequent power and water outages, but these services are restored very promptly. In the neighborhood around Le Grand Merci itself, the most obvious consequence from Michael is that a majority of the surrounding pine trees had all of their needles blown off by its 155+ mph sustained winds. Most long-term residents on the Cape have assured us that the pine trees will grow back their missing needles over time. For the moment, the entire neighborhood looks a lot browner this winter than I remember it being in the past and we have lost some of the very secluded feeling we had before the storm. The upside to all of this is that we now have better views of both Gulf and Bay, especially from our upstairs bedroom windows. We had to remove about half of the tree located directly in front of the house since it was badly splintered. A few of the trees on the undeveloped lots located next to our property were blown over. We are not at liberty to cut them down or remove them since they do not belong to us.
The worst storm damage is located to the north and northwest of Cape San Blas. In Bay County where Panama City is located, an estimated that 75% of the trees have been blown over. Government weather authorities are giving serious consideration to retroactively raising Hurricane Michael’s official classification at landfall from a Category 4 hurricane to a Category 5 event. As you drive through Mexico Beach, you will find it easy to understand why. The section of Highway 98 that traverses Mexico Beach is occasionally and temporarily blocked while construction crews accomplish some specific task, but in those cases they provide well marked detours.
In Port St. Joe proper, the worst storm damage was from flooding instead of wind. Water rose to a few feet above ground throughout most of the downtown area closest to the Bay. It completely destroyed the Port St. Joe marina and washed over portions of US Highway 98 to the south of town towards Cape San Blas. Disaster relief workers have done a great job of cleaning up Reid Avenue (the quaint and popular historic shopping area of the town located one block east of Highway 98) and the rest of downtown. Many of the town’s shops and restaurants have already reopened, including all of our personal favorites. Gasoline is now for sale in town as well as out on the Cape at the Scallop Cove convenience store, with slightly higher prices than typical outside the area.
Duren’s Piggly Wiggly grocery store (it carries a good selection of food items and also operates a deli with excellent fried chicken!); the Dollar General Market (larger with a wider range of groceries and produce than the typical Dollar General establishment); the CVS pharmacy; and the True Value hardware store have all reopened, as have many other businesses of various kinds, especially those located three blocks or more from the Bayfront such as the Post Office; library; and local government offices.
Most of the business establishments on the St. Joseph Peninsula have already reopened, albeit with reduced hours over the near term. This includes the Scallop Cove convenience store (which has gas pumps and a functioning air hose for your tires); the Trading Post convenience store with its deli/pizza counter, donut stand, espresso coffee stand, and ice cream stand; Peachy’s Beach Tacos; the Sand Dollar Smokehouse and Grill; and the St. Joseph Shrimp Company which now serves lunch every day in addition to selling fresh, locally caught seafood. The Coneheads Restaurant located further up the Peninsula has not yet reopened. Some of the tourist-type activities have also recently re-opened such as various fish and boat charters including Bali-Hi pontoon charters. I have been told at least one of the beach horseback riding business is now functioning, too.
The T.H. Stone Memorial State Park has recently re-opened its lower portion which includes the public beach access area and marina/boat launch. It will undoubtedly be much longer before the campgrounds and cabins are available since Hurricane Michael cut what appears to be a temporary channel all the way across the narrowest part of the Peninsula! This cut, recently nicknamed “Eagle Pass” (because of the many bald eagles residing in the Park), already shows signs of filling back in, so Park authorities are waiting to see if human intervention in the form of beach restoration or bridge construction is truly warranted.
Most every road in Gulf County is open, including all of Cape San Blas and Port St. Joe. Some of them have been temporarily patched and have rough spots. These are quickly being replaced with permanent road surfaces on a rolling basis, so you may encounter signaling crews or ad-hoc stoplight systems that regulate alternating one-way traffic flows. As you drive out to Cape San Blas from Port St. Joe via Highway 98, you may be redirected via a short detour on Country Club road around the small bridge at Simmons Bayou while it is undergoing permanent repairs. Should this be the case, it will only add three or four minutes to your trip.
Once you turn from Highway 98 westward onto Cape San Blas Road and then reach the northward turn at “the Rocks” (aka “the Stumphole”), you will drive across a couple of portions of temporary driving surfaces where the Gulf washed completely across the road during the storm. The houses you pass by on the left used to have dunes between them and the Gulf. As a result of the dune erosion caused by Michael, the beach surface now slopes gently from the roadway all the way out to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, an amazing testimony to the power of Hurricane Michael. Beach restoration on this lower part of the peninsula is scheduled to begin soon. Highway crews are doing a great job of grading and restoring the road surface every few days in order to keep it safe and drivable, but I encourage you proceed slowly through this area until you have become accustomed to its peculiarities, especially when travelling after dark or after a hard rain since potholes can appear with little warning. It is my understanding that this portion of the road will receive permanent repairs beginning sometime during the month of February. Once you pass through this southernmost portion of the St. Joseph Peninsula, you will have a completely normal, paved road surface for the few miles left to drive northward until you reach Le Grand Merci.
Sunset at Christmas 2018