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In tiny Florida fishing village, hurricane took a home, a neighbor and a way of life

Alex Harris, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

SIMMONS BAYOU, Fla. -- The sign for St. Joe Shrimp Company is broken and covered in the bone-white shells they used to sell to tourists in the attached convenience store, along with bait and beer and cigarettes. All that's left are the posts holding up the shredded roof, from which Clint Moore, who owns the business with his siblings, hung a big American flag.

The boats they used to catch the plump Gulf shrimp are gone, who knows where. His nets are tinseled in the snapped off pines behind his home across the street. His employees are scattered to nearby states, with no job (or maybe home) to come back to.

"We been fishing and oystering and clamming and shrimping for 35 years," he said. "I really don't know if it'll ever be built back again."

Moore, 56, lived and worked in Simmons Bayou, a rural Florida Panhandle community centered around the glittering St. Joseph Bay that just about everyone made their living from. Hurricane Michael turned those bountiful waters into a weapon, washing away the handful of businesses and two dozen homes that dotted its shores.

The fishing town is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it stop on County Road 30A between the bigger and busier city of Port St. Joe to the north and a state nature preserve that marks the entrance to Cape San Blas. That thin strip of land, mostly populated with luxurious vacation homes and a handful of full-time residents, curves to form the outer boundary of the bay. The storm tore the cape into islands that workers in heavy machinery were busily reconnecting a week after the storm.

In Simmons Bayou, a town so small it hasn't earned a census designation, all the recovery work last week was being done by hand by the locals. Shirtless, sweaty men shovel soggy detritus out of the remains of an office, swatting the biting dog flies nipping at their calves. A neighbor burns a mountain of debris.

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Moore stood across the street from his former business in the shade of his home, which was ruined by the storm that also took his livelihood. He's camping out on the second floor for the foreseeable future. He said his home is one of six that can be repaired. The other 20 in town "are toast."

Like most of his neighbors, Moore didn't have insurance. Rebuilding his bright yellow house and the store across the street is going to be a painful, personally financed ordeal.

Part of that recovery will include convincing tourists to bring their campers back to the bayside RV resort, rent his pontoon boats and visit the community's two restaurants and two gas stations again.

"We don't have water slides and we don't have bowling alleys," he said. "People come here for the bay."

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