Dispatch from St. Marks

The small port city in Florida’s Big Bend area took a hit, but escaped the worst of Michael’s fury

Photo: Dave Lear

Bo Lynn’s Grocery Store had four feet of water swirling inside; much of its inventory was destroyed.

The tiny community of St. Marks, Florida, a port city of about three hundred residents in the Florida Panhandle, has a long history with wind and water. But few storms have affected it as much as Hurricane Michael has.

As the near-Category 5 storm blasted ashore a hundred miles west with record winds, St. Marks, twenty miles south of Tallahassee, was enduring its worst flooding in memory. Propelled by the relentless wind and waves, several feet of salt water and marsh silt slammed into the city that dates back to the late 1600s and left a gooey, soggy mess.

“I’ve stayed during every storm for the last thirteen years, including Hurricane Dennis,” said Brett Shields, who runs Shields Marina, a family business since 1952. “But I left for this one because my family gave me so much grief. I went home late Wednesday morning but came back at seven and got to work. This was the worst I’ve ever seen with eight inches more water than Dennis.”

The marina didn’t sustain any wind damage and only two boats outside the towering dry storage barn sank. But the economic impact of lost business, preparation, and clean-up is substantial.

Photo: Dave Lear

One of the boats that sustained damage at Shields Marina.

“I had twenty-five staff getting ready for nearly two days beforehand and now it’s all hands cleaning up. There’s marsh muck everywhere and it’s easier to rinse away while it’s still wet.”

Shields is also worried about unknown costs once the marina does reopen. Many customers who trailered boats home to Tallahassee for safe-keeping may not return with the slow winter season rapidly approaching.

“I’ve got to pay our staff so they can support their families,” he adds. “We’ll see how it all plays out. One thing is certain, no one will be forgetting Michael anytime soon.”

A block away, Joy Brown, owner of Bo Lynn’s Grocery Store for the past fifty-three years, supervised as family and friends hauled out ruined groceries and scrubbed coolers. Listed on the National Historical Registry in 2017, this iconic landmark has survived countless storms over the decades. But never one as bad as Michael.

Photo: Dave Lear

Joy Brown, better known as Miss Joy, has owned Bo Lynn’s for fifty-three years.

“I usually stay, but not this time,” the frail proprietor known affectionately as Miss Joy said. “It just breaks your heart to look inside and see what happened.” The store had more than four feet of flood water swirling inside for hours. Nearly three-quarters of the inventory was destroyed.

“You can’t take the time feeling sorry for yourself because there are so many others worse off than you are,” Brown said. “It’s amazing all the friends and neighbors who pour in to help.”

When she was reminded that the community depends on her, she had a quick reply.

“I depend on them, too. St. Marks is one community you can always count on in any disaster. I never think about quitting and closing the doors. I just clean up and reopen again.”

More on Michael:

>> A fishing guide sees devastation first-hand in Mexico Beach

>> An Old-Florida raw bar finds hope after Michael

>> How to help those affected by the hurricane