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Post-Idalia, residents in Horseshoe Beach consider whether to rebuild or move on


When Hurricane Idalia came ashore in Florida earlier this week, it battered beach towns and fishing communities along what's known as the nature coast. One tiny fishing village especially ravaged was Horseshoe Beach, Fla. NPR's Bobby Allyn went there to talk to residents about whether they plan to rebuild or start over someplace else.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: For five generations, Austin Ellison's family has been in the same business in Horseshoe Beach, Fla.

AUSTIN ELLISON: We supply seafood all over the state of Florida - live shrimp, all kind of seafood.

ALLYN: But when Idalia struck the coast as a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds, his family's business, Ed's Baithouse and Marina, took a frontal hit. Ellison describes this standing feet away from where the business once stood.

ELLISON: This over to my right. As you can see over to my right, it's gone. It's gone, completely gone. Only thing that's left is the roof right there.

ALLYN: Ellison points to his shrimping boat, named Miss Laura, floating in a nearby canal. Its windows were busted. It survived otherwise. But with his family business flattened and his home here also having taken a beating, Ellison wonders, is it worth rebuilding at all or moving on?

ELLISON: It makes you think, what's next? Do you throw your hands up? I mean, what do you do?

ALLYN: What do you do? It's something many residents and business owners are asking themselves as they dig out of rubble and fear that this remote village known for shrimping, clamming and scalloping won't be able to make a comeback. Dennis Buckley says he's going to do his part to make sure it does. Buckley ran a business called The Marina that offered boating supplies, motel units and spaces for RVs. The storm nearly blew it all away.

DENNIS BUCKLEY: Takes your breath away, but that's about where we're at with it, you know?

ALLYN: The business is still standing, but its windows and interiors have been completely destroyed.

BUCKLEY: We're not quitters. We just do one thing - move on. You can't change yesterday. You just go ahead and clean this up, and we'll be open again.

ALLYN: As the long cleanup process goes on, Buckley says those coming to just catch a glimpse of the destruction should stay away.

BUCKLEY: This isn't a spectacle. This is a catastrophe.

ALLYN: The most fortunate ones in Horseshoe Beach are people like longtime resident Sharee Douglas. As we looked at her house, a nearby neighbor also assessing property damage, waved,

SHAREE DOUGLAS: Hey. How are y'all doing?

ALLYN: The neighbor said, wow, your house fared pretty well. The reason? The 18-foot stilts supporting Douglas' house. Douglas, like many others, heeded officials' warnings to evacuate ahead of the storm.

DOUGLAS: I think the people leaving and just securing what they could probably saved a lot of lives down here.

ALLYN: And while her home made it through, she worries the community might not. She says a big chunk of the population is already seasonal due to fishing and the ebbs and flows of tourism. So if too many restart someplace else, it will fray Horseshoe Beach's community fabric.

DOUGLAS: This is a community where when it is sunset, everybody gets on their golf cart and their four wheelers or side-by-sides, and we all ride down to the point and watch sunset together as a community. And that's not unusual to have 100 people, 150 people down there.

ALLYN: And if there really are 150 people gathering, that's just about everyone. The town's population is 172. But there are so many towns along this part of Florida like Horseshoe Beach, tight-knit communities vital to the state's fishing industry, which could be disrupted by the storm, bringing so many fishing operations to a halt. Seafood business owner Austin Ellison - he says if people do visit during the rebuild, he has one request.

ELLISON: They get a two-by-four - just bring it to 262 Main Street.

ALLYN: Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Horseshoe Beach, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF 9TS AND NUEVO AMBIENTE'S "RAINDROPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.