Remembering Hurricane Matthew in the Space Coast

by Lauren Mitchell

Lauren’s documentary project on Florida’s Space Coast is part of Confluence Issue Two.

Last October, Mexico Beach and the surrounding areas were obliterated from the 155mph storm. In the months since, residents have been displaced and left homeless.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew approached the Space Coast as a Category 5 Hurricane. It had already devastated Haiti. We had experienced nearly 12 years of zero landfalls. I had been in Florida for EIGHT years and at most felt a strong breeze from an offshore tropical storm.

I remember the spaghetti models having Matthew’s eye going straight up the Indian River. I remember deciding which belongings mattered most to me and having to pack my life up into what could fit my Honda Civic (in the years since, I’ve become really good at that — my life and my family’s essentials fit into four boxes). I remember having to manage all my mother in laws medications and filling syringes of insulin for her after we brought her from the nursing home to where we evacuated (thankfully we evacuated to a house where a pharmacist lived Jessica Thomason). I remember worrying about James who had to stay behind to work at the water plant (and does so for every single hurricane). I remember friends pleading with loved ones who refused to leave Cocoa Beach, where storm surge was expected as high as rooftops (which is what DID end up happening to Mexico Beach and why people were killed). I remember hardly being able to sleep that night as I watched the news coverage as it crept up the coast. I remember getting photos from James of our neighborhood and seeing green and branches and downed trees EVERYWHERE. And all of this was the BEST outcome.

That has become our new normal experience as Floridians, having had three major hurricanes hit us three years in a row. We easily become jaded by the ‘over-hype’ by the media when the storms don’t pan out the way they forecasted. We get angry for them upending our lives and we become apathetic. Sure, we have damage, but we clean it up and get over it until the next one rolls around. But then all the shit they warned about comes true and destroys an entire community. And it only takes a few months to forget again.

A simple wobble east and thirty miles difference was all that saved us from what likely would have been similar to Hurricane Michael. What happened there could happen to any of us here, or on the east coast for that matter, and all that decides our fate sometimes is a wobble.

I drive all over this state making photographs and because of that I have learned what a beautiful, complicated place this is. It will forever have a piece of my heart — which is the absolute LAST thing I’d ever imagine myself saying when I moved here ten years ago. I don’t like the idea of anyone being forgotten here after something like this has happened to them. Raising $2000 is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to everything they need. But I’m hoping it’s a small gesture to let them know we are still thinking about them.

Learn more at this fundraising page and if you can, give a bit to help.