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

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 Panhandle community centered around the glittering Saint 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 earn 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.


Clint Moore, 62, stands under the ruins of his wrecked two-story home in Simmons Bayou, Florida, eight days after Hurricane Michael devastated the area leaving hundreds of thousands without shelter, power and food. Moore lost his home and his family-owned shrimping business to the storm.


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.”

That’s what drew Moore here decades ago, when he and his siblings started their shrimp company. The fruitful waters earned him enough to build that little yellow house. It’s the kind of place, he said, where if you know one person you know everybody.

That’s why, even though the town was all but wiped off the map, he’ll stay.

“It’s home. Who wants to be anywhere but home?”


A red truck that once belonged to a Simmons Bayou man named Bill sits in a muddy lake behind his former home. Bill, his neighbors said, was killed trying to escape Hurricane Michael. His body was recovered days later near the truck.


But even if every home is rebuilt and every store reopens, one fixture of the community is gone forever.

Every day, Bill McConnell, a divorced man who worked at the nearby Advanced Autoparts, would walk up and down the waterfront street with his poodle and greet everybody. When Hurricane Micheal started churning toward the Panhandle, Moore begged his 70-year-old neighbor to leave, but he refused.

After the storm, they found McConnell’s red truck in the muddy lake behind his home, sunken to the wheel wells. The ignition was still on.

The way Moore figures it, McConnell realized at some point Hurricane Michael was too much for him to survive. Maybe it was the water rapidly drowning his first floor apartment a mere 40 feet from the bay. Maybe it was the winds that tore the buildings around him to shreds.

What’s clear is he tried to leave. Search and rescue found his car, and then him, a few days after the storm. He is one of 29 Floridians killed by Hurricane Micheal.

“He was buried up in mud and there weren’t but a foot sticking out,” Moore said. “He was swelled up and dead. Dead as hell.”

He took a deep breath, closing his eyes.

“Can you even imagine the last ten minutes of that man’s life?”