One forgotten tragedy heaped upon the calamity of 9/11 is the great number of people who went missing in the dust and chaos, while relatives stumbled through the following days and weeks searching desperately in hospitals, morgues and cell phones for their beloved.
A similar torrent of anguish and gloom descended in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. As of early last week, some 250 people were unaccounted for, many of them in the area of little Mexico Beach, Florida, which was essentially wiped off the map.
The Augusta Chronicle's editorial cartoonist, Rick McKee, who grew up in Tallahassee and Chattahoochee, Florida, spent many childhood and even young adult hours at Mexico Beach. Smaller and more obscure than the famous tourist destinations of Panama City, Destin and Pensacola, Mexico Beach has been a favorite of locals for its relative quiet.
There's nothing worse than losing loved ones, and losing them even temporarily when they go missing isn't any better. But you never expect to lose an entire place — one that is so much a part of your past that it has become part and parcel of your psyche.
McKee now knows that gut-punch feeling.
"It's just been obliterated," he says of the Mexico Beach of his fondest memories. "It's just gone. It's all gone. A part of my childhood is just gone."
His mother can clutch worn photographs of McKee as a toddler romping the area. At his brother's funeral recently, there was talk of times at Mexico Beach.
"It's like losing a little chunk of your life," he says. "You know you're going to lose people in your lifetime, but you never think you're going to lose a place. You think it's always going to be there. It's turned into a memory, literally overnight."
Even more than for himself and his memories, McKee mourns for the people of Mexico Beach and all the other communities devastated by Hurricane Michael. They've lost their own memories, too, but their houses and businesses and schools and churches to boot, and that's infinitely worse. The corner drug store, the neighborhood grocery, the local cafe, all the cherished landmarks. Gone. Your home's walls and ceilings, your favorite recliner, your family photos and heirlooms, the pencil marks noting your children's growth. All gone.
Where will you even sleep tonight?
Rick McKee feels their loss more than many today. But you don't have to have lived or frolicked on the Panhandle to know the ache and agony in our back yard — or to help in their recovery. There are myriad ways to pitch in, including through the American Red Cross. American Red Cross of Augusta Executive Director Susan Everitt this week was deployed in south Georgia, where she told us "the devastation is real."
You can call in your donation to 800-HELP-NOW (800-435-7669); text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation; or go to redcross.org/donate.
We can't block the wind or avert the gloom or restore a place that exists only in memories. But we can put a small salve on a soul in dire need of it.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD