Fort Jackson Beach is a model for recovery after a hurricane

A tiny Florida beach town is rebuilding after a hurricane. Is it becoming a preserve of the rich?

Vincent M. Bledsoe / NPR

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Originally published on November 2, 2012 3:02 pm

A tiny beach town on Florida’s Gulf Coast has its first hurricane victim — and the most generous donations in town.

But while the town is not the only place in the world where the survivors’ story is being told, the storm-damaged town of Fort Jackson Beach has become an unlikely beacon of hope and inspiration.

A hurricane-damaged community with a population of nearly 100 people is rebuilding itself.

Fort Jackson Beach may be small, but it’s a model case for what cities and towns can recover from disaster.

“The community looks like one of the most successful recoveries in the history of the world,” says John Ritter, a retired lawyer who has visited the town about five or six times since Hurricane Katrina struck and spent two years consulting with FEMA.

Ritter, a Florida native, says he came here in 2006 just as Hurricane Katrina was raging across the Gulf Coast. He remembers a sense of serenity.

“The people were helping each other, and it was as if they understood that this is a community in pain,” he says, recalling the day that he met the next governor of the state, Rick Scott, at a diner.

“We had dinner, and every couple of minutes the governor would come up and say, ‘I hear you’ve lost power down here at Fort Jackson Beach,’ and I couldn’t believe it. I told him we had had power before, but it was restored — in 2002, before the hurricanes. So he was like, ‘Well, that makes a great story,’ ” Ritter relates in an interview.

“And he was really right,” says the native Floridian, who has remained in Fort Jackson Beach.

But the town is

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