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In March of 1993, a destructive storm surge produced by the cyclonic “No Name” storm devastated the beach towns of Taylor County.  The raging waters destroyed 57 houses and killed ten people in Dekle Beach.  There had been very little warning about the massive impending “weather event” and the beachside residents were caught off-guard.

Today, Dekle Beach is half the size it used to be. 

Nearby Keaton Beach also suffered heavy damage.  Seventeen years after the event, though, reminders of the tragedy are mostly seen in new housing built stork-like in response to modern building codes and in a poignant message scrawled on the front of a home that, due to its lower elevation, must have survived the storm intact.

At a small bridge in Dekle Beach, a sign remembers members of one family that were killed in the disaster.

A tornado siren rises above Keaton Beach, just adjacent to the 700-foot-long pier.

Out of tourist season, Keaton Beach had few visitors.  A man holding a net stood motionless on a railing at the top of the pier, waiting to toss the net  into the shallow water below.  He concentrated on the water in this silent vigil, and although I was tempted to ask him what he was trying to catch, I didn’t interrupt.  Instead, I tiptoed by, afraid of disturbing his focus.  I watched him from a distance:  Was it fish or crustacean he was after?

I counted five people using the beach.  The tide was out, but the sun was strong.  A carful of people drove into the parking lot as I reached into my car for my hat.  The car pulled abreast of me and a woman rolled down the passenger-side window and made a comment about my hat that I chose not to hear; this wasn’t Palm Beach, after all, where wearing a men’s fishing hat might be seen as sure indicator of having no fashion sense.  Or money.

We wandered up the road from Keaton Beach to Dekle Beach and then back again, remarking on the unspoiled quality of the coastline but noting some signage that indicated development was on the way.  To my mind, this is Florida’s fatal flaw:  If the land is empty, it should be developed.  Or if it is already developed but the development is outmoded, it should be redeveloped. It doesn’t matter if that land is in downtown Gainesville or in the vast strip-mall sprawl around Orlando or out in the wilds of the Big Bend.  It seems that an acre without a building is a wasted acre, or that a seagrass bed without condos rising high above is an impediment to personal financial gain.

My advice is to go out and enjoy coastal Taylor County while there is still something to be enjoyed.  The prevalence of expensive housing, especially on Dark Island, indicates that the fishing-village atmosphere will suffer the same “coastal erosion” that plagues every other rural seaside town in Florida.

An annual event with cooking contest, music, and crafts. Despite outdated sign, the Scallop Swing will take place on July 4th, 2010.  Mark your calendars.

Boat at Bird Island.  Bird Island is a peninsula below Keaton Beach and it is for sale.

Keaton Beach

Tornado siren at Keaton Beach

Keaton Beach Pier

Keaton Beach hot dog stand

Or you could backtrack to Bird Island and buy some mullet.

We drove right onto Bird Island, but Jug Island (another peninsula) was gated.

A message of thanks in Dekle Beach.

Memorial on Dekle Beach Bridge.