Ivan extends soggy march across the South
AP National Writer
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) – The storm that was Hurricane Ivan extended its deadly march across the South on Friday, destroying homes, swamping streets and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power from the Gulf Coast to the Carolinas.
Ivan was the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States since Floyd in 1999, but it could have been worse. In all, the hurricane was blamed for 70 deaths in the Caribbean and at least 33 in the United States, 14 of them in Florida.
More bad news could await: The storm’s remnants battered the southern Appalachians on Friday. And Tropical Storm Jeanne looms in the Atlantic on a track toward the southeastern United States – and, possibly, Florida.
“People are just sick of it,” groaned Dennis Mace, who as a handyman is one of the few Floridians benefiting after the third hurricane in five weeks assaulted the Sunshine State. Hunting for work in the wake of Ivan, Mace spotted a sign that summed up the feelings of many:
It read: “1 Charley, 2 Frances, 3 Ivan, 4 Sale.”
Ivan weakened after coming ashore, but it continued to spin off tornadoes and cause flooding across the South, already soggy after Hurricanes Charley and Frances. Up to 9 inches of rain fell on parts of Georgia.
In North Carolina, Ivan’s heavy rain and wind forced evacuations along rivers, knocked out power to more than a hundred thousand residents and sent trees crashing into homes across the western part of the state. At least six people died there. The hurricane’s remnants also prompted flood warnings in 34 eastern and middle Tennessee counties, where forecasters predicted up to 7 inches of rain.
By late morning Friday, the storm’s remnants were centered about 45 miles east of Knoxville, Tenn., at the state’s eastern tip.
Ivan came ashore with 130 mph winds near Gulf Shores Beach, Ala., around 2 a.m. CDT Thursday, but it was the Panhandle – squarely in the northeast quadrant of the storm, where the winds are most violent – that took the brunt. More than 2 million residents along a 300-mile stretch of the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Panama City, Fla., cleared out as Ivan closed in.
In Escambia County, home to Pensacola and some 300,000 residents, at least seven people died in the storm, including one who suffered a heart attack at a shelter.
“Some of the houses, everything inside was gone out of one side – like a heavy wave of water hit it and spit the stuff inside of the house out,” Sheriff Ron McNesby said.
Electricity, water and sewer services could take weeks to be restored, Escambia County emergency management chief Michael Hardin said Friday.
“We’ve got a long haul ahead of us,” Hardin told NBC’s “Today.”
Off Gulf Shores Highway, in a neighborhood nestled along Pensacola’s Grand Lagoon, at least a half dozen homes and businesses were demolished – some swept clear off their foundations.
The hiss and stench of leaking gas filled the air as stricken residents waded through calf-high water collecting what belongings they could.
Doug Pacitti, a deck hand on a charter fishing boat, lived with his friend and 4-year-old son across the street from the bay. On Thursday, he stepped over crumbled bricks, broken dishes and plywood to survey what was left of the house he rented.
Where the kitchen should have been, silverware and skillets sat under an open sky. The refrigerator was propelled into the back yard, where it came to rest under a fallen pine tree.
“Everything’s gone – everything,” said Pacitti, 31. “Three thousand dollars worth of fishing poles. The antique dishes my grandmother gave me – gone. Even my kid’s toys.”
A storm surge of 10 to 16 feet spawned monster waves. A portion of a bridge on Interstate 10, the major east-west highway through the Panhandle, was washed away.
Search and rescue missions in Florida continued, but no new storm victims were found early Friday, Santa Rosa County spokesman Don Chinery said. A National Guard convoy left Tallahassee early Friday to deliver food, ice, water and other supplies to hard-hit areas, and counties hoped to get relief centers set up later in the day.
About 437,000 homes and businesses in eight Panhandle counties – nearly all of Gulf Power Co.’s customers – were without power. Alabama still had 975,000 customers without power; Georgia, 265,000; and Mississippi nearly 60,000.
Federal Emergency Management Agency director Mike Brown said search and rescue workers may have to use aircraft to get to hard-hit areas that are cut off by washed-out roads.
“Virtually the entire state of Florida is a disaster area,” Brown told CBS’ “Early Show.” “These people are just worn out from these storms.”
Insurance experts put Ivan’s damage at anywhere from $3 billion to $10 billion. Hurricanes Charley and Frances had combined estimated insured damages between about $11 billion and $13 billion after striking Florida in the past month.
The troika of hurricanes – Charley, Frances and Ivan – have the potential to give Florida’s $50 billion tourist industry a “black eye” in the long term, said Abraham Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
President Bush planned to visit Alabama and Florida to survey the damage on Sunday, the White House said.
In Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Blanco was thankful for Ivan’s narrow miss.
“Louisiana truly is blessed,” Blanco said, asking evacuees to “remember to be thankful that most people are returning to safe, sound, whole homes.”
If Louisiana was blessed, Florida remained cursed.
“It’s sad,” said a weary Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “I don’t know quite why we’ve had this run of storms. You just have to accept that.”
By the hurricane center’s tally, counting deaths directly caused by a storm as it hits, Ivan was the deadliest hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Hurricane Floyd killed 56 people in 1999. Ivan’s unofficial death toll included 14 in Florida, three in Mississippi, one in Alabama, four in Georgia, one in Tennessee and six in North Carolina. In Louisiana, four evacuees died after being taken from their storm-threatened homes to safer parts of the state.
For Floridians weary of all the worry, aggravation and heartache of the past month, there was one final number to consider Friday: There are 73 days left in the hurricane season.
Editor’s Note: Associated Press reporters Brent Kallestad, Bill Kaczor, Matt Crenson and David Royse in Florida, Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala., and Holbrook Mohr in Pascagoula, Miss., contributed to this report.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov