Victims of Hurricane Ivan, many without power, begin slow recovery

Saturday, September 18th 2004, 10:46 am
By: News On 6

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ Their homes are in ruin, many have only the shirts on their backs. Yet, those who took a direct hit from Hurricane Ivan are vowing to rebuild their wind-blown and rain-soaked lives.

Residents of the Alabama Gulf Coast and the Florida Panhandle returned to their neighborhoods Friday to find their roofs blown off, appliances missing and clothing littered in the streets. Emergency officials promised to deliver needed supplies such as water and bedding, but found going difficult because of debris-strewn roads, washed out highways and power outages.

Officials said it would take weeks for power, sewer and water services to be restored in parts of the Panhandle, another storm-ravaged section of a state already hit by Hurricanes Charley and Frances during an otherwise steamy summer. Those storms left Floridians without power for days.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush offered a grim assessment of the damage from Ivan, which struck the Gulf Coast early Thursday with the sledgehammer force of 130-mph wind and major storm surge.

``The power issue is going to be a bigger issue than in Charley or Frances,'' Bush said Friday. ``Living without air conditioning, it's not just an inconvenience, that's a health issue for a lot of people.''

More than a million people were without power across eight states. Gulf Power Co. had repaired its main generating plant, near Pensacola, along with 20 substations and about 150 miles of its 790 miles of damaged transmission lines as of Friday, but more than 340,000 Florida homes and businesses remained without power Saturday, state officials said. Nearly double that number were without power in Alabama.

Ivan was the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States since 1999 when Floyd killed 57 _ 56 in the United States and one in the Bahamas. Ivan has been blamed for 70 deaths in the Caribbean and 42 in the United States, 16 of them in Florida.

David and Melinda Hastings waited in line Friday at the Family Foods Market in Pensacola, among many frustrated people seeking water, food and cigarettes.

``I've been here since '71 _ and I'm sick of it,'' said David Hastings, 33, who works for a towing company. He spent 23 days in the St. Petersburg area helping clean up from Charley, returning a week ago only to find himself in the midst of another hurricane.

``It's devastating. There's so many people who lost so much,'' said Melinda Hastings, 32. ``We'll make it if everybody holds together and puts it back together. We'll be all right.''

Bush deployed about 2,000 National Guard troops to the Panhandle. His brother, President Bush, was expected to visit the area Sunday _ the president's third trip to review hurricane damage in Florida.

The Red Cross appealed for more donations and volunteers. The combined cost of the hurricane season before Ivan was expected to be $50 million, about $14 million more than what had been donated to the agency nationwide this year. Agency officials said it was still too soon to say how much Ivan might add to that price tag

On the Alabama coast, the floods that turned beach playgrounds into huge lakes began to recede, revealing widespread wreckage. At Gulf Shores, some homes were swept over a beach road littered with thousands of air conditioning units, boards and shingles.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said he was ``absolutely shocked at the devastation'' and promised a full cleanup and recovery.

``This is the gem of the South,'' Riley said. ``We've got to clean it up as quickly as we can.''

Bush and Sen. Bill Nelson flew in a helicopter Friday over the normally picturesque barrier islands that dot the Gulf Coast.

``All of the dunes are gone,'' Nelson said. ``All of those sugary white beaches and the dunes have been washed over the entire barrier island. It looks like its the entire white barrier island.''

About 660,000 Alabama homes and businesses remained without power Friday, down from the state record 1.1 million power outages reported after Ivan roared through the state Thursday.

Ivan struck at a time when Florida is still reeling from Hurricanes Charley and Frances. Charley ravaged the state's west coast five weeks ago, while Frances pounded the east over Labor Day weekend.

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.

Pensacola firefighter Al Jackson, 52, and his wife, Donna, 52, returned to their Gulf Breeze condo and found severely damaged _ the storm surge crushed part of the home, which had a water mark at the top of the front door.

``You don't realize it's going to be this bad,'' Donna Jackson said. ``It's pretty much history because the ceiling has caved in,'' she said.

Added her husband: ``We're overwhelmed, just overwhelmed.''

Naval Air Station Pensacola suffered damage estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the Navy said Friday. Ninety percent of the buildings on the base suffered ``significant'' damage, although no injuries were reported, according to a Navy statement.

Near Pensacola on Friday, divers recovered the body of a truck driver who died when the cab of his tractor-trailer fell off an Interstate 10 bridge that had been broken apart by the hurricane. The trailer was still perched precariously on the edge if the bridge.

Ivan weakened after coming ashore with 130 mph wind early Thursday, but it continued to spin off tornadoes and cause flooding across the South, already soggy after Charley and Frances.