Hurricane Ivan, September 2004 gave the folks here in Pensacola Florida and surrounding area a good dose of what a hurricane is really about.
We had been lulled into a false sense of security. In the recent past, the times we did get hit the local economy got up and running again quickly. Don't misunderstand this statement, folks got hurt, property got damaged and everyone suffered some form of economic loss due to the tropical storms and hurricanes that chose the Florida Panhandle to visit. It ain't fun dealing with these forces of nature.
Hurricane Ivan brought the local economy to a dead stop for many weeks after the storm.
Hurricane Dennis chugging thru the Gulf of Mexico projected to visit the Florida Panhandle or surrounding area as a strong storm sent everyone into a frenzy of preparing. Most of us learned our lessons well from Ivan.
Days before the storm hit the stores were cleaned out. I went to the store for a few items the day before and was amazed at the number of people who had waited until the last moment to stock up. They did not have much to choose from.
My hurricane preparations started several days before. I purchased a bottled gas lantern along with eight bottles of the little green screw on bottles, another oil lantern including oil. Naturally batteries and some flashlights were thrown in the cart. This year we bought one of the new five day coolers made by Rubbermaid, a second one was purchased later. Water and ice are always the big issues right after any storm. Based upon what happened after Ivan, four cases of water were included in my pre-purchases. Three 20lbs bags of ice was the limit of our storage ability.
In addition a lot of junk food and sodas were purchased to get us thru. During past storms we bought a lot of canned meat and canned food. Most of this stuff never got eaten; eventually it was donated to our Church's food pantry program. I don't mind the donation but have realized buying this stuff for hurricane preparation just has not worked out. What does work are hot dogs, sausage dogs and canned tuna.
Once home two 20lbs bags of ice fill one of the five day coolers, the other goes into the refrigerator freezer along with the hot dogs and sausage dogs. As many bottles of water are crammed in to the freezer that will fit.
Our house is still un-livable courtesy hurricane Ivan, the refrigerator is about all that is in the house at this time. The refrigerator freezer will hold two cases of water. I found out later do not just put a case of water wrapped up into the freezer. The inner bottles will take much longer to freeze. Another case was left in the refrigerator section.
We keep a big plastic tub for hurricane survival stuff. I pulled it out of storage and surveyed the contents. Most of the items we needed, it was brought to the apartment; we live at pending resolution of our insurance claim concerning the house.
I was unsure what to do about gasoline for Lela's van and my truck. Both were filled. The big question of course concerns buying gas tanks and storing fuel. In order to make it worth while I would need six to eight 6 gallon cans. Do I really want to lug all that to our house.
Hurricane Ivan knocked out so much electricity buying gas was very hard for weeks afterward. Getting the tanker trucks in was compromised due to bridge damage and felled trees blocking roadways. The whole gas thing was a big hassle for everyone involved. Buying gas after any hurricane or tropical storm is a problem; Ivan just took it to the next level.
The gas issue was resolved for me. The closer the storm the longer the lines and fewer gas stations had anything to sell. By 3pm Saturday I doubt there was much available.
The day before found me and a friend boarding up the house of some folks un-able to do it themselves. We finished just as the sky was getting black from the first feeder band spun off the storm to hit the area. The rain came and went, reports of lightening were bad. A big power boat anchored out in Bayou Chico was reported hit by lightening. It was burning bright for all to see. First boat damaged of the storm.
It dawned upon me it would be nice to have several pairs of shorts to work in after the storm. Another trip to Wal-Mart, I was amazed at the number of people who waited until the last moment to stock up. There wasn't much available. Clothing wise Wal-Mart had plenty and once again I supported the job security of the employees.
Our apartment is further south than our house; I did not wish to ride out a hurricane at the apartment. We unplugged everything secured everything and raised the furniture off the floor using blocks cut from 2x4's. Covered as much of our furniture as we could with plastic. Shut off the electricity to everything except the refrigerator. The second five day cooler had been filled with frozen water bottles and topped with canned soda.
Closed the door and went to a friend's house. Lela and I slept in the living room and all night the big screen TV was on the local station. Sunday morning 5 am the forecast had deteriated. Dennis was clocking 140 MPH wind speeds and gusts up to 170 mph.
Now here is the tough part.
I woke up Lela and told her to wake our host. It was time to talk. We decided to bug out to a shelter. Rounding up the kids and loading the essentials took a bit longer than I anticipated. A note for next time "do not unload as much stuff".
The trip to the school serving as a shelter was uneventful; some rain the winds not bad. Once there we had to sign in and find our spot in the hallway of the school. We had both coolers a big box of junk food a smaller box of junk food, sleeping gear and personal items. It seemed to be a lot of stuff. We set up camp and settled in. I brought two air mattresses they proved worth the effort it took to blow them up. The best thing you can do in the shelter is sleep; there is not much else other than hang out. Lots of other folks up and down the hall, there is always someone walking around.
Over all communal living until the storm passed and we were allowed to leave went fortunately uneventful. There were a few places the roof leaked, into trash cans. Late in the storm water backed up thru some exterior doors into some other halls; forcing the folks there to move. The rest of us consolidated to make room.
The building cleared out quickly once the storm passed enough for folks to leave. The risk of tornadoes was still high but the hurricane had moved north. Perception of safety is a relative thing. Fortunately it was not raining as we moved all our junk back into two vans and my truck.
We quickly noted the lack of debris in the roads as we returned to our friend's house. A few roads were blocked by fallen trees, compared to other storms this was nothing the return trip completed easily. Naturally traffic lights were out so you needed to stop at each one to allow other traffic to go thru the intersection.
Our friends house was undamaged, gear unloaded quickly. Lela and I set off to determine the fate of our apartment and house quickly before the 8pm curfew. First to the apartment, we were mostly concerned about flooding as we have a downstairs apartment built on reclaimed swampland. Early this spring Pensacola got hit by some ferocious rain storms the apartment did not flood. Still it was a concern especially as I have not purchased flood insurance.
As we drove Hwy 98 west Lela was most excited by the lights in many of buildings still on even at the intersection of Hwy 98 and Blue Angel Pkwy. As we turned south on Blue Angle Pkwy the Dog Track Rd. intersection red light was out and we knew there was little chance of power still on at the apartment. The apartment was still there in one piece, the newly repaired roof (from Ivan) held and the blue tarps over the damaged vinyl siding (from Ivan) still there most of all no flooding.
Backtracking we drove to our house. Here was the real test. The road my house sits on has a tendency to flood. Most of the houses sit high enough from the road and don't flood. Getting down the road can be a challenge especially with hurricane debris. There was no flooding and minor debris in the road the house still in one piece. If Dennis had taken the house down it would have done us a favor so we had mixed emotions about the house.
Returning to our friend's house it was time to break out the lanterns, set up the gas burners and cook hot dogs and sausage dogs still frozen. The weather still breezy keeping the mosquitoes down made for an enjoyable evening in the garage before bedtime. The wind kept the house cool thru the night, for the most part we all slept well.
Lela and I went to her job and started the pos-hurricane unpacking along with her boss. All the computers and related stuff is Lela's domain at her work. There seemed to be no damage to the building this time around. Afterward once again it was time to go south to see if the electricity was on at the apartment. The red light at Dog Track Rd and Blue Angle Pkwy was working.
The refrigerator was running. I flipped the rest of the breakers on the electrical panel. We called some friends to meet us at a restaurant we saw open had lunch while the air conditioner cooled the apartment. Fortunately the apartment had not heated too much and it cooled down quickly. After lunch it was time to move once again. This moving process involves lifting both full coolers into the back of my truck along with the rest of our junk.
It didn't take much to get the apartment squared away and set back up. Our friend came over with her stuff and son. On Friday before the storm I drove her husband to Pensacola Airport; he is in the Navy and was due back to his duty station.
Another friend showed up with her small daughter and son, they had a generator to run the refrigerator, freezer and some lights at their house, no air conditioning. Her husband stayed with the house.
Sitting around discussing where to go for dinner and what time to leave I reminded everyone about the 8pm curfew and that we needed to get going.
Our three bedroom apartment allowed each family group to at least have their own room, two bathrooms helped considerably. My daughter slept in the living room.
Our four cats were not sure exactly what to do. Two of them stayed hidden as much as possible. We have one cat that has to be in the middle of everything. He got plenty of exercise dodging the two young boys about the same age and the little girl. The fourth cat learned quickly to hide under tables and chairs.
By Tuesday evening the power was back on at everyone's house. Our apartment emptied and life is once again returning to a semblance of normal.
Tuesday morning I spent picking up debris from my yard and mowing the yard. Compared to past tropical storms and hurricanes this was nothing. I only had one pick up truck load to haul to the curb.
My idea to freeze as much water as possible worked out well. The case and a half of water at the house still in the freezer would have lasted for many days still cold. I packed the freezer at the apartment full of frozen water bottles and the stuff we had in the freezer. If the power had not returned promptly the frozen water would keep everything else cold for a while.
The two five day coolers worked great. I kept two bags of ice in one for two days before the storm, drained water thru the drain plug once a day and did not open the cooler. On Saturday early evening I opened the cooler to add the third bag of ice and packed in what sodas and frozen water I could.
The second cooler had been filled with frozen water from the house and the house freezer refilled. The frozen water bottles are slow to thaw and worked great. As we removed water and soda's I tried to pack in new sodas to keep a stock of cold ones on hand.
By Tuesday we still had lots of ice left to put back into the freezer at our apartment. Draining off the water thru the drain hole daily seemed to help keep melting to a minimum.
Hurricane season does not end until late October, I will try to keep the freezer at the house packed full of frozen water bottles.
In the future I will buy some six gallon gas cans and fill them a few days before landfall of any storm. Gas stations opened quickly this time around.
I can't count on this always being the case. Had there been a problem getting gas my thirsty truck would end up parked. Forcing us to use the van more, there by using its fuel up quicker.
This was my first time sheltering thru a storm. It was strange to not hear the wind howling or the rain blowing sideways at high speed. Not having to worry about losing a roof or windows or what to do if things go wrong at the house was a blessing.
Don't kid yourself; the same thing can happen at a shelter. The shelters are supposed to be built to withstand specified wind loading; it doesn't guarantee something bad can't happen.
During Hurricane Ivan I was out of the country, my wife and daughter had to deal with the situation on their own until I could get back. They had used a shelter during Ivan.
Pensacola got lucky this time around which means other folks did not. The North East quadrant of a hurricane is what I call the bleeding side. The winds are stronger and much more dangerous than the North West quadrant. Hurricane Dennis came ashore east of Pensacola, near Navarre Florida. The eye of hurricane Dennis was much smaller than Ivan. I am sure lots of folks in Pensacola got hit hard so don't let my good fortune lull you into thinking this was no big deal.
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