My Hurricane Ivan Experience


Tuesday, September 14 - The Storm Approaches

Got up early, though I didn't have to go to work. Have to love a job where they'll give you a day off to prepare! Already had the windows boarded up (courtesy of a neighbor with extraordinarily helpful parents who got us the plywood), so all that was left to do was get a few supplies and pick up the stuff around the outside of the house. Monitored the storm's progress off and on throughout the day, and like most, figured it would lose some of its power before it got to us. Went to bed with no worries.

Wednesday, September 15 - The Storm Grows Nearer

Day dawns with clear skies. The wind has picked up just a little overnight, but not bad at all. One neighbor leaves early in the morning, the other around noon. They shake their heads at me and ask me one last time if I'm sure I really want to stay. I smile and say I'll be just fine - after all, our houses have weathered much worse storms in the past. They've stood through Camille, Opal, Erin, Danny, Frederic - they'll be fine through this one too. I'm still not feeling anxious about it - it feels more like an adventure than an ordeal. As I watch my neighbors drive away, I have no premonition of how wrong I would prove to be about that feeling.

10 AM - The Adventure Begins

The first rain bands and wind gusts from Ivan are coming ashore. I go outside and take a couple of pictures of my neighbor's house across the street. The cooler wind feels good, and I'm happy that I've chosen to stick it out at home rather than leaving. The storm track still has the storm hitting fairly well to the west of us, most likely around the Mississippi/Alabama state line - which is over 90 miles away. I'm beginning to wonder if this one is going to be like Bonnie and Frances - that we'll end up getting very little action from it after all.

10 AM, pic from front porch across street

3 PM - The Wind Picks Up

Getting a few squall lines now - the wind has picked up, and we're finally getting some rain. The gusts are really whipping my redbud tree around, but are still no worse than we'd get with a strong thunderstorm. I take another picture and send it off in an email to my neighbor's parents. About the only difference that can be seen is that his Pampas grass is a little worse for the wind. The storm hasn't weakened as expected, but still I am not particularly worried. I've been through a Category 3 before (Georges), doesn't seem like a few more miles per hour can really make that much of a difference. I know I'm not in a flood zone and that storm surge won't be an issue. As it turns out, the latter is the only thing that I'm right about - we did not experience any flooding at all.

3 PM, Wednesday Sept 15

I also take a pic looking a little down the street, hoping to capture the small amount of debris that has resulted from the gusty wind. I take a picture of my redbud tree as well, trying to show how the wind is whipping it around. The picture really doesn't capture the motion, but I leave it on the camera's memory anyway.

3 PM - Looking down the street


3 PM - Redbud Tree


4 PM to 6 PM - Anticipation

Wind is gusting a little more strongly, somewhere around 35 MPH. I can't stand on my front porch anymore without getting blasted by the rain, which is coming in sideways most of the time now. The power has flickered a few times, but remains on. I go out and capture a few more pictures, and get ready to call it a night since darkness is falling.

Around 5 PM

Around 5 PM

Around 6:30 PM

6 PM to 8 PM - Darkness Falls, In More Ways Than One

Somewhere around 7:30, the power goes out. Ah, well, I knew it would - I light up the candles and turn on the battery-powered radio.

8 PM to Midnight - The Storm's Fury Begins

Every hour, the wind picks up a little more. My neighbor calls from the hotel he's evacuated to, wanting to know how things are. I tell him that his house is all right, I'm all right, everything's groovy. My sister calls around 10 PM, and we're both surprised that she can't hear the wind howling outside, via the telephone. As I'm on the phone with her, the side of one of my window awnings is ripped from its mount. I'm not really surprised, because that particular awning was already weakened by age...but it's also on the leeward side of the house where the wind isn't as strong. I start getting a little nervous about just how strong the wind is getting. Not long before midnight, I wonder why I haven't heard back from my neighbor. I pick up the phone, and it's dead. Oh well, at least I still have water for household utilities, and my cell phone and radio for contact with the outside world. I decide to fill up the bathtub at this point, even though I don't believe there's any real reason to. But as it's the only preparation I haven't made, I figure I'd better go ahead and do it. I can always empty it out again in the morning.


Thursday, September 16 - Landfall

Midnight to 2 AM - Ivan Shows His Muscle

Now we're starting to experience the storm's full fury. I can't see much outside, but what I can see is rather sobering. The redbud tree is now bent parallel with the ground. The wind's roar is phenomenal and impossible to describe. I listen to the reporters on the radio, who have finally packed it in and are trying to navigate their way back to the station. The descriptions they're giving of some of the destruction that has already occurred is chilling. People are calling in to the radio station and reporting their houses being breached by falling trees. The feeling of 'adventure' is steadily being replaced with a feeling of fear. It's dark, and scary, and there is absolutely no-one to call for help should I need it - emergency services cannot go out in this. I'm truly on my own...come Hell or high water. That phrase sits uneasy on my mind, no longer just a colloquialism with no personal meaning. I can't help but wonder whether I'm going to experience one or both of those before this is over.

2 AM to 4 AM - The Eye Comes Ashore

The eyewall is coming ashore in Gulf Shores, Alabama - the storm is suddenly much closer to Pensacola than anyone expected it would be. And unfortunately, we're on the worst side of it. It has been downgraded to a Category 3 at landfall, but it would seem that nobody has told Ivan that. The difference between 135 MPH winds and 130 MPH is imperceptible. The house is shaking and groaning with the wind, and things begin hitting the house with force enough to rattle the china in the cabinets. I can hear something metal creaking outside, and can feel the occasional jarring thud when something large hits the ground. I don't dare open any doors to try to get a glimpse of what is making all that noise.

My ears start popping as the pressure drops. I go into the bathroom and see that the water level in the toilet has fallen to about a quarter of what it normally is. I hear something large hit the roof, and go back to my bedroom hoping that whatever it was won't come through. Not long after, I hear the sound of water inside the house, and venture into my back room to find a waterfall cascading down the back wall of the house - the entire back wall of the house. I take a picture, with hands that are far from steady.


Around 3 AM


I save what I can from this room, abandon the rest to the water. Since this area is an addition to the house, I hope that if the roof comes off, it will only be on this newer part and not the whole house. I close one of the doors leading to this room, and block it with a large chair. Unfortunately for me, this room runs across the whole back of the house, and on the other side there is only an archway - no door that I can close on that end. I go back to my bedroom, praying that the house will make it through the storm.

When I get back to my room, I find that my radio station has gone off the air, their tower broken. Now I can only get the stations coming out of Mobile, AL - which naturally aren't giving out nearly as much info relating to Pensacola. I can't find any local station still broadcasting, and it's eerie to go up and down the dial and only hear one or two stations along the way. I can't get the roar of the wind out of my ears, nor stop myself from quaking every time the house shudders from a debris impact or strong wind gust. My nerves are strung tighter than piano wire.

Between 3 and 4, I make another tour of the house and find that now the roof is leaking in every room except my bedroom. Fortunately it isn't coming down anywhere else like it is in the back room, and I have dropcloth plastic and buckets ready. I drape the plastic over everything valuable, position buckets under the worst leaks, and try not to notice that my pine tongue-and-groove board ceiling is occasionally lifting up an inch or more, and then dropping back down again. I also find that there is no water coming out of the taps now - good thing I filled up the tub.

4 AM to 6 AM - Exhaustion Sets In

I'm so tired, and all I can do now is hope that the worst is over. It doesn't comfort me to remember that now we have to go through the backside of the storm - that now I get to re-live the past 12 or so hours in reverse order. My neighbor calls from his hotel up north around 4:30, and says that it looks like (on radar) we're through the worst of it. I can't tell that it's much better, but hope that it's getting that way. I tell him that his house is still standing, that I'm okay but my house is suffering, and he says he'll call back later in the morning. My cell phone has truly been a lifeline, and I'm grateful to have it. It does fleetingly occur to me to wonder how we do still have cell service with power out all around - for example, I can see that the cell tower closest to me also doesn't have power - but I don't dwell on it.

I finally drop off to sleep around 5:15. I sleep for about an hour, dreaming pleasant things - mostly things relating to the normal life that we all take for granted. I wake back up to the nightmare of reality. The wind is still gusting strongly. The water is still coming in the back room, and it's about two inches deep on the floor now. The ceiling tiles have fallen down in there. A few more leaks have developed in the other rooms. I sigh and decide that I should take a look outside as soon as it's light enough. Nothing, not even the screaming of the wind nor the multiple impacts to house and ground, could prepare me for what met my eyes when I opened my front door that morning.

Next - The Aftermath


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