I stayed in my house through Hurricane Ivan and that has been an
experience of a lifetime, and a life-altering experience. The good
news: my house lost a few shingles off a corner and aluminum flashing
off the gables. My beautiful live oaks were ½ their size in the
morning; fortunately I did not lose a single one of them and their huge
branches blew away from my house and destroyed my privacy fence. My
house did not leak a drop; I got up about every half hour with a
flashlight and checked ceilings, windows and doors; finally, I just
curled up with House Cat Nike and slept through most of it. What else
could I do? I am so proud of my house, which was built in late 1999
with all the post-Andrew building codes: it was a fortress. None of my
neighbors fared as well. Most lost roofs, fences and lots of their
belongings. I spent the next couple weeks helping people put tarps to
cover their roofs.
My postdoc Dr. Andreas Nocker had been a guest in my house for the 3
weeks prior to Ivan; he had taken a job in Montana and was just marking
time. He elected to move into a shelter with his girlfriend to weather
Ivan. But he did help me board up the windows and secure my house in
general. The storm hit at 2 a.m. Thursday and I got up at 6 a.m. and
found myself totally isolated from the rest of the world. No phone,
electricity and even my cellular phone did not work for a couple days.
That is an interesting experience if you’ve never had it. The
neighborhood looked like a war zone. I went for a walk around 5 p.m.
The winds were still gusting at 50 mph and at times I could barely
stand. I returned an hour later in shock at how many homes were
destroyed. I live near to three elementary schools, one of which was a
shelter; they all sustained major damage.
I had told Andreas that I would get ice and water the day after the
storm. I was not prepared for the degree of devastation here, and the
level of chaos over the first week post-Ivan; this is impossible to
convey without having experienced it. Roads leading into Pensacola were
either destroyed or constricted to half their size. So the ice and
water and batteries I thought would arrive did not do so for about a
week. I believe 13 people died in Escambia County, and there are still
lots more who are dying because of auto accidents, falling trees and
from accidents (chainsaw and falls) as they try to recover. We have 30
or 40 THOUSAND people homeless. The Blue Roof (blue tarp) should be
some kind of state symbol. Every yard had a huge pile of debris, like a
20-ft high beaver dam. Walking through some neighborhoods was like
walking down a narrow steep canyon of debris.
The website www.pensacolanewsjournal.comdoes a pretty good job of
providing photos. I LOVE the National Guard, the Red Cross, Salvation
Army, Escambia County Sheriff’s Department and all the volunteers who
handed out ice, water and meals ready to eat (MREs) as I drove through
the aid station. The St. Petersburg police and other police units from
around the country were here directing traffic (ALL traffic lights were
out, so all intersections were 4-way stops); just getting from A to B
could: 1) be impossible, even with 4WD, which I have; 2) dangerous from
downed power lines, falling limbs and structures, debris making roads
likely to disable your vehicle; 3) take four-times the amount of time
normal for that trip. I got out Friday after the storm, and the trip
was surreal, and useless. Saturday at 7 a.m., Andreas and I went out to
Lowe’s to get a generator; after 3 hours, Lowe’s informed the 2000
people in line that there “might be 250 generators by 8 p.m.! We went
back to the house. Andreas left the next day for New York and then to
I had bought a Dietz Hurricane oil lantern right before Ivan hit:
wonderful; it was often my only light. Finally, I managed to get a
Coleman propane lantern, Coleman propane stove. I used my outdoor grill
to cook whatever food I had before it spoiled, but ended up throwing
away $1000 or so worth of meat etc. Finally, I got a nice generator
(Honda powered Porter Cable) and was able to wash clothes, vacuum the
house, make hot coffee (what a luxury!). A week or so later I finally
broke down and bought a Stihl chainsaw to cut all the limbs and trees
that cluttered my yard.
I applied for FEMA assistance and within a week a nice gentleman came
out to interview me. So far FEMA has deposited enough into my checking
account to pay for about half the cost of the generator and chainsaw.
My insurance company will probably pay for roof and fence damage.
I am extremely lucky! Many people I know lost all they owned, home,
possessions, even pets. My old house, which I sold over a year ago, is
now trashed by water/sewer flooding. My office at work was flooded and
I am working out of a temporary office in my laboratory (the good news
is that my office will get new floors and walls!).
I am really impressed with the resiliency of people and the spirit or
not just survival but taking the disaster as an opportunity to improve
quality of life. There are a lot of positive and inspiring outcomes
from what is really a devastating disaster. See the www.pensacolanewsjournal.com
for such stories.
Life goes on….
Dr. Joe Eugene Lepo
Associate Professor of Microbiology
Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation and,
Department of Biology
University of West Florida
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
Fax: (850) 474-3130 email@example.com