Friday, September 16, 2005

Ivanizing the Day (Updated)

USGS Photo, west end of Santa Rosa Island
Photo legend: "A new breach was formed across Santa Rosa Island by Hurricane Ivan west of Pensacola Beach. A continuous sheet of storm-generated overwash deposits is observed in this low-lying and uninhabited portion of the barrier island. Route 399 was cut by the new breach, making Fort Pickens section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore reachable only by boat."
There's a great deal of very important stuff going on in these early days of the Katrina aftermath that commands attention:
Without a doubt, the sudden destruction and evacuation of New Orleans -- not just a unique American city, but one of the world's major cities -- will be a defining moment of our time for decades to come.

But there will be time enough to follow these and all of the other post-Katrina sagas and intrigues sure to come. Today is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ivan's landfall "just west of Gulf Shores, Alabama". It's only right that the moment be memorialized.

As Troy Moon writes in a special insert for today's Pensacola News Journal, "A year later the nightmare still haunts us."
The morning after the worst day of our lives, the local front-page headline screamed "Nightmare." * * * In the Pensacola Bay Area, we awoke on Sept. 16, 2004, to jaw-dropping carnage and devastation so fierce that it wiped out entire neighborhoods, sent bridges falling into dark waters, and drowned people in their well-manicured yards.

* * *
Hurricane Ivan blew ashore in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2004, with 120-mph winds and packing a storm surge up to 15 feet high. When it was over, 12 people were dead - six more would die in the recovery aftermath - and about 15,000 homes in the two-county area were destroyed. Businesses were crippled and some shut their doors for good. When the damage was tallied, Hurricane Ivan went into the history books as the third-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history - only the Northridge, Calif., earthquake of 1994 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 were more expensive.
(For reasons which aren't readily evident, Moon's article isn't easily found on the PNJ web site as of this morning, but you can passively watch a slide show on today's front page.) [Update: By mid-day the PNJ added the special section, The Year Of The Hurricane, to the web site.]

Ivan's record as the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history will undoutedly be eclipsed by Hurricane Katrina, as Troy rightly points out. "But the dollar tally on Hurricane Ivan is only part of the loss." As with companion articles in today's local paper, Troy focuses on the longer term "uncertainty" and "anxiety" which weighs on many -- indeed, most -- local residents even now.
Homes ripped open, some gone completely. Long, hot days and endless sweaty nights with no power, no air, no lights, and few signs of life. National Guard troops with weapons in town marching up and down Cervantes Street at midnight to enforce the curfew. Proud families standing in long lines with hands out to receive the same boxed meals our troops in Iraq eat. People squabbling over ice and gas like they were a Willie Wonka Golden Ticket.

* * *
Even after the power came on and the lines subsided, a new kind of stress emerged as many residents - now living in FEMA-supplied trailers or with friends and relatives - fought with insurance companies to get settlements. Some still are battling today.

And the battles are taking their toll.

* * *
The stress is everywhere and in everyone.
Repeatedly, Troy and the Gulf Coast residents he quotes mention Hurricane Dennis, Tropical Storms Arlene and Cindy, and, of course, Katrina almost in the same breath as Ivan. Locally, all the storms of the last 12 months have been woven into a single narrative fabric. As Milton's mayor says:
"[We] took it on the chin. It has not been a good year. I still run into people who are out of homes and very depressed. * * * I'm very concerned about the general mood of the community. I'm concerned about the mental state of people. The worry is what happens if we get hit again? What do we do then? I've never seen it tougher here than it's been."
"And that," as Troy writes, "was before Katrina hit." He adds:
The killer storm has caused the biggest natural disaster in our nation's history, crumbling whole communities and towns and threatening to sink New Orleans forever. In Katrina's wake, the evacuees showed up on our storm-battered doorsteps, and many Pensacolians - some with hurricane damage of their own - are taking in friends and relatives from states away.

Add to that the gas shortage, and Katrina is just another horrible chapter in an already tough year for the Pensacola Bay Area.
More easily web-accessed companion articles by Kimberly Blair and Carlton Proctor and Amy Sowder also focus on the emotional toll these storms have taken. As Ms. Blair reports, virtually everyone in Northwest Florida still is suffering emotionally from Ivan and its aftermath:
"If you lived in Pensacola when Hurricane Ivan struck, whether you rode out the storm or evacuated and came back, then you are suffering from some type of post-traumatic stress disorder," said Mike Whetstone, assistant project manager for Project Hope, a state-funded, disaster-crisis counseling program initiated in the wake of Ivan.

He knows some folks will say, "Not me." But he challenges them to a litmus test. "Can you say you feel and behave exactly the way you did a month before Ivan?"
As we noted on this blog with Hurricane Dennis... and again with the long approach of Hurricane Katrina you could see it in the eyes.
[E]verywhere one went the same scene was encountered. Always the same, no matter the venue -- in gas lines; at the few open convenience stores; inside grocery stores where shelves were stripped bare; and in hardware stores and lumber yards where batteries, plywood and electric generators were flying out the door. Wherever one went, there were glum faces, teary-eyed strangers, and hang-dog locals giving public vent to their personal frustrations, anger, and a manifest sense of helplessness.
Words like 'post traumatic stress' and 'depression' somehow don't convey the duration, intensity, and especially the character of the emotional toll of the past year. It has affected -- and still does -- nearly every citizen of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Not just those who have lost family members or whose homes were destroyed, but everyone on every day, in ways both large and small.

Perhaps a woman Kimberly Blair spoke to said it best:
Even a year after Hurricane Ivan's storm surge gutted her Grande Lagoon home, Pauline Burge, 74, still absentmindedly reaches for things that were lost.

"When I reach for things that are not there anymore, I say, 'Oh, yes. That was Ivanized."
As we reflect back over the last year and consider what we've lived through, we can appreciate perhaps better than most just how emotionally difficult it will be -- and how long it will take -- for the Gulf Coast's Katrina victims to recover.

Our still-aching hearts go out to each and every one of them.

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