EDITOR'S NOTE: On this night 14 years ago Emerald Coast residents were dealing with their own hurricane disaster. The storm was named Ivan and although the center moved ashore between Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, the area between Navarre and South Walton took a beating from Ivan's storm surge and high winds. Daily News columnist Del Stone Jr. wrote this column two days after Ivan the terrible passed through:
Wednesday night was possibly the longest night of my life.
Or should I say "our" lives? Because those of us who chose to remain and "ride out" Ivan are now brothers and sisters in battle, veterans of possibly the worst hurricane to affect Northwest Florida. And praise the Lord we are still here to talk about the awfulness of it.
As I watched the storm edge farther west Tuesday and early Wednesday, I let out a sigh of relief. With memories of Opal still fresh, I wasn't eager to repeat the experience. I was also fearful for my mom, who'd been unable to evacuate because of the massive traffic jams between here and points north.
Not to wish bad luck on anyone, I nevertheless prayed for the storm to go farther west and weaken.
But Ivan, as you know, didn't do that.
The weather began to deteriorate very early, around noon, when the storm was still many miles out in the gulf. That struck me as both odd and ominous. The wind was rushing through in gusts, and the gentle mist that had fallen earlier became hissing sheets that concealed the violence bearing down on us from the south.
The menacing swirl of orange and red clouds on the satellite loops rolled inexorably northward, along with lines of last-minute refugees hoping to escape the beast.
Small limbs were coming down late in the afternoon, and Choctawhatchee Bay was topped with waves so big you could surf them. Mom had taken refuge with her friends Sherry and Bob, who had a brick house, a generator and boarded-up windows. I chose to stay at my town house with my cats.
The wind really cranked up later that night. It howled through the townhouse complex like a living thing-- an angry living thing. Underlying the din was the bass rumble of the bay and distant gulf.
I began hearing sounds of destruction. A roaring gust would be followed by a tearing, smashing sound, and then the clatter of something being carried off.
The townhouse trembled and swayed as the wind roared overhead. You could hear objects whacking the roof and pummeling nearby buildings as deadly missiles whistled through the air-- shingles, satellite dishes and mangled strips of sheet metal.
All night the storm raged and even into the next morning as a southwesterly gale swept water into homes along the bay. I threaded my way through the howling winds and debris to check on Mom, who was fine, and then reported to work.
As I sat on my patio Thursday night, enjoying a cool breeze after an afternoon of clearing debris and making repairs at Mom's, I looked up and for the first time in years saw the Milky Way spreading across the sky.
How beautiful. And how lucky we were to see it one more time.
Deputy Managing Editor Del Stone Jr. can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 433, or firstname.lastname@example.org