Submitted November 10, 2012

Hurricane Ivan Survival Story

My boyfriend and I moved to a city near Pensacola, FL in 2001 from Ohio. Being from Ohio, we knew nothing about hurricanes. When Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004, we were completely unprepared. I thought, "it's a storm, what's the big deal?" Ivan was one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. I looked around our neighborhood to see if other people were doing anything in preparation and didn't notice anything so I figured, "well they've done this before, they know what they're doing." However, when I returned home from work that night, the entire town was boarded up.

We lived in a tiny little single story house with no preparations. We just had to ride it out. I spent the night in the closet, convinced the roof was going to fly off the house at any moment. The pressure was so low that I had the worst headache of my entire life. We managed to survive the storm with no damage to the house except torn off shingles. Two of our immediate neighbors had enormous Oak trees fall on their houses. We didn't even hear them fall because the wind was so loud that's all we heard throughout the night. I had a big trampoline in the backyard, it was gone. Part of it was on the neighbor's roof, other parts were strewn over a fence.

Power was out. There was no TV or radio when we woke up because so many towers had gone down. Even though we had a battery operated TV, we could not get any information on what was going on. All we had were cell phones. My mom called from Oklahoma to tell us what the damage was like. She was able to see it on the news but we weren't. We learned that the I-10 bridge to Pensacola was gone. This was a huge interstate highway bridge that went across Pensacola Bay. Huge sections of it were gone and half of the trailer of a semi truck was at the edge of the last section connected to land. The cab and driver were somewhere in the water below.

We decided to go investigate. Bad idea. The roads were completely impassible. Huge trees, limbs, power poles, and power lines were blocking every single road. You often had to go off road to get around things. I drove right into a hanging power line that smacked into the windshield, I didn't even see it. Driving down the road sounded like a train driving down the tracks, "thump thump" every 10 ft as you ran over another power line. There were areas where police blocked the roads and wouldn't let you through, you'd have to try to find an alternate route. Getting back home was nearly impossible.

We were one of the lucky ones, only without power for 7 days. We were also fortunate enough to have a gas stove and hot water heater so we could cook and take warm showers when many couldn't. However, we had NO supplies. We didn't own a cooler, we didn't have any food stocked, no cash, no gas, nothing. For the first couple days you couldn't buy anything anywhere, everything was closed. Eventually the Dollar General opened in the dark and was operating with a calculator. However, you'd need cash and if you had none there was no way to get any since ATMs don't work without power.

Within a few days the FEMA trucks arrived and you could get in line, pop your trunk open, and drive through. The National Guard would drop one box of MREs, 1 gallon of water, and one bag of ice in your trunk as you drove through. In some areas, you could wait in this line for hours.

However, I had no use for the ice since I did not have a cooler and one could not be purchased anywhere within 100 miles. Same goes for batteries, bread, gas siphons, generators, power inverters, flashlights, etc.

It was extremely hot, in the 90s, while all this was going on. A lot of people were setting up tents in their backyards to sleep in because it was too hot in the house. Contractors from all over the country began flooding the area since everyone needed new roofs. There was no where for these people to stay, with so many displaced from the hurricane. So they were setting up tents on the side of the road and in parks.

It was total chaos in stores. If they received a shipment of bread, it'd be gone within seconds. People were literally snatching it out of someone else's arms.

Gas became a huge problem. Very few gas stations had a generator to pump the gas out. There were lines up to 8 hours long for gas at those stations. There were Sheriffs at each, with shotguns in hand, to prevent line jumping. You'd be lucky if there was gas left when you got to the pump.

At most intersections there were National Guard in uniform with guns. Traffic lights had all fallen down and were all over the roadway. There was a curfew every night that had to be obeyed unless you had a note from your job and worked hours beyond curfew. It was illegal to put a boat in the water since people on the barrier islands were not able to get back to their houses due to the bridges being out, and it would have been a free-for-all to anyone who could get there. So sheriffs were sitting at the boat ramps, not allowing anyone in.

Many of the houses on the barrier islands were gone altogether, leaving nothing but slabs of concrete behind. Houses along the bay had storm surge blow through the whole first floor, leaving nothing but wall studs. The contents of their house would be on the other side of the street, strewn throughout the wooded areas. Boats were everywhere! In the middle of fields, in the middle of a wooded area, in the middle of highways and streets, everywhere.

My university shut down for a month with over $3 million in damage. The building where I worked was destroyed.

I left Pensacola about a year later, it was still in s state of disrepair when I left. Although it wasn't a fun experience, I'm glad I went through it. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about prepping and human nature.

- Nina

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