Ivan Devastates Entire Southeast

Fri September 24, 2004 - Southeast Edition

GULF SHORES, AL (AP) A steady stream of vehicles picked up essentials such as food, water and ice as Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge briefly joined the relief effort after touring the wreckage on the Alabama coast.

“I’d say it’s probably the most extraordinary demonstration of Mother Nature’s force that I’ve ever seen,” Ridge said.

At the Gulf Shores civic center, a shuttle that included pickup trucks and SUVs took residents to beachfront areas that otherwise remain closed, with National Guard and police posted at major beach roads. For some, the view brought grief.

“The house is totally down,” said Eugene Hinton, a retiree who had helped build a cement block, stucco home on Little Lagoon in 1955 with an uncle. He said the house has survived every hurricane for nearly half a century, but not this one.

The home was the permanent residence for Hinton and his wife. He said he didn’t know if they would rebuild.

Fort Morgan resident Jim Wilkinson said he had 4 ft. of water in his home. The surroundings were a sight as well.

“The whole block looks like a gigantic yard sale,” he said.

For some, the shuttle to the beach brought relief.

“We were fortunate,” said Cindy Pitts of Mobile, who found her Little Lagoon home “fared pretty good” although she couldn’t get inside for a close inspection.

Restaurant owner Fred Penninger said his Gulf Island Grill near the public beach survived and he hoped to reopen when power was restored. But, he said, “everything around us was devastated.”

Some power was being restored to more inland areas and Alabama 59, the main beach route to Gulf Shores, was getting somewhat back to normal, with many traffic signals working again and stores reopening.

But it will be longer for power and normalcy to return to the beachfront, where homes and condo units were blasted by Ivan. Contractors are clearing sand from the beach highway and residents were expected to be allowed into the most devastated areas by Sept. 22.

Ivan Throws First Demolition Punch

Four months ago, Gov. Bob Riley announced plans to replace the Gulf State Park hotel and conference center in Gulf Shores. Hurricane Ivan threw the first demolition punch.

Ivan’s wave surge early Sept. 16 “took out all of the first floor of the convention center,” Riley said after an aerial inspection of the park and surrounding devastation. “The pool, surrounding buildings look like they were totally destroyed.”

He told a Mobile news conference that damage to the main building, a fortress-looking concrete structure, could not be immediately assessed.

“In the state of repair it was in, and contemplating making these changes anyway, I think would probably be the time to make the decision to go ahead and build something that is beautiful, that Alabama could take a tremendous amount of pride it,” he said.

In a separate aircraft, State Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley also viewed the state park damages. He said the 825-ft. long fishing pier had only three sections still standing in the Gulf after Ivan’s strike.

He agreed with Riley that the hotel rooms were destroyed on the first level.

“You can’t tell where the highway is because there’s so much debris,” Lawley said of the beach road that runs in front of the hotel.

Lawley had no estimate of the financial loss to the state.

In June, officials announced plans to demolish the state hotel and build a $100 million, 350-room complex –– farther from the beach.

While thousands of jobs were lost to Ivan’s destruction, convenience store operator Ken Dombroski of Summerdale looks forward to a burst in business from the reconstruction.

“I opened for business on a limited basis and ran out of stock,” he said.

NAVARRE BEACH, FL. (AP) Homecoming residents crossing a battered bridge to this barrier island community were greeted by a wood sign reading “Welcome,” but other familiar sights were less hospitable in Hurricane Ivan’s destructive wake.

The main thoroughfare through town –– two-lane Gulf Boulevard –– was cloaked in sand, making the island look more like a desert than an oceanfront hamlet. A newly formed pond sat where a road should have been. Homes and cottages were missing roofs, garages and balconies. And from one side of the island, it was possible to see straight through blown-out condominium walls to other side.

In a ritual that is becoming familiar to Floridians, President Bush made his third campaign-season stop in the state to assess Ivan’s destruction before traveling on to Alabama.

Construction worker Sylvester DuBose said the storm ripped shingles and a gutter off his home and put him out of work. Road closures prevented him from even reaching the condominium construction site at Orange Beach, AL, and though he had some money in the bank, it wasn’t enough.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “It really put a hurt on me.”

In other news, the federal government announced it will spend approximately $4.5 million to help the initial repairs to the Pensacola Regional Airport and a pair of bridges that carry I-10 across Escambia Bay.

“The damage done by Hurricane Ivan to Pensacola’s bridges, roads and airport reminds us how much we rely on our transportation network,” said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

Mineta announced that approximately $2.5 million would be available for airport repairs and another $2 million would be available for work on the bridges.