I remember thinking how surreal it all was. After all, just 45 minutes prior, there were torrential rains and howling gusts of wind. I wouldn’t have dared to open the front door then. But now, everything fell silent. No more wind. No more rain. After several minutes, I worked up the courage to open the front door and that’s when I thought “this is surreal”. It was calm outside. From what I recall, there was no wind at all. There might have been a very gentle breeze, but perhaps not even that (memory being faulty and all, I may simply not remember certain details accurately). In addition to the tranquility there was also darkness; as far as the eye could see. Granted, it was nighttime (morning technically, since it was a few hours past midnight), but usually there are street lights, porch lights, or lights on inside homes. Not that night. That night no street lights were on. No porch lights flickered in the darkness. No homes had electricity. Unless you had a private generator, no one in Pensacola had power. Hurricane Ivan took care of that.
At approximately 1:50 AM on September 16, 2004 Hurricane Ivan-a category 3 hurricane with sustained winds around 120 mph-made landfall. At the time, my roommate (E) and I figured we would stay in town rather than evacuate. We had both reasoned that since we lived significantly inland (in West Pensacola) that we would be fine. In retrospect, we should probably have left. I remember looking around in those early morning hours for a short period of time-maybe 1 or 2 minutes-before heading back inside the house. Which was probably a good thing bc before long the storms intensity ratcheted back up. The eye of the hurricane had passed over us. Once again, torrential rains and fierce winds were everywhere. I remember being kinda scared at one point bc the winds shook the house. I recall my mind racing and imagining the roof being ripped away (thankfully that never happened). Several tense hours later, the winds finally died down and the rainfall diminished. The storm had subsided and passed by us. I ventured back out in the late morning hours, once the sun was out to provide illumination. I remember being struck by the lack of damage. Our home had virtually no damage. Only a piece of siding on the south side of the house came off. Nothing else. I had expected homes in our subdivision to be destroyed, trees to be toppled, and cars to be stacked atop each other. As I walked up and down the street, that was not the case. For a while both my roommate and I thought that maybe the city lucked out and damage was minimal. We were in for a rude awakening.
Since we had no power and had no idea when it would return, he and I thought to venture south and go stay with my parents in Orlando, Florida. We hopped into my car and began heading toward Interstate-10 to leave Pensacola. The damage to the city became apparent the further we traveled from home. Trees were toppled across much of Scenic Hwy (which sits along Escambia Bay). We had to take frequent detours to avoid them. Upon reaching I-10 we discovered that the Escambia Bay Bridge was heavily damaged and thus impassable. Still determined to leave the city, my roommate and I decided to take a trip through the city of Cantonment and through back roads to reach Interstate-65. Our thinking was to take I-65 up to the Atlanta area and then head south to Orlando. Unfortunately we didn’t factor in how much gas would be needed to make such a trip. I remember that we began to be worried about gas as we approached I-65. After all, a major hurricane had just hit the entire region and all the gas stations on the way were closed. We had no way of knowing if we would be able to refuel before running out of gas. Worried that we’d be stranded in the middle of BFE, we dejectedly turned around for home. Long before we were in the vicinity of the house, the gas light came on in my car. Miraculously, we made it within half a mile of our house before my car ran out of gas on the side of the road.
Being stuck in a home with no power was pretty boring. I remember laying there with nothing to do and nowhere to go. The ennui was worsened by the humidity and heat of mid-September weather in Northwest Florida, which was just atrocious. It sapped my strength and left me not wanting to do much of anything. At least we could shower (and although it was only cold water, I welcomed that in the near 100 degree heat at the time). Thankfully there was enough canned food in the house to tide us over for a little while. Plus I’d cooked a few items before the storm hit so that we’d have leftovers. Those of course went first since y’know-no power. Several days later, we took E’s car and drove around the city a bit. I think he had a little less than half a tank of gas thankfully, so we decided to get out and see if things had improved any. They hadn’t. We visited the place I was working at and it was a sad sight. The Fish House sits along Pensacola Bay. There heavy winds and rain caused such damage to the structure of the building that much of it collapsed, destroying the interior of the restaurant. Surprisingly, Atlas Oyster House (sister restaurant to the Fish House which was literally across the walkway from the Fish House) sustained little damage. It only had a foot or so of water inside, but nothing else was damaged. I always thought that was odd since it was in the same building as the Fish House and the you’d think if one suffered structural collapse the other would. Ah well, I’m glad the place made it through, as we were able to reopen it and employees were able to start working fairly soon after the hurricane.
All told, Hurricane Ivan caused billions of dollars in damage and took the lives of 123 people. Along coastal areas, some people survived, but lost everything. I’ll never forget driving along Pensacola Beach a month or two after the hurricane. There were blue tarps over innumerable homes. There were piles of debris stacked up along empty beaches (no one was allowed on the beach because of the debris was scattered up and down the coast). In some places, you could see where entire homes used to sit. They were gone. It was a sobering look at how destructive nature can be. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Typhoons. Blizzards. Earthquakes. Of those, the only two I had any ‘kinda-sorta’ experience with was a hurricane in San Antonio, TX when I was too young to recall and the 1989 tornado in Huntsville, AL (the tornado touched down far away from our home, so we were unaffected; I only recall hearing about it and the damage it caused). Hurricane Ivan was my first experience with the destructive potential of nature and I’ll never forget it.
That’s why I got chills down my spine when I read of the Hurricane Patricia, a Category 5 hurricane that made landfall in Mexico early Friday morning:
Hurricane Patricia became the strongest hurricane ever known to make landfall on the Pacific coast of Mexico after the center of its eye crossed the coast of Jalisco state early Friday evening. While its winds are losing strength, damage is still expected as its center of circulation slices into the interior of southwest Mexico overnight.
Earlier Friday, Patricia became the most powerful tropical cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere as its maximum sustained winds reached an unprecedented 200 mph (320 kph) and its central pressure fell to 879 millibars (25.96 inches of mercury).
The 1 a.m. CDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center shows that Patricia has weakened to a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph maximum sustained winds. Its forward motion remains 20 mph, as the storm races off to the north-northeast.
At 6:15 p.m. CDT, the eye of Hurricane Patricia made landfall near Cuixmala in Jalisco state of southwest Mexico. Maximum sustained winds at landfall were estimated at 165 mph, still firmly within the Category 5 range on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
An automated weather observation site in Cuixmala reported a 185-mph wind with a gust of 211 mph at the time of landfall, but NOAA cautioned that these measurements have not been evaluated for quality or calibration.
The destruction caused by Hurricane Ivan-a Category 3 hurricane-was immense. The destructive potential of a Category 5 hurricane though? It’s almost too horrific to comprehend. Especially the possible death toll. I really and truly hope that everyone able to evacuate was able to and that those who were forced or chose to remain are able to stay safe. In my last post I talked about 5 of my favorite horror movies and spoke about how frightening the antagonists and villains of those films were. But for all that seemingly unstoppable serial killers, aliens with acid for saliva, and brain-devouring zombies are scary, they’re fictional. Horrific as they are, they are limited to piercing our comfort zones or causing us temporary discomfort. They cannot injure or kill us. They cannot destroy our livelihoods, rip our homes from their foundations, or take the lives of our loved ones. But the cataclysmic power of a category 5 hurricane very much can. And that is truly scary as fuck.