Death And Destruction As Ivan Hits Deep South
2004 09 17
By Marcus Warren in Fairhope, Alabama The Telegraph - UK
Hurricane Ivan tore through America's Deep South yesterday, killing 12 people and spreading destruction across Florida and Alabama.
Its arrival marked a tragic hat-trick for Florida, which has suffered three deadly hurricanes in little more than a month. This freak of nature has already claimed more than 30 lives in America.
The strip of coastline between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, suffered the brunt of Ivan's force, lashed by wind and waves for much of the night and long after daybreak.
The people of Fairhope, an upscale Alabama town on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, experienced the power of Ivan. A brief calm settled over the town as the eye of the storm passed overhead before the winds returned. "It was devastating," said Chuck Baker, 36, as he gazed in horror at the battering the local pier was still receiving yesterday morning. "That's a lot of water there. I've got to say that I've never seen waves like that in my life."
Other residents turned up to stare at the breathtaking scene on the pier: gigantic waves, clouds of sea spray washing across the boardwalk, a lamp post bent double by the storm and a huge boat beached on dry land.
Trees and downed power lines littered the town and stray pieces of corrugated iron roofs gusted down the main street as the winds picked up again.
Leon Hill, the president of the local First National Bank, said that in the eye of the storm "there was just a little mist in the air, no rain, just mist".
He was one of many local people taking stock of the damage to the town, once an artists' colony and, one resident said, "a diamond in the rough" of Alabama.
"It was eerie, absolutely bizarre," Marissa Maier, 24, a student, said of her experience of the storm's eye. "We opened the front and back door to let some air in but had to shut them pretty quick."
The might of hurricane Ivan was visible right along the Gulf of Mexico, with surging waves leaving the bayous swollen to bursting point and fishermen's shacks on stilts almost washed away.
It could have been worse. Catastrophe was averted when, at the last minute, Ivan swung north-east, hitting Florida hard but veering away from the vulnerable coast of Louisiana.
Much of New Orleans, the largest city on the shore, is surrounded by water and is 8ft or more below sea level. It is protected from disaster only by a network of levees and pumps. But it survived.
"We dodged the bullet," many residents of the Big Easy commented in relief yesterday. One went further, saying: "We caught the bullet in our teeth."
On its 10-day tour of the Caribbean, Ivan was blamed for at least 70 deaths.
The Red Cross appealed for £2 million yesterday to help the ravaged islands. "The appeal funds will be used to provide shelter materials, food, blankets, kitchen sets, hygiene articles and jerry cans for those without homes over the next six months," the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement.
Donations will support relief operations being carried out by Red Cross branches in Grenada, Jamaica, Cuba and the Cayman Islands where, despite an overnight curfew, there has been looting.
Winds of more than 150mph swept across the islands on Sunday night, demolishing buildings, including official shelters, with the centre of the category five hurricane passing within 30 miles of Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands, where some 43,000 people live.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.