Hours before the telephone rang to warn us of the mandatory evacuation, we had taken off from our now boarded up and hopefully secured Santa Rosa Beach home - frozen chicken, laptop computer and a bottle of really expensive scotch packed safely away in the Jeepster.
We headed to our home in Atlanta from which I had departed only 36 hours prior going back to the beach to meet up with my very jittery bride. This was our first real hurricane since we had moved down to the Gulf Coast three years ago. We had been fortunate to only experience some serious tropical storms before the appearance of Ivan.
Like those folks out in California who wait around for the “big one,” Ivan was a borderline Category 5, which around these parts is the ultimate “big one”! Consequently there was no point in checking with my insurance agent regarding my Hurricane Policy; I was more inclined to check with the Main Man on my Heaven Insurance Policy.
Oddly, the next day after our arrival in Atlanta, it turned out to be the beginning of the Jewish New Year, so we headed off to Chattanooga and a visit to Mizpah Temple. Like chicken soup…it couldn’t hurt! Then we hurried back to Atlanta to greet Ivan as he made his way north.
The reports from the Weather Channel were built around one main buzz word, “catastrophic,” which had a double meaning for us, since we sat nervously amid the swirl of torrential rains from Ivan rising up behind our house in Atlanta’s infamous Nancy Creek, making us wonder if there was any escape from this monster?
The first reports of the damage from our area were devastating. Even though the eye went west of us, traditionally the damage to the east of the eye is always serious. We waited anxiously for word of our neighborhood, but it was a day and a half before any confirmed report was forthcoming.
No lights, okay. No water, okay. Some trees down, one blocking part of our driveway, OK. Archway with flowering branches that had been nurtured coaxed and trained by the lady-of-the-house, down. Possible fiberglass roof on screened porch bowed. It could be dealt with and all-in-all an excellent report.
But what about the beautiful and lovingly restored Seville Historic District of Pensacola?
My heart sank. Over the last six months, I had traveled to the Pensacola area at least once a week, and each time I went, I discovered another reason to enjoy the city - the best darn fish emporium in the area, Joe Patti’s, where the catch-of-the-day really had come in on a boat earlier in the morning. The absolute best grouper on the Florida Gulf Coast.
The national news showed the parking lot of Patti’s totally under water.
Up the street from Patti’s is Shoreline Grocery, where I recently discovered an amazing array of imported foodstuffs crowned with the purest greenest virgin olive oil brought from Greece by the owner. The deal was to purchase a large tin of the oil and then return with the empty tin and get a refill for a bargain price. No word on its condition yet.
Same goes for Charley’s Eatery, the all-you-can-eat restaurant around the corner from Shoreline where a cross section of Pensacola residents from dock workers to lawyers ate side by side devouring daily specials of home cooking that was a good as your mother’s - not mine of course - but someone’s mother!
Farther west was Perdido Key hard by Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. People who know said it looked like Vietnam after the Tet offensive. Destroyed homes, condos and shopping centers, as well as roads covered in sand. Worst of all, homeowners could only go in to survey the devastation by bus, with waits to board up to three hours, and then there was only a two-hour window before you had to leave.
One of my favorite drives had been along the coast road from Navarre Beach to Pensacola Beach through the designated Gulf Island National Seashore, where an amazing bike path had been created along this barrier island. White sandy beach on one side and the bay on the other with this narrow two-lane winding road cutting gently through the area.
Gone are the road and the bike path. The beach a disaster. It will take years of nourishing to bring the beach back to its pristine state and many months to replace the roadway and the bike path.
Back in my area, Holiday Isle in Destin has suffered serious flooding and is off limits to all but residents. Okaloosa Island was closed off for several days until two of the four lane highway could be reopened along Highway 98.
Power was slowly being restored in Fort Walton, which was closer to the eye, and then there was Gulf Breeze, where Campbell Brown of NBC’s Today Show broadcast from her parents' home on the Gulf last Sunday morning.
Amazingly, her parents' home survived, if not fully intact, at least, the living area on the second floor is habitable, but the neighbors' homes on both side are gone. Gone!
What a horrific thought and one that went through our minds as we moved the furniture in our house away from the windows, which we covered up with plywood, some of which I picked up on my way from Atlanta and strapped to the top of the Jeepster, as supplies
of plywood were in short supply at the beach.
We’re the lucky ones. Our lives are returning to normal day-to-day tasks. But for our friends to the west, the trauma of trying to rebuild their lives will take time. Each time something of this nature happens in our little bit of paradise, a few residents talk of packing up and moving on, but then they realize that there are snowstorms in the east, earthquakes out west, floods and tornadoes in the middle of the country.
It has been a rough year for all of us here in Florida. My wife’s aunt down in south Florida has packed up and evacuated - as far east as New York, honestly - so many times she has decided to just dig in and deal with whatever comes next. It’s her home for the last 20 some odd years.
Same with us for the last three, and I’m not going to let some silly 145-mile-per-hour winds blow me away, and the reason I say this is because I’m going to evacuate, and this time I’m taking the brisket and the chicken!
(Charles Siskin is a former Chattanoogan now living in Florida with his wife, Diane "Cookie" Siskin. He recently retired from his catering business. Charles can be reached at
Source : https://www.chattanoogan.com/2004/9/24/56119/Charles-Siskin-Survives-Hurricane-Ivan.aspx1211