Tropical Storm Ivan

Pensacola is promised `immediate relief'

Jeb Bush visits devastated city

millions in Fla. lack electricity

September 18, 2004|By Jeff Long | Jeff Long,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

PENSACOLA, Fla. - Gov. Jeb Bush toured the devastated city of Pensacola yesterday, the Day after Ivan, to see firsthand the fury unleashed by the deadly hurricane.

The storm left hundreds of thousands without power, shattered infrastructure and killed at least 39 in the United States - 14 in the Sunshine State alone. It also claimed at least 70 lives in the Caribbean before crossing the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm's remnants were dissipating over the southern Appalachians yesterday. And there was more good news as the National Hurricane Center downgraded Tropical Storm Jeanne to a tropical depression and predicted that it could remain far out at sea.

The local CBS affiliate had planned to air the season premiere of Survivor last night, but it pre-empted the program for coverage of Ivan. Residents needed no guidance on survival, however, and many would not see the show. More than 1.8 million homes and businesses were without power yesterday in areas affected by the storm.

Gulf Power officials said it could be three weeks before electricity is restored to everyone in the devastated region. Officials said priority is being given to repairs that will most assist public safety before the public's comfort can be looked to.

Bush toured an evacuation center in Pensacola that housed about 2,000 people. He assured dazed but optimistic Pensacola residents they will be seeing "convoys of immediate relief."

National Guardsmen have been deployed, and the Red Cross began setting up "comfort stations" to distribute food and water. Search and rescue crews continued searching for survivors - and counting the dead - in the hardest-hit areas.

Still, for residents lining up at convenience stores and supermarkets around Pensacola, the awakening commerce was a sign that life could somehow return to normal.

Traffic lights were out and National Guardsmen directed the growing traffic volume at the busiest intersections. Donna Weidner, who stopped at a local hardware store, said that for the most part, her fellow residents have been courteous and helpful during the crisis.

"It's not a frantic pace," she said. "It's not people grabbing and running and butting in line. People are just friendly and nice, talking about how things are going. The only thing I really wish we could get is ice and water."

Officials have reported some looting, though it does not appear to be widespread. Police were stationed in front of some business.

"Store's closed!" yelled one officer to the people gathering at one Albertson's supermarket in Pensacola. Radio reports had been announcing all morning that another Albertson's, a few miles away, would open at noon. That store had thousands of people in the parking lot before its doors opened.

Although officials have praised the preparations that residents made as Ivan approached, and credited orderly evacuations with saving lives, Mark Labadie said it was hard to know beforehand just how hard Ivan would make life.

"We didn't expect this to be this bad," he said. "We thought it was going to skirt us."

Up until the last hours before Ivan's landfall early Thursday morning, forecasters had predicted that it would strike Mobile Bay in Alabama. But then the storm turned slightly east, missing the bay and unleashing its most destructive winds on the greater Pensacola area.

"It's been pretty chaotic," said Mike Kader, 35, the owner of the Smoke and Snack convenience store in Pensacola. "A lot of customers want ice. No ice. No batteries. We have a few canned goods."

Robert Balbach, 38, of Pensacola, was in line at the store for cigarettes. "It helps everyone if they open up, sell what they can," he said. "People need things.

"You don't want a bunch of people without their cigarettes."

"We're worried about looters," Kader said, ringing up a sale. "That's probably why we're open today - so we can sell everything before they loot it."

The hurricane formerly known as Jeanne, meanwhile, seemed to be spinning itself away from Florida, sparing the state yet another hit by a big storm.

Earlier, the National Hurricane Center had predicted the storm would follow a track toward the southeastern United States and, possibly, Florida, which has been pummeled by three killer hurricanes - Charley, Frances and Ivan - in little more than a month.

Computer models now suggest it will remain well off the coast, moving north and perhaps continuing on that course for at least the next five days. National Hurricane Center meteorologist Jim Eberwine said the new track came about with a little help from Ivan.

That storm was expected to move slowly over the Southeast, preventing Jeanne from heading north. Then, a high-pressure ridge building over the Midwest was expected to drop down, forcing Jeanne to turn left or right.

But Eberwine said Ivan moved more quickly, clearing the way for the northward movement of Jeanne. By the time the high-pressure ridge settles in, Jeanne is expected to be several hundred miles off the Florida coast, though Eberwine warned that conditions can change.

IVAN'S TOLL

The dead: 70 in the Caribbean, 39 in the US

The damage: U.S. estimate could range from $2 billion to $7 billion, according to Risk Management Solutions.

The loss of power: More than 1.8 million homes and businesses were without power across eight states yesterday.

The Orlando Sentinel contributed to this article. The Sentinel and Tribune are Tribune Publishing newspapers.

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