Arlene delivers modest blow to Fla.

Tropical storm follows path of last year's Ivan but does much less harm

June 12, 2005|By Mark Hollis | Mark Hollis,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. - Protecting her face from a blast of rain and powdery white sand yesterday as she stood by a mound of debris left over from September's Hurricane Ivan, Sandy Irvine wondered aloud whether she can withstand another hurricane season.

"It's so terrifying," Irvine said as Tropical Storm Arlene swept ashore. "We knew that when hurricane season came we'd be concerned and paying attention. But we just hoped and prayed that it wouldn't happen here again. We've only just gotten the house repaired and still haven't settled in."

For residents of the western Florida Panhandle, Arlene was a relatively gentle reminder that the hurricane season has begun.

The storm, which came ashore about 3 p.m. near Pensacola with sustained winds of 60 mph, followed a path similar to the one Ivan took nine months ago but didn't pack the same punch or cause nearly the destruction that last year's storm did.

Ivan, which had 120-mph winds, battered this barrier-island beach town and a 100-mile stretch of the Florida gulf coast, causing 29 deaths.

No deaths were reported from yesterday's storm, but more than 11,000 homes were without power yesterday evening, Florida Panhandle bridges were closed, and highways were flooded in Alabama.

Authorities expect a rapid cleanup, and the sun is expected to return today.

"It's almost like a cruel joke," said Steve Elder as he swept rocks and sand from the open-air first floor of his beachfront condominium. "It just isn't fair that we have to go through this again, and so soon. This is a tough price for living in paradise."

From the beach towns of the western Panhandle to back roads near the Alabama-Florida border, reminders of last year's hurricane destruction are everywhere.

Piles of broken concrete from damaged roads, glass shards, heavy chunks of metal and storm-battered automobiles stand alongside sand dunes and broken beachside houses.

Storm-ravaged roofs are covered with plastic tarps. And homes, hotels and small businesses are struggling to recover from the effects of last year's hurricanes, hampered by this spring's heavy rainfall. In April, three storms in three weeks dumped 14 inches of rain in 24 hours in Escambia County, which includes Pensacola.

"It's not fair; it's like insult to injury for us to have to contend with this," said Lane Gilchrist, mayor of Gulf Breeze, Fla., population 6,000, as he shopped for groceries just before Arlene arrived. "I don't mind a few puddles, but we can't deal with even more rain."

The Pensacola area is home to more than 400,000 permanent residents and thousands of military personnel.

"It's a little depressing," said Escambia County Sheriff Ron McNesby. "There's just a lot of homes and people not ready for something like this. I saw a lot of blue roofs flapping and some pretty sad faces. But we know we're fortunate because [Arlene] could have been worse. This is just a little setback to our recovery."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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