Many call the hurricane that struck the Florida Panhandle July 10, 2005 Dennis the Menace; I call him Déjà vu Dennis. Our area was still recovering from last September’s Hurricane Ivan when the nightmare of Hurricane Dennis arrived in the Gulf of Mexico. We all watched with horror as Pensacola became the center of the strike zone.
Disbelief was our initial reaction, but quickly the Panhandle residents surged into action. Overwhelmed by last year’s Ivan, residents were determined to be as prepared as possible for Dennis. Three days before he swept onto our shores, fuel became difficult to find; ATM machines spun their wheels only to reveal they were empty of the cash so desperately needed; food fled off of the shelves of grocery stores; and hardware stores hardly had any supplies at all.
We had decided to stay in Pensacola for this storm. Without a camera crew at the Dome of a Home, there was no educational purpose to staying on the beach. Pointless danger was an unnecessary risk that we decided to forego. I was relieved. I stocked our hurricane house in town and prepared to hunker down for Dennis. At 4:30 am, Mark woke us up and said the storm was predicted to have 180 mile an hour gusts — wind that would literally knock down our refuge as it huffed and puffed. We all had full tanks of gas, took 30 minutes to gather our belongings and fled to Georgia. Thank you so much to the angels, Tommy and Dana, that took our family in; fed us; and let us use their hot showers and comfortable beds.
Fortunately, Déjà vu Dennis lost some of its punch before landing on the Panhandle. Many said we got off lucky. Definitely an odd perspective when you are hoping the storm is only a Category 3. I learned that perspective is just about attitude. There was a time when we would cower at a Category 3 raging toward our shores. But, when the storm has been almost a Category 5, a Category 3 seems a welcome relief. Bizarre this process of anxiety and relief literally washing over us in undulating waves.
Some of us were not as affected by Dennis, yes, that is true. But, when I read or hear how we “dodged a bullet”, I don’t think they have seen my neighbors’ homes. Many of my neighbors received even more damage from Dennis. Some that had completed their repairs from Ivan were now looking at starting over, yet again. Hurricane Ivan hit us from the east and south; Dennis blasted through from the north and west. Unexpectedly, many houses that survived Ivan were severely damaged by Dennis.
From the looks of things, Dennis must have had several very intense wind bursts or tornadoes. Although the surge was minimal compared to Ivan, the wind with Dennis was significant enough to literally rip off new roofs, collapse homes into themselves; topple construction cranes; and fling debris projectiles into the side of buildings.
I hurt when I look around our island. We seem to be caught in a horrible vortex that streamlines storms from the tropics to the Panhandle. The fear as yet another storm becomes named is palpable. Despair dims the light in my neighbors’ eyes. It’s difficult to maintain one’s optimism when it feels like we have become a target. My neighbors and I wished each other luck as I rode my bicycle by their homes before evacuating the island. Many of them returned home to a dreaded sense of Déjà vu: another mess to clean up; more insurance to fight for; FEMA and SBA lines to wait in; and the elusive search for the blue tarps begins again.
Because Dennis was more of a wind storm on Pensacola Beach, the Dome of a Home was minimally affected. We lost our temporary back stairs and some of the screens in the back porch in the wind, but the storm surge was not significant enough to remove the garbage cans out of the garage. Nor, strong enough to transform the dumpsters into floating battering rams.
So….the stairs made it fine!!!
Our new island manager, Buck Lee, had the residents back on the island to view their homes in less than 24 hours. GREAT JOB, Buck! The unknown is the absolute worst. And thanks to the Pensacola News Journal, for placing a comprehensive picture gallery on their website. It certainly was a relief to be able to scan the pictures to see how the area fared.
I had numerous phone calls from those who through various means had seen that the Dome’s stairs were still in place. Their excitement for the Dome and their sympathy for less fortunate residents was relayed with heartfelt sincerity. I was overwhelmed at the kind words I received from so many. Thanks to all that contacted me with your concern and words of encouragement.
I hope that the Panhandle is noticeably absent from any more strike cones this season. Post traumatic stress has become a constant neighbor over the last 10 months, I am ready to have my old neighbors back.