On September 16, 2004, Hurricane Ivan slammed into the Gulf Coast of the United States. The Category 3 hurricane had lost some force by the time it made landfall at approximately 2 AM, but that was little consolation for residents of coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, who had to contend with 125 mph winds and a 16 foot storm surge. The center of the hurricane came ashore near Mobile, AL, but Pensacola, FL, about 35 miles east of the eye of the storm, got hammered. Over 7 months later, the damage done by Ivan could still be seen up and down the Panhandle Coast. Construction was proceeding all around, but destruction lurked in every corner. Countless blue government issue tarps were still nailed to roofs and many windows remained boarded.
It is, of course, the beach communities that bore the brunt of Hurricane Ivan. Shifting sand and tides make life on these strips of land precarious under the best circumstances. Ivan made life impossible. These photos were taken just west of Fort Walton Beach and, while the hurricane stilts helped to a degree, the devastation was widespread. The majority of homes were badly battered, with shutters hanging loose, stairways gone, and roofs ripped-up. While a few hammers clattered here and there and a power saw or two rang out, many residents had obviously not yet returned to what may have been vacation homes. Most haunting were the broken stumps of hurricane stilts that were visible every so often, the gorgeous homes they had once supported nowhere to be seen.
A few feet beyond where these photos were taken, access was impossible. The road remained buried under several feet of sand and not a structure was visible on the horizon. On this beautiful late-March evening, with a light, warm breeze blowing and the ocean gently lapping at the shore, it was hard to imagine the fury that had torn this neighborhood apart. Some residents might tell you that living in such a place made the risk worth it. Gazing out across the ocean, ankle-deep in perfect sand, gulls wheeling overhead, wrecked homes in every direction, I wouldn't have tried to argue with them.