Remembering Ivan: 10 years later

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Ten years ago this week, this community was dealing with the effects of Hurricane Ivan, the nation’s 6th most costly storm.

The Category 4 hurricane, the most powerful to strike the Central Gulf Coast since Hurricane Frederic in 1979, came ashore in Escambia County, Fla. The storm’s powerful surge washed away portions of the I-10 bridge, interrupting the flow of east-west traffic, much of which was diverted to Hwy. 84, and thence through Covington County.

Locally, winds began to pick up about 8 p.m. on Wed., Sept 15, according to Star-News archives, and continued until the afternoon of Thurs., Sept. 16. There was no power on in the city.

“I actually flipped the switch to turn the power off,” Mayor Earl Johnson recalled. “If you don’t, it creates all kind of other dangers, to general public, but also to the rescue and utility workers when they begin to work to remove trees and downed power lines.”

Johnson said the decision was made locally to cut the power when winds reached 100 miles per hour.

“Because of that, we minimized to some degree the damage to our system,” he recalled.

Andalusia and Covington County escaped much of the tornadic activity that accompanied Ivan experienced by the city’s neighbors to the west, and therefore suffered less damage.

Tragically, there was one death in the community. Sally Kirkpatrick, then 75, died in a house fire on the wee hours of Sept. 17. The fire was believed to have started with a candle.

Her husband and family later donated the property on which their home was situated to the city, and a park has been built in Mrs. Kirkpatrick’s memory.

One thing that made recovery better here, Johnson said, is the teamwork of city workers and local residents. With city hall as headquarters, departments worked together to remove debris and restore power. About 85 percent of the lights were back on by Friday night, according to newspaper archives, and the rest were on by the weekend.

Johnson recalled that he and his wife, Syvlia, slept on the floor in city hall for three nights as crews worked round the clock to get the city operational again.

Covington County EMA director Susan Carpenter said that in the past 10 years, prediction methods and messaging for storms have improved.

“More people NOAA weather radios, and there are more businesses that have the generator back-ups,” Carpenter said.

More individuals have storm shelters in place now, she said, adding that she would like to see an increase in community shelters, more to go to during hurricanes.

“Because we have limited shelters, people need to plan to take care of themselves at home,” she said. “If you live in a mobile home, check with your neighbors and family members and plan now where you’ll go.”

Having supplies on hand in case of a storm is not a waste of time or money, she added.

“You can use the items, and if we do have a hurricane, you’ll be prepared.”

Hurricane season officially ends in November.