Thursday, July 14, 2005

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson


My family spent quite a bit of time over the weekend watching The Weather Channel.

We, as most all in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana, were concerned about the path of Hurricane Dennis.

At least once a year, we go to Orange Beach for a family vacation. We were last there in March during spring break and witnessed much of the destruction that Hurricane Ivan left behind. Ivan struck just last September.

There were tall piles of rubble.

Houses and businesses were still in shambles.

Construction workers were everywhere.

We were hoping and praying that Hurricane Dennis’ destruction would be minimal, and particularly that the eye of the storm would not again hit the Orange Beach area. Our friends there didn’t deserve another direct hit.

It seems as everyone’s prayers were answered.

Hurricane Dennis struck land on Santa Rosa Island between Navaree Beach and Pensacola Beach at 2:25 p.m. Sunday. It was a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane with winds of 120 miles per hour; however the region was spared of the widespread destruction caused by Ivan just 10 months ago.

“I think we dodged a pretty large bullet,” a restaurant owner in Pensacola told a reporter. “I think people took more precautions the second time around.”

Dennis, which had been responsible for at least 20 deaths in the Caribbean, did cause damage in the U.S. when it came ashore with wind and heavy rainfall.

“Because of where it went in, we missed a real close shot,” Escambia County Commissioner Mike Whitehead told a reporter. “If that thing had shifted 20 miles to the west, we’d have been in trouble, but we got real lucky.”

It was the fifth hurricane to strike Florida in less than 11 months. President Bush issued a major disaster declaration for the state.

He also declared 38 counties in Mississippi and 45 in Alabama federal disaster areas, making them eligible for assistance from FEMA.

Marshall County started getting some rainfall from the storm Sunday evening, and the wet stuff continued Monday. But it could have been a lot worse here, too.

The hurricanes that hit along the coast have a wide-ranging effect. That’s because people from all over, including Marshall County, either have family there, own property there, have friends there, or vacation there.

Plus, many go there for conventions. In fact, educators, municipal leaders, attorneys, and perhaps others were scheduled to leave this past weekend for conferences. Those were either canceled or rescheduled.

Power outages from Hurricane Dennis affected more than 236,700 homes and businesses in the Panhandle, some 280,000 in Alabama, 55,000 in Georgia and at least 5,000 people in Mississippi.

We were talking Monday at the office about the people who choose to live near the beach, and the threats during hurricane season. After Ivan and Dennis, one would think this might be a time those living along the Alabama and Florida coast line, might have second thoughts. But, to the contrary, most just keep on keeping on.

“I’ve lived here 23 years,” said one resident of Navaree Beach who just finished repairing damage to his house from Hurricane Ivan five weeks ago and then Dennis brought six feet of Gulf water into his house. “I’ve been through several hurricanes, and I just keep patching up. I guess I’ll patch it up again.”

And while he’s patching, the next tropical system has blossomed in the Atlantic. It is Tropical Storm Emily with 50 mph winds. It could reach hurricane status by press time.

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