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Hurricane Ivan 15 Years Later: Finding The Stories

Bruce Graner
Pensacola News Journal

Every neighborhood in the region was affected by Hurricane Ivan, and telling the stories of those neighborhoods meant finding a way for reporters to travel to those neighborhoods.

Troy Moon was a reporter for the news journal when Ivan hit.

Troy Moon: So there was a lot of ground work, a lot of driving. I remember early on I just get in my vehicle and navigating what neighborhoods like could. I came out of my house I live right by Jerry’s Drive-In right behind there. Power was out, trees down but I could get out of the neighborhood and literally you start driving to various neighborhoods the closer ones you know because you can get to them and luckily I was in Pensacola proper so I could see the Pensacola neighborhoods. But it took a little while it longer for us to get out to some of the other neighborhoods but I did make it to Grand Lagoon and pretty soon I spend a lot of time over at Grand Lagoon.  It's an old neighborhood, older west side neighborhood on the water. I know a lot of retired military folks there and then I got to know him pretty well those homes were just completely gone. To me, Grand Lagoon is the neighborhood that sticks out in my head.

Tom Ninestine: Sitting and reminiscing about the days after Ivan 15 years later with photographer Katie King and me, Troy Moon says one story from Grand Lagoon that made a chilling impression on him was a story of a couple who drowned in their front yard.

Troy Moon: How do you drown in your own yard?

And that's what happened. You drown in your own front yard they were literally out there and they perished and I met so many retired couples who had everything in their homes — and then that the fights with insurance agents afterwards. But for me early on was a lot of driving and lot of wet notepads just trying to get wherever I can you know and dodging those lines and going to get little snippets of neighborhood. She couldn't get in and do every neighborhood, but you can you can give people taste of various neighborhoods but you really have to worry about the logistics of it all I mean with the lines down and roads closed.

You're trying to find different ways and looking at maps to find short cuts and back roads areas. I think overall we did a pretty good job I think we did the community proud.

Tom Ninestine: There are also stories that had to be untold after the storm there was a steady stream of rumors making their way through the community they need to be there verified or debunked. There was one particular gruesome rumor that said there were refrigerated trucks lined up at Sacred Heart Hospital filled with bodies.

We had to do a story on it. At first we just said ‘let that go,’ but it got to be such a prevalent rumor that we did a front page story. I remember that and Sheriff Nesby at the time said if anybody knows of anybody who is missing or has died and hasn't alerted anybody let us know and to my knowledge nobody came.

Troy Moon: There were all these claims of unsubstantiated [rumors]. Dozens and dozens of bodies packed in this truck. Well, where were their relatives searching for them? Still the rumors can be dangerous. You know if you hear that, and you believe it, there's this mistrust that grows. I thought it was really important that Randy Hammer, I think, wrote the editorial. [It was] really strongly worded about the rumors and that's how they were all bunch of malarkey.

Ninestine: And they weren't only dozens of dead bodies but then it was also the Tom Thumb at XYZ Street has gas and so hundreds of people would head that way and then they wouldn't have gas. So now they waste a gallon of gas trying to get there only to be turned away.

Troy Moon: It really is kind like the fog of hurricane [war]. I mean because there's just rumors [and] you're trying to make sense of everything and I think we did a pretty good job of just laying down the facts of what happened.

Tom Ninestine: Somebody called and there was an Albertson's at Mobile Highway back then and said “The Alberston’s on Mobile Highway is open you need to put that on your website.’ Well, luckily I think Shelia Ingram had gone to Osceola Golf Course to check on the damage there and so I had her swing by and she said no those are the employees. There was a crowd but no those are the employees in the manager said we'll meet at two o'clock on whatever day it was to see it assess the damage to the store and I can tell you when to get back to work. But no, somebody drove by, saw a crowd and assume the Albertson's was open. If we had just posted that, there would’ve been a thousand people who were looking for water food.”

Troy Moon: And then would’ve been upset with the News Journal.

Tom Ninestine: So we decided early on that unless it's somebody we trust— government agency, police, whomever — or see it with our own eyes we weren't going to put anything on the website.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.