It’s been 15 years since Hurricane Ivan changed the landscape of northwest Florida. Back in 2004, Tom Ninestine was the Metro Editor of the Pensacola News Journal. Today, Tom is the Managing Editor here at WUWF. He recently sat down with a couple of colleagues who were working with him at the PNJ when the storm hit. This is part one of their conversation.
Tom Ninestine: Once Hurricane Ivan blew through the Panhandle the staff the News Journal felt it was important to bring people as many images as possible. That meant finding ways to travel with damage to roads and bridges. Katie King was a photographer at the paper.
Katie King: Ivan was so widespread that we were having major difficulty trying to get around anywhere with power lines down, trees down — everything all the all the lights were off.
See more images on the Pensacola News Journal website.
So we had to have a lot of police escorts to get around. The day after the storm, I went out with the sheriff's deputies we went to grand Lagoon first and we kept going to Perdido Key to check on Perdido Key we finally get over the bridge to Perdido — they hadn't declared it structurally sound — but we did it anyway. And we get over the bridge and turn the curb and the road was gone it was just sand. And there was just this one guy the island had pretty much vacated completely but there is this one man that was just walking where 98 should have been down what used to be the road which is now six feet of sand. It looked like a scene out of Mad Max.
There was just one guy walking on it just miles of sand so you can see and condos in the back half a mile away you know. We finally get up to him I'm like ‘What are you doing, sir?’ And he is like ‘I've been walking for miles.’ He had stayed in a condo, which he was not supposed to have done, he had stayed in a condo throughout the hurricane he didn't evacuate like you should have and he said that the condo actually held to the point where he survived but it had been gutted. I just looked at him like did you need to get in the car with us what will get you to the nearest shelter. And we figured out very quickly after the storm that in order to get the most news out to a widespread area and let people know how their area in the neighborhoods were doing we needed to do it by air because we could we just simply could not drive.
Tom Ninestine: So the News Journal staff work for law enforcement and officials at the airport and by the second day after the storm Katie was in the air documenting the damage.
Katie King: I think I was in the air probably for three straight weeks in a row every single day shooting specific neighborhoods. The neighborhoods touching the water first just so that people that had fled the area and were trying to get information about how their houses did, and how their home survived tell their neighbors were could see through pictures how their area looked.
Tom Ninestine: Do you remember your first trip up in the air?
Katie King: Yes. It was all waterbound so we looked at Pensacola Beach for the first time Perdido Key for the first time. Grand Lagoon was one I really remember, it was just gone I hadn't really paid that much attention to Grand Lagoon until after Ivan. I didn't really know that much about it but they were really nice homes that were absolutely gone the only thing left was foundations. I saw a car that was in a pool, I saw the homes that were directly touching the bayou were mostly just disappeared.
Tom Ninestine: One of the most famous images from the days after the storm is a picture of a tractor trailer hanging off the Interstate 10 Bridge. The driver of the truck is considered the first known fatality due to Ivan in the region. Katie says that looking at the bridge from the air was a striking site.
Katie King: The bridge look like dominoes had fallen over. They had shifted the bridge back and forth that sections of the bridge, that were intact, were scattered like dominoes and then there were whole sections that just had fallen into the bay.
Tom Ninestine: So as not only airplanes did you open helicopters yes at times.
Katie King: The airplane that I went up the most in was a little Piper cub, very small biplane. It only requires about 65 miles an hour to get off the ground so you don't you could go pretty slow and we can hover quite a bit in that plane. We had several photographers going up the same time, covering different sections so we could get as much coverage as we could quickly. We had a check-off list every morning on which ones we have not done yet and how much fuel Skip has in his plane, how many if he thinks we can check off each box. We were literally trying to make sure every neighborhood got covered so that we can get it up online as quickly as we could.
Tom Ninestine: You could still see hundreds of pictures from the days and weeks after Ivan on the News Journal website. You can listen to some of the radio coverage from before and after Ivan on our website wuwf.org.