At the time Hurricane Ivan roared through I had been living in Gautier for 11 years. My first wife and I purchased a house in Gautier in October 1993 and I finished out my navy career living aboard my ship in Hawaii. I finally returned back to Gautier in February 1996 retired from the Navy, and planned on making Gautier my permanent home. When we settled on the Gulf Coast I knew we were living in an area prone to hurricanes but I wasn’t very worried. I’d already lived 12 years in earthquake-prone Southern California, then three years living within sight of volcano Vesuvius in southern Italy. I considered that hurricanes would be just another part of the adventure of living.
My first introduction to hurricanes was Georges, which made a direct impact on my part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast on September 28, 1998. The hurricane caused the water of the bayou behind my house to rise within two feet of the floor and put four large pine trees on the roof. Along with other more minor damages.
That experience was a primer on life with hurricanes. I cleaned up the mess from Hurricane Georges and moved on.
By September 2004 I was still living in Gautier, working at a local shipyard, divorced and remarried, but my new wife Weifang (aka: “Winnie”) was still in China awaiting her US visa. We had been married the previous October but her visa application was seemingly lost in the dysfunctional black hole of the US Customs and Immigration Service. My social life revolved around getting on-line twice each day to chat with her. I had already purchased airline tickets for a trip back to China to be together on our first anniversary, just a few weeks away, and I was still trying to save travel money and accrue enough vacation time for the trip.
After Hurricane Georges I had adopted the Gulf Coast practice of monitoring the weather during hurricane season (June 1 through November 30) for hurricane alerts. About September 5, 2004, I became aware of the new tropical storm named Ivan forming out in the Atlantic and heading west. Over the next several days I and my co-workers paid increasing amounts of attention to the storm as it wrecked first Grenada then Jamaica, and headed for the Gulf of Mexico.
Knowing that whenever a storm approached the Gulf Cost supplies sold out quickly, on Sunday September 12 I made a run to my local big box home improvement center for plywood. I didn’t board up the 13 large windows in my house for Hurricane Georges and discovered my error when one of the windows almost blew in. However, cutting enough 4’x8′ sheets of plywood to cover 13 windows of four different sizes wasn’t something I did just for fun. I managed to beat the rush and got enough plywood to cover all my windows. That afternoon I started cutting.
By Sunday evening I was nowhere near finished. Monday morning Ivan entered the Gulf of Mexico through the Yucatan Channel so I burned up a day’s vacation to cut more plywood while monitoring the weather news. The news was getting worse and at one point that day the storm was rated a category five with a projected path going right over the top of my house, with predicted landfall sometime late Wednesday. I decided that I’d evacuate. By Monday night all my windows were covered and I gassed up my truck, once again ahead of the hurricane rush.
I was back at work Tuesday, September 14. By now the shipyard, as well as the entire Gulf Coast, was making hurricane preparations. My co-workers and I spent the day finishing up tasks and covering up our work areas. The shipyard closed for the storm at 2:00PM, with re-opening to be announced some time after Thursday, September 16. From what I experienced during Hurricane Georges I didn’t expect the shipyard to reopen until the following Monday at earliest. By now the track had drifted a bit to the east of us, heading over Mobile, Alabama, but no one in my area was taking chances.
Evacuating had its own set of problems, with the first problem being where to evacuate too. Evacuation orders had been going out since Sunday and most hotels north of the Coast were already booked up. I made arrangements with my nephew Terry in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to stay with him and his family. It was an eight hour drive north but it seemed like the best option. A side benefit was that I’d have a chance to spend time with family, something I didn’t get to do very often.
By late Tuesday night my house was as ready for the storm as it was going to be. I’d picked small things off the floor and covered over the furniture (to protect against leaks in the event the roof blew off). My venerable 1988 Isuzu Pickup truck was packed with my most irreplaceable belongings; computer, camera equipment and collection of photo negatives, important documents, and a small suitcase of clothing for the weekend. I also had my cellphone, which was somewhat of a novelty as I didn’t use it much. Landfall was now predicted for late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning and people on the Coast were already leaving.
I didn’t bother with bringing any blankets or food as my truck was already pretty packed. Besides, it was only an eight hour drive and I would be staying with family. What could go wrong?