Remembering scenes of destruction from previous hurricanes

Barry Evans
Barry Evans

It is difficult to write a normal missive when a hurricane is possibly headed this way.  When I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, hurricanes were something that occurred in other places and little thought was given to them.  Of course, back then the long warning systems were not available, and television was not there to scare the heck out of you.   Since then, I have learned firsthand of the power of these destructive storms.  They are not nice acts of nature in any way that you look at them.

We moved to Florida in 1990 when I accepted a position as city manager in Deerfield Beach.  While I was minding my own business in August, 1992 Hurricane Andrew decided to come for a visit.  At one point it was headed straight for Deerfield Beach.  It is kind of an eerie feeling when you know that you cannot evacuate since you are the city manager and need to be at the emergency center.  Also, while you are there the wife, son and dog are sleeping in the bedroom closets at home.

Deerfield Beach turned out to be pretty lucky as Andrew took a swing to the south and demolished Homestead, Florida City and other parts of Dade County in particular.  Deerfield Beach suffered some peripheral wind damage, but nothing like what happened south of us.  I do recall going out of the city hall that night after Andrew had hit the mainland and looking south.  What you could see were the lights in all the areas south of us going out and a then wave came up and swept over us so that we had no lights or electricity either.   

I left Deerfield Beach in 1994 and became County Administrator in Escambia County (Pensacola).  I had been there about a few months and Labor Day was approaching when a hurricane set its sights on Pensacola.  I made the decision to close Pensacola Beach, and naturally the hurricane decided to go visit Alabama.  Labor Day was a big season for the hotels and merchants on Pensacola Beach and they were irate that I had closed the beach and felt that my head (with the rest of my body hopefully) should be someplace else.

However, there was a heavy reaction to their reaction, and the newspaper wrote a very nice editorial supporting my decision.  My critics then apologized and the main one even invited me to his restaurant and gave me a big cup with my name on it – such cups were limited to their best customers.  His restaurant, by the way, was unique in that patrons would take a dollar bill, put their name on it and then tape it to the rafters.  There were dollar bills hanging everywhere.

We had more hurricanes while I was there.  One year we had two – one in April and one in October.  Pensacola Beach got hit hard at least twice during my tenure there.  In one it was the wind that twisted everything around, and in the other a storm surge went over the island and swept away a number of homes that had been built in the 1950’s.  In the long run that turned out to be good as new homes were built on the beaches.  They were raised high with an open area below so that any future surge would go under the house. 

However, scenes of the destruction still remain in my mind. For some reason, I recall looking at some relatively new condo type dwelling and the areas where cars were kept being swept out.  One of them had a Porsche planted outside with the trunk end buried in the sand and the front end straight up.  There was, of course, lots of different types of damage with many block houses collapsed and the block just lying around.

Pensacola has a history of hurricanes.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for one, Pensacola would be the oldest city in the U.S. rather than St. Augustine.  The Spaniards set up a colony in 1559 or about six years before St. Augustine.  They sent 11 ships and 1500 people to Pensacola.  When they got there they were tired and determined to unload the supplies the next day.  A hurricane came and sunk all the ships but one.   They tried to hang on, but after about two years, everything was abandoned.  The Spaniards did not return for over a 100 years as the area was considered too dangerous.

Let’s hope that Irma or any other hurricane does not do that to any part of Florida!

Barry Evans writes about Life in The Villages for