At 1:50 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2004, the powerful hurricane made landfall just west of Gulf Shores, Alabama as a Category 3 storm.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Fifteen years ago today powerful Hurricane Ivan slammed into the Florida Panhandle with category 3 winds and epic storm surge. Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties all suffered extensive damage from Ivan. Below is a story written by Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin, which was published in the Sept. 17, 2004 Daily News, about the storm:
Boats thrown from Santa Rosa Sound lay strewn along U.S. Highway 98 in Fort Walton Beach on Thursday. A barge blocked the road's eastbound lanes.
Vessels that had remained secured to their moorings when Hurricane Ivan came through in the early morning hours were sunk or had been crushed against pilings that were all of what remained of piers.
Pavilions and the children's play area at Liza Jackson Park were submerged. The wooden walkway at Fort Walton Beach Landing was ruined, sections of it destroyed, others underwater and some just missing.
"Does the word devastation really describe this?" wondered Fort Walton Beach Police Capt. Tony Taylor.
Devastation described quite fittingly the scene in the city, which was hit as hard as anywhere in Okaloosa County.
The winds and storm surge generated by Hurricane Ivan when it came ashore at Gulf Shores, Ala., also whacked Okaloosa Island.
Home furnishings reduced to rubble were strewn across Santa Rosa Boulevard, the island's residential sector, and, for the second time in a decade, U.S. 98 washed out between the Brooks and Destin bridges.
"It's not there, it's totally gone," Sheriff Charlie Morris said, speaking of the dunes on the barrier island that had once served to protect U.S. 98. "We have no dunes."
The sugar white sand dunes that long-time natives so fondly recall were wiped off the map by Hurricane Opal in 1995. Nearly nine full years of efforts to rebuild them weren't enough. Water from the Gulf of Mexico had reached the side of the road by mid-afternoon Wednesday, and had crumpled the highway by Thursday morning.
"The Materhorn is still there," Morris said, speaking of a popular local landmark. "Everything on the other (east) side is gone."
Invariably, everyone compared Hurricane Ivan to Hurricane Opal. That Ivan had even earned a place alongside the legendary Opal was evidence of its fury.
"This looks a lot worse than Opal," Leo Hagan said as he looked at the bright yellow barge that lay sprawled across U.S. 98. "This is the worst I've seen in 30-something years. This is phenomenal."
Falling trees, rising water and punishing winds did damage in neighborhoods all around Fort Walton Beach. Damon Bloom said he ventured outside his 701 W. Sunset Blvd. home at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday to find a massive pine tree had fallen against his home.
The fence running behind Bloom's property had also been destroyed.
About noon, when the rain subsided and the winds died down a little, Bloom and others emerged from their homes and began doing what they could to clean things up.
"It was real scary," said Sheree Smart of 318 Priscilla Drive as her husband David, and son, David Jr., repaired a damaged roof. "A glass door on the back of the house was just shaking, but just the roof was damaged.
"We got lucky, I guess."
All along Beal Parkway, Eglin Parkway and Racetrack Road there was evidence of Ivan. A pile of traffic signals that had fallen onto Beal Parkway were stacked at the corner of Duloft Street.
Gas stations appeared to have been particularly vulnerable; it seemed as though every canopy over every gas pump in southern Okaloosa County was twisted into unrecognizable shapes.
Even Fort Walton Beach City Hall didn't escape the storm. Police Capt. Taylor said the area around the government complex was still underwater at 1 p.m.
One of the worst hit areas, Taylor said, was the Charlie Hill Terrace public housing complex. He said the subdivision was under three to four feet of water.
Another subdivision devastated by turbulent waters was the gated community of Lighthouse Pointe, just south of the Shalimar Bridge. The massive houses, built on Garnier's Bayou, all appeared to have suffered water damage, and several boats tied to private docks looked to be damaged.
High water brought a strange visitor to Joe Walker's back yard at 644 W. Sunset Blvd.
"I looked out and there was a 35-foot boat going across my lawn," said Walker, whose home backs up onto Cinco Bayou. "It was not a little boat. I don't know how it missed all the trees."
On Okaloosa Island it was harder to determine where all the damage had occurred. Sheriff's Office Lt. Joe Nelson said early in the day that emergency crews were still trying to determine how badly beachfront properties had been harmed.
From Santa Rosa Boulevard, it was hard to see where the debris had come from, but a lot of it ended up in the parking lot of the Sea Oats condominium complex. Town-homes across the way from that condominium suffered severe structural damage that included the collapse of an outer wall.
Sheriff's Office spokesmen Rick Hord, who took members of the media to the Okaloosa Island, said it seemed that Ivan's storm surge had not equaled Opal's, at least not along Santa Rosa Boulevard.
There was wind damage though.
A wall also collapsed at Brooks Bridge Marina and Dry Storage on the island. Corrugated metal waved in still powerful winds Thursday afternoon as an alarm inside the business sounded.