Damage assessments were being gathered along the Florida Panhandle and Alabama Gulf coasts in the wake of Hurricane Ivan on Friday. Information was trickling in slowly as communications were badly damaged and many roads clogged with debris.
The Interstate 10 bridge over Escambia Bay, an approximately 2-mile-long twin concrete girder structure, was one of the key pieces of infrastructure taken out by the storm.
It was closed completely after storm surges washed out a quarter mile of deck, says Tom Spates, spokesman for the Florida Dept. of Transportation. The bridge had a clearance of about 55 ft over the bay. "Several spans vanished," says Spates. After surveying the damage Friday morning, the agency planned to select one of four design-build emergency contractors Friday afternoon. The contractor will repair the westbound twin two-lane bridge within two to three weeks, he says.
A state briefing paper issued Friday indicate both the eastbound and westbound sides of the twin bridge suffered severe damage. The U.S. Route 90 bridge, which parallels it, was also closed due to damage. The U.S. Route 98 through Gulf Breeze also reportedly suffered major road damage. "That's the main east-west corridor for goods and services by truck, not only into Pensacola, but also from western reaches back to the eastern areas that were hit by Charley and Frances," says Steve Hall, executive vice president of Associated General Contractors of Greater Florida.
Hall says the state's Contractor Disaster Network, a Website and information and resource exchange set up in 2001, is getting its first big test this hurricane season. Gov. Jeb Bush (R) also signed an executive order that will allow, for 90 days, both in-state, and out-of-state contractors to secure roofing licenses in every county, as long as they can show proof of competency in roofing. Under normal circumstances, such a relaxation of licensing standards would require the passage of ordinances in each county.
In Alabama, Marty Dyson, a spokesman with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, says Gov. Bob Riley (R) and emergency officials were still airborne on a helicopter tour to assess damage Friday afternoon and a situation report will be prepared after they returned. "Some cities are still inaccessible down by the Gulf Coast," he says. Areas with the heaviest damage appear to be just to the east of Mobile. "Baldwin county, Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and Dolphin Island, which is a barrier island. They took the brunt of it," he says.
There were no immediate reports of serious damage to bridges, highways and other infrastructure. Emergency supplies, which had been pre-positioned, appeared to be sufficient for now, Dyson says. Restoring electric service to 1.15 million customers who lost it appears to be the biggest task ahead. "This is the largest power outage in the history of the state, and coupled with that, a lot of Alabama Power crews were down in Florida helping them with restoration there," Dyson says, adding that reinforcements are coming in from other states. He says in the worst case scenario it might take up to three weeks to get power fully restored.
Along Florida's panhandle, 437,703 customers in 17 counties are affected by power outages, the bulk of them in areas served by
Gulf Power, whose crews were also assessing damage from helicopters and trucks. Of its 405,000 customers, 364,969 were in the dark."It's catastrophic," says spokesman John Hutchinson "The electric system it has taken us 80 years to build was basically destroyed in eight hours."
Gulf Power has 1,579 miles of transmission lines, of which 790 miles were reported destroyed. Of the 249 main feeders, 211 were out of service.
As the remnants of Ivan moved north, flood control authorities braced themselves for the impact of a deluge. But the storm has moved faster than anticipated, keeping rain totals to manageable levels, says spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federal utility based in Knoxville, Tenn.