September 18, 2004
Hurricane Ivan's furious onslaught left behind a driving nightmare for many area residents trying to navigate damaged bridges and debris-filled roads.
But getting around should soon get easier for drivers who who can find gasoline.
After Hurricane Ivan made landfall early Thursday, nearly every major bridge in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties was shut down pending inspection by the Florida Department of Transportation.
FDOT spokesman Tommie Speights said more than 200 Florida road employees from across the state have come to the area, and many bridges should soon open.
"With the exception of the Escambia Bay Bridge on Interstate 10, all the area bridges are sound," Speights said.
I-10 span most damaged
Two lanes of traffic over the U.S. 90 bridge between Pace and Pensacola opened Friday, as did State Road 87 between Navarre and U.S. 90 in Milton. U.S. 98 from Gulf Breeze to the Okaloosa County line is now open, but the span from there to Destin will remain closed until road crews can repair washouts.
Pensacola Bay Bridge could open for traffic today or Sunday and Garcon Point Bridge, where Hurricane Ivan ripped concrete on the road at the north bridge entrance, should soon follow, Speights said.
It will be two to three weeks, however, before traffic on Interstate 10 will cross the Escambia Bay Bridge. FDOT officials let a contract Friday to begin work on the westbound span of the bridge deck damaged by the storm. Once the work is completed, two-lane traffic on the westbound lanes will open to both eastbound and westbound traffic.
The eastbound lanes were more seriously damaged when a large section of bridge deck collapsed. It was not known how long repairs will take, Speights said.
Some still stranded
Reopening of the bridges and roads is good news for some residents stranded on the South Santa Rosa County peninsula. Many Gulf Breeze Hospital employees have slept at the medical center for days, nursing supervisor Tina Schmidt said. Some rested at the hospital because they've been working around the clock and others because they couldn't get home.
"You just take it in stride," Schmidt said. "All the emergency personnel over here are working together to try and make it happen."
Employees who live on Pensacola Beach won't go home soon though, although road crews could complete a temporary road patch today at Bob Sikes Bridge where storm surge sheared away a 40-foot section at the entrance to the bridge. The Theo Baars Bridge at Perdido Key also is open and damage to the Navarre Beach Causeway could soon be repaired, Speights said.
But residents with homes on the coastal communities of Peridido Key, Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach won't be able to visit their beach homes anytime soon. The bridges will remain closed until damage assessments are complete, officials said.
Lillian off limits
"Right now, we are focusing our efforts on trying to clean up so we can get to Perdido Key and figure out how we are going to get to Pensacola Beach," Escambia County communications specialist Kelly Cooke said.
Lillian, Ala., will remain off limits, at least for a while. The bridge still was under water Friday, Speights said, making inspection impossible.