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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Ivan puts 'terrible' scare into Island
4:21 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14. Category 5 Hurricane Ivan with the storm eye measuring 16 nautical miles enters the Gulf of Mexico after crossing the Yucatan Channel. The storm center in this satellite image is 450 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Islander Photo: Courtesy NOAA

Five-day forecasts for hurricanes are a lot like marriages. They're a 50-50 proposition.

The Thursday, Sept. 9, forecast for Hurricane Ivan put the center of the Category 5, 160-mph hurricane directly over Anna Maria Island in 5 days, and sent Islanders scrambling for gas, plywood, water and evacuation routes.

But even the National Hurricane Center in Miami says in the fine print of its forecasts that 5-day predictions have greater than a 50-percent margin of error. In other words, your marriage is in better shape than a 5-day prediction.

By Monday, the official forecast was that Ivan was headed toward the central Florida panhandle, and would be more than 200 miles east of Tampa Bay by Wednesday morning. Not even tropical storm force winds would reach the Island, according to the NHC, but some high waves were expected along the shore.

But Ivan sure put a terrible scare into Islanders. With near misses the past month from Frances and Charley, Islanders weren't taking any chances. This was the big one.

On Friday, boarding of homes and condos was well under way, and Island Lumber sold out its plywood supply by 10 a.m. Even reservations of wood proved fruitless in some cases, with supplies too short to meet demand.

Builder Jeff Murray apparently allocated some plywood he ordered for a big job to friends and associates for the emergency.

The unfounded rumor of statewide gas rationing spawned a flurry of already-brisk sales at Island gas pumps.

Jesse's Island store sold out of gas Friday afternoon, but received a shipment later that night.

At the Holmes Beach Pure service station, owner Bret Vande Vrede said, "Unless they post a trooper on the corner, I'm selling all I can to anyone who wants it, and when it's gone, I can go home."

Worried and hurricane-weary residents also planned to board up and head out.

"This is the first time I've boarded up my home, but when Frances was approaching, my sliding doors were shaking and they're 34 years old, so I did it for the first time. I'm ready to leave. I'm definitely not staying," said Helen White of SunCoast Real Estate and a 50-year Island resident.

That thought was echoed by Island resident Dan Howe. "Depending on what the storm does, I'm either heading to Jupiter or Atlanta, and I'm boarding up for the first time. I based it on the success of Home Depot's predictions. They've been right every time."

Not this time.

Even Island city governments were concerned.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn and Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore on Friday ordered files and important equipment packed up and shipped to a safe location on the mainland.

"We're taking no chances," said SueLynn. "It's better to be safe than sorry."

By Saturday morning, however, the forecast had shifted Ivan to pass about 40 miles off Anna Maria Island. As new predictions were posted online by the NHC every three hours, the forecast track continued to shift westward in the Gulf. On Sunday afternoon, the NHC forecast put the center of Ivan about 225 miles due west of the Island today, creating a collective sigh of relief among Islanders.

The Island was expected to get seas 3 to 5 feet high along with 2-4 inches of rain and some wind, according to the NHC, but nothing approaching tropical storm conditions.

Manatee County Emergency Operations Center officials decided to halt the daily briefings after the Monday session, as the storm continued to veer farther and farther west. Projected landfall was the the western Panhandle of Florida to Louisiana.

Some Islanders, however, said they weren't going to take down the plywood until the danger had completely passed. "This thing could turn and come right at us," said one weary business owner. "All this worrying has been making everyone sick, and I'm not taking any chances."

As Holmes Beach City Commissioner Don Maloney once noted, "Eighty percent of Islanders have never experienced the big one. And they still haven't."

But West Manatee Fire and Rescue Chief Andy Price reminded Islanders that in Florida, "It's not a question of if, but when."

And there's still three months left in the 2004 hurricane season, he observed.

Indeed. Late Monday afternoon, the NHC reported a tropical depression was on a west-northwest track to the central Caribbean. It was expected to intensify to a tropical storm later this week.