PERDIDO BEACH, Fla., Sept. 17 -- Ivan leapt past its recent predecessors Friday to become the deadliest American hurricane since Floyd in 1999. The storm's U.S. death toll rose to 39 as it carved its slow, wet, brutal signature on the Southeast, dropping heavy rain and causing floods from northern Alabama to Virginia's Appalachian Mountains.
More than 1.8 million people were without power in nine states, and basic necessities were in such short supply on the shaken Florida Panhandle that the National Guard was marshaled to hand out food and water. Peanut and cotton farmers pondered their ruin in rain-soaked Georgia, toppled trees and flooding were major concerns in Virginia, and funeral directors were working in seven states.
Devastation is evident at the Grande Lagoon subdivision off Gulf Beach Highway in Pensacola, Fla., one day after Hurricane Ivan tore through the area.
(Michael Spooneybarger -- Tampa Tribune Via AP)
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Ivan's damaging rains have landed on huge tracts of land already made soggy by either Frances, which struck earlier this month, or Charley, which hit last month -- or both.
"It's sad," said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R). "I don't know quite why we've had this run of storms. You just have to accept that."
By early Friday evening, nine tornadoes spun off by Ivan had touched down in Virginia, pushing the storm's tally of twisters, which have destroyed hundreds of homes in Florida and Georgia, to more than 20. Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) declared the third state of emergency in Virginia in three weeks.
Heavy rainfall was expected to continue across the state into Saturday, causing flooding in low-lying areas and near waterways. Officials also warned of flooding in spots where it does not normally occur because of drenched grounds and said the downpours would cause mudslides in areas with steep terrain.
The misery is being wrought by the remnants of a hurricane that seemed incomprehensible only a few weeks ago, when it was a baby tropical storm far off in the Caribbean. People in emergency operations centers that were opened to clean up after Hurricane Frances joked then that Ivan might never make land.
Now, as Ivan lurches northward, another storm -- Jeanne -- is forming in the Caribbean and worrying many that it will follow Charley, Frances and Ivan to Florida. Jeanne's projected track has drifted slightly east, away into the Atlantic, but the east coast of Florida remains in the National Hurricane Center's range of possible landfall points.
Here, on the Florida-Alabama border, long stretches of the beach road are one-laners now. Half the road is just gone.
The beach itself has been relocated to the dance floor of the Flora-Bama Lounge, a musty, grimy, wondrous roadhouse that sits on the border of the two states. The lounge, which has hosted headliners as diverse as Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr., is so beloved that word of its possible demise was greeted with almost as much dismay as the persistence of power outages and the endless waits for ice and water. The sand rises halfway to the ceiling -- and what a ceiling it is: covered with dollar bills and dangling bras placed there in happier, raunchier times.
But despite the transformation, the annual interstate mullet toss will live again, the regulars said Friday as they ducked into the sagging hulk that was -- and is sure to be again -- Perdido Key's best-known landmark.
"We party hard," said Paul Bell, a maintenance man so loyal that he stayed at the bar during the storm. "Don't worry. We'll make it bigger and better."
The sentiment was the same up and down the battered Gulf Coast. Cranes lifted debris all day, and power tools whirred. Someone spray-painted "Hurricane who?" on the plywood protecting the windows of a motel in Panama City Beach. A boat was turned upside down on the side of the street. At Hamilton's Restaurant and Lounge there, Ray Pettis vowed to rebuild even though shreds of his roof were still being found two miles away.
"We've survived 11 different hurricanes," said Pettis, who has worked at the restaurant for more than half of his 37 years. "We've been here too long to just let it go."