Ivan the Terrible

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We knew Hurricane Ivan was coming at least four days before it roared ashore. Nobody knew exactly where it would land, but if you lived in the Alabama, Mississippi, Florida or Louisiana area, you knew you were going to get hit with something. Sitting safely in Tuscaloosa, Ala., I watched radar images of the swirling, perfectly formed mass on my computer screen at work and on The Weather Channel at home. Those of us in the projected path took particular notice as the storm continued to veer our way. When it hit, it did so with a fury that put it as one of the deadliest U.S. storms since Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Some early damage estimates have edged into the $10 billion range and 52 dead in the United States. The Gulf Coast and Florida Panhandle – five hours from here and the location of some of the prettiest beaches in the world – was hit hard, and the misery in that area is indescribable.

For most, there was little that could be done to prevent the kind of devastating damage that can be caused by 130-mph winds, storm surge and massive flooding. Some planned to run from it, others to batten down the hatches and ride it out. Around here, we bought duct tape and bottled water, stocked up on essentials and double-checked our homeowner’s insurance policies. If you didn’t already have a disaster plan for your family or business, this monster was a gut check.

Bill Ramsey, division manager for Knight Transportation’s Gulf Coast Region, relied on past experience to formulate his disaster plan. The trucking company’s terminal in Gulfport, Miss., which normally hosts about 250 tractors and a large number of trailers, was in the direct projected path of Hurricane Ivan. One day before the hurricane hit, managers shifted as much equipment to other terminals as they could and parked the rest of the trucks on the protected side of its terminal.

“We’re just positioning our equipment the best that we can,” Ramsey said as the company made plans to ride the storm out. Because of its location on the Gulf of Mexico, the terminal has seen hurricanes before and, like many fleets in high-risk areas, has a plan of action for dealing with storm-related threats.

In the aftermath of Ivan, you can’t help but be awed by the sheer power and force of Mother Nature. It’s humbling to realize that you can plan all you want, but there’s not a whole lot you can do about something that random and that big. I’m glad I have good insurance and a Plan B. But I’m also pretty darn glad that the big one skirted us like it did. A television news camera zeroed in on a piece of plywood painted with the taunt, “Come on Ivan, hit me with your best shot.” I don’t know what happened to the home or business of the author of that sign, but I know how he felt. Sometimes, you do the best you can do to get ready – and then, like Ramsey, you just ride it out.