Floridians Prepare For Hurricane Ivan
Stephen Morton  /  Getty Images
David Alexander is one of the last to evacuate Pensacola Beach on Wednesday.
By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/15/2004 3:39:42 PM ET 2004-09-15T19:39:42

With winds gusting at 40 miles an hour on Wednesday afternoon, Hurricane Ivan was just giving Pensacola a taste of what’s ahead over the next 18 hours.

With hurricane-force winds not expected until after dark, the storm was attracting a handful of the curious to the water’s edge for a glimpse, however fleeting, of a hurricane.

Pensacola police kept a close eye on the spectators, but allowed Mother Nature to do the job of chasing them away from the stormy water's edge.

According to forecasters, Ivan will start battering Pensacola with tropical force winds by late afternoon on Wednesday. Winds at a hurricane force of 75-mph were expected to arrive shortly after dark.

Forecasters said that although Ivan, which killed at least 68 people in the Caribbean, had weakened very slightly, it was still an "extremely dangerous category four hurricane," and its strength could fluctuate before it crashes ashore early Thursday morning along the Gulf Coast.

Pensacola last took a hit from a hurricane in 1995 with Hurricane Opal which caused widespread damage from Pensacola Beach to Navarre.

10-16 foot surges
At 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Ivan was centered about 170 miles south of the Alabama coast and moving north at 14 mph.

Forecasters said Ivan could produce a coastal storm surge of 10 to 16 feet, topped by large waves, and up to 20 inches of rain.

Hurricane warnings were posted along a 300-mile stretch from Grand Isle, La., across coastal Mississippi and Alabama to Apalachicola, Fla.

From the beach to the city of Pensacola, residents spent the last two days putting up plywood over doors and windows.

The Home Depot of Pensacola reported selling close to one truckload per hour on Tuesday, until supplies gave out.

But now as Ivan approaches landfall the time for boarding was over and the time for seeking shelter was upon the Panhandle residents.

Pensacola officials believe the island is in better shape to face Ivan than Opal, but they still expect major structural damage if Ivan pushes a large storm surges over the barrier island.

Living with the potential of hurricane damage is “the price you pay for living in such a beautiful place,” said beach resident Kyle Shell.

Ron Blome is an NBC News correspondent on assignment in Pensacola for Hurricane Ivan.

Video: Tracking Ivan

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