Video: Reeling from Ivan

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/17/2004 3:05:15 PM ET 2004-09-17T19:05:15

The sound of chainsaws was relentless Friday in this small retirement community, which sits on Mobile Bay's eastern shore.

Fairhope, Ala., is known for its old, gorgeous trees, some of which date back to the Civil War. But now many of them lie in the street and across the roofs of homes, violently ripped from their well-established roots by Hurricane Ivan.

Along Fairhope's quiet beach, a large sailboat sat on the sand, some 20 feet from the water's edge.

Ivan's fierce winds tossed it there while destroying a boardwalk that ran out to an often-used pier. The boat may be in its new, unexpected mooring for some time.

There was no power anywhere in Fairhope on Friday. Crews were out on the streets working on restoring the system, but it could take several days.

Eye passed over town
The eye of the storm passed directly over this community. Most residents heeded the warnings and left Fairhope, settling in with friends or family for a few days.

Connie Brandt and her husband did not, even though they knew they were directly in Ivan's projected path. Brandt's husband can't move very much due to a recent stroke. She couldn't and wouldn't evacuate alone.

"I thought this was it," Brandt said. "I thought we were going to die. 

"He wanted me to go without him, but I couldn't do that. So, anyway, we're here… We made it and God said you've got another chance."

The Brandts were fortunate. Their backyard is littered with downed limbs from trees and lots of debris, but their home was untouched.

Many others are not as lucky. Their homes suffered major damage from trees that weigh thousands of pounds.

The job of removing them and getting their homes repaired will be a challenge.

Difficulties for seniors
Hundreds of  Fairhope's citizens are elderly, and many are on fixed incomes. Any unexpected expense could wipe out money they have carefully guarded to live on.

Seniors like the Brandts are considered most vulnerable in the wake of a hurricane.  A report just released from The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that stress and over-exertion led to several deaths of seniors in the days after Hurricane Charlie last month. 

Mary Ellen Potts is a widowed retiree. She moved to her Fairhope home in 1969, one day before Hurricane Camille tore through town.  Slideshow: Following Ivan

Potts rode out Camille, but not Ivan. She stayed at her daughter's home this time, and it was a wise decision. Potts returned to Fairhope to find a 100-foot tall white oak tree lying atop her roof. She's not sure if the structure is safe.

"I think I was maybe more in shock yesterday," Potts said. "Today, it's a realization of what's to come. I have not been able to get in touch with my insurance man and I'm panicky about that because I was told I can't have the tree removed from the house until the man gets here."

Potts has moved to a small garage apartment behind her house. She has a generator there, which will supply enough power for a fan and a few lights until the electricity is back and her beloved home is deemed safe. She has food and water and has offered some of each to her neighbor, who does not.

That's the kind of community Fairhope is, according to officials.  As neighbors gathered near the water to look at the sailboat and survey the damage, there was a small-town feeling.

People greeted each other with a handshake or a hug and a sense of a "we're in it together" spirit that will be necessary as Fairhope tries to get back on its feet.

Janet Shamlian is an NBC News correspondent based in Dallas.

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