At least 12 deaths are being blamed on Hurricane Ivan, since it struck the U.S. Gulf Coast early Thursday. The storm killed more than 60 people in the Caribbean. As bad as Ivan has been, authorities in the southeastern United States say the storm could have been much worse.
Ivan spawned a series of tornadoes, as it moved ashore in Alabama and Florida on Thursday, drenching the region with more than 30 centimeters of rain. The storm broke up as it moved ashore, but heavy flooding is expected as far north as the state of Virginia over the next few days, as what is left of Ivan moves north.
Jennifer Pralgo, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the storm is still dangerous. "More deaths actually occur from inland flooding than from storm surge. We say that because people inland do not understand the threat from inland flooding. We are looking to have anywhere between 10 and 15 inches [about 30 centimeters] of rain deluge the area. So, this is a very real threat," she said.
More than two million people are believed to have left coastal areas as Ivan approached, including about one million people who live in and around the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, which lies below sea level. But, Ivan veered east, and spared the two largest cities in the region, New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.
Ivan came ashore along the Alabama coastline and moved up through the state on Thursday, causing considerable damage, especially to valuable agricultural crops.
Governor Bob Riley told reporters Ivan came at a bad time for farmers in his state. "It could not have hit at a worse time for our peanuts, and for our pecans. We had our pecan harvest just about ready to come in. We know we are going to lose a lot of pecan trees because of this. Our cotton harvest was just a few weeks off. But, we are talking to officials in Washington D.C., and they are going to have a team come down to do appraisals and assessments to see how much damage was done," he said.
Also hard hit was the area of northwest Florida known as the panhandle, which borders Alabama. Ivan was the third hurricane to strike Florida over the past month, and Governor Jeb Bush told reporters on Thursday his government will do all it can do to help Floridians recover from one of the worst hurricane seasons in recent memory.
"We have had a tough six weeks. First, beginning to prepare for the first storm, and now working on recovery efforts with [Hurricane] Charley and relief efforts for [Hurricane] Frances. We have the resources, thanks to our private partners, as well as the federal government. We have the resources to do all these [recovery efforts], with the commitment and energy and resources that it requires," he said.
Hundreds-of-thousands of people in Alabama and Florida are without power and National Guard units have been activated to help in recovery efforts and maintain law and order.
Ivan, which fluctuated between a category four and a category five storm, on a scale of one to five, was one of the strongest storms seen in the Caribbean in years. The storm passed directly over Grenada, devastating the island, and also caused considerable damage in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.