July 10, 2008

Three Years After Hurricane Dennis

By Wendy Victora, Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach

Jul. 10--NAVARRE -- Three years ago today, residents along the Emerald Coast braced themselves against what would be the second powerful hurricane in less than 10 months and the third one in a decade.

Hurricane Dennis made landfall at Tiger Point and streaked through western Santa Rosa County on the afternoon of July 10, 2005, as a Category 3 storm.

It followed Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and Hurricane Opal in October 1995.

For Navarre residents, Dennis is remembered as one of a three-pack of storms that forever changed the area.

"Opal damaged my home on the island. We repaired it," said Ken Rudzki, who owns Juana's Pagoda and the Sailor's Grill on Navarre Beach.

"Ivan removed my home on the island, so now we live on the mainland," he continued. "Dennis, there was nothing there to hurt."

Between debris removal and repairs to buildings, roads, parks and utilities, Dennis caused more than $26 million in damage in Santa Rosa County, according to county officials.

It also caused substantial beach erosion in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.

Hundreds of homes were damaged, some beyond repair. At its peak after Dennis, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided 267 trailers to house families and individuals temporarily. Of those trailers, 183 of them were in Santa Rosa County.

The double whammy of Ivan and Dennis remains visible in Santa Rosa County, especially to those who knew the area before the storms hit.

New development has sprung up, but there are still empty lots, particularly along the water's edge.

The road connecting Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach remains partially closed.

The state park at the east end of Navarre Beach is still under construction.

"It was sad and it still is because so many people haven't built back and a lot of people have left the area," says Ginny Bryant, who owns Bryant Racing Equipment on State Road 87.

"I really thought it would be back by now," she adds. "But it's been really slow."

In the first years after Ivan and Dennis, tourism was slow. Now, many of the rental properties have been restored and local business owners are more optimistic.

"I think the island is looking real good," said Rudzki.

However, he hasn't forgotten about past storms and wonders about future ones. He says he has nightmares about Opal, Ivan and Dennis.

Bryant said it's easier to not think about Ivan or Dennis during the winter.

"Right now, during hurricane season, I think about it every day when the weather is bad," she said. "We live on the water and I just hope and pray that this year is good to us."


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