Seeking sanctuary from Hurricane Erin, Jack Khorram and his family fled their beach home for a friend's house about eight miles inland. It was almost a fatal move.
A giant oak crushed the driver's side of the Khorram family's van, just minutes after Khorram had heeded his wife's warning to stay inside and leave the van in the driveway."If that tree had fallen that way, it would have killed all of us," Khorram said Friday as he surveyed damage in the upscale neighborhood in northeast Pensacola, overlooking Escambia Bay.
The storm blasted through the panhandle and southern Alabama on Thursday, its second swipe at the state, before losing strength as it moved inland and dissipating into rain. When it hit the Pensacola area, it had 94 mph winds and gusts up to 103 mph. On Wednesday, Erin cut a swath across central Florida, lost strength over land and then regained hurricane force from the warm gulf waters.
Four deaths were blamed on Erin, and another seven people were reported missing at sea. The Coast Guard was to continue searching for them Saturday.
The barrier island stretching from Pensacola Beach to Navarre Beach absorbed the brunt of the storm as it came ashore for the second time Thursday.
The storm blew trees onto homes, cars and businesses, peeled roofs from buildings, ripped shingles and siding off homes, and blew out windows. The county said 186 structures were damaged.
Several of the hardest-hit homeowners said they had been housing friends from beach communities who had fled inland to ride out the storm, only to find they were no safer there.
Khorram, his wife, Vickie, and their two small children had left their house in Pensacola Beach, on the barrier island of Santa Rosa.
Some residents and officials complained the Panhandle was caught unaware because forecasts had predicted Erin would move past them and hit Gulfport, Miss., or New Orleans.