Five years after Hurricane Opal…

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 5, 2000

Staff Writer

Oct. 4, 2000 10 PM

Five years ago, residents of Pike County faced the worst storm most of them had ever seen when Hurricane Opal blew in.

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Just after 7 p.m. on Oct. 5, 1995, the Category 4 storm hit the area, uprooting trees, mangling power lines and damaging homes and businesses.

While many residents of Pike County might remember rushing to the store to find the bread shelves empty and the hours and, in some cases, days without electricity, meteorologists remember the storm for its odd behavior.

On Oct. 3, residents of Pensacola, Fla. tucked themselves in for the night with a Category 3 hurricane some 400 miles to the south.

Within eight hours, the hurricane had undergone a deepening with pressure falling and Opal had become a strong Category 4 with winds up to 150 miles per hour. The storm was on the move and bearing down on the Florida Panhandle at 23 mph.

But, just as quickly as it had intensified, it began to weaken. It hit Pensacola as a Category 3 storm.

The odd character of the storm compared little to the devastating flooding Opal carried with her. Florida was soaked and, as far north as Evergreen, eight inches were recorded.

In addition to the flooding, Opal’s speed produces hurricane-force winds as far away as the northern portion of Alabama and Georgia, downing trees and power lines.

The force of the storm was blamed – directly and indirectly – for 13 deaths in the United States and property damages of $3 billion.

Pike County didn’t escape without significant damage.

After figuring the storm related losses being between $5 million and $20 million, Pike County was declared a disaster area, meaning the county qualified for state and federal assistance.

A week after the storm, Pike County residents were still picking up the pieces of their homes and businesses.

As the storm bore down on Pike County, evacuees from Florida along Highway 231, an official evacuation route, came with it. They brought meager possessions as they fled the storm that was bombarding their homes.

But those who ended up in Pike County motels didn’t escape the rain and heavy winds.

According to Messenger reports from 1995, local motels were packed with Floridians.

As evacuees kept on coming, the American Red Cross responded to the call and turned First Baptist Church in Troy into a temporary housing shelter. The Red Cross brought in food and drinks for those who were turned away from local motels due to capacity bookings.

Other problems were apparent for local government officials and residents as rains forced some county roads to close. Included on the list of road closings were county roads 38, 6, 59, and 57.

Additional problems came when the storms dumped water on the Pike County Fair and the local football season that was in full swing.

Fortunately for Pike Countians, emergency room visits during the storm were minimal. One injury was reported when a Troy State student was hit by flying debris. Other emergency responses were primarily related to the care of those who were homebound due to adverse weather conditions and couldn’t continue their prescribed treatments.

By October 6, 1995, the storm had come and gone, but the impact it made was substantial.

People from the coastal areas began their southern migration to assess the damage inflicted on their homes.

Pike Countians, by that time, were fully involved in cleaning up their homes and businesses.

Five years later, Opal is gone, but reports of hurricanes in the Gulf seldom fail to bring talk about one of Pike County’s biggest storms in recent memory.