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JIM LEHRER: Hurricane Ivan landed a devastating blow on Pensacola, Florida, ten months ago, and yesterday came Hurricane Dennis. Randy Hammer is the executive editor of the Pensacola News Journal, and he joins us now from Pensacola. Randy Hammer, welcome.
RANDY HAMMER: Thanks for having me.
JIM LEHRER: Can you hear me all right?
RANDY HAMMER: Yes, I can.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Are you beginning to think somebody has got it in for Pensacola?
RANDY HAMMER: Well, last night at the emergency operations center they were talking about Mother Nature. And they said she must have an ex-husband here that she’s really kind of angry with. You know, we were — everybody’s talking about how this storm is not that bad, but that’s only because of Ivan.
We’re all taking a big sigh because we were really scared. This is still a serious storm but it’s not anywhere near as bad as Hurricane Ivan, but still it’s pretty serious. We’ve got about 200,000 people that were without electricity, about a billion dollars worth in damage. It’s still a severe storm.
JIM LEHRER: I understand you just made a helicopter trip around to take a look at what was done.
RANDY HAMMER: Yes, I did. The worst damage is along Pensacola Beach and over in Navarre Beach. Navarre Beach is just east of me right here. We’re just about 20 miles from there. And that was the worst-hit area by far. There’s scattered damage. The damage from this was a little bit more selective.
During Hurricane Ivan, almost every home received some kind of damage. In fact, about 45 percent of the homes in the Pensacola Bay area was either damaged or destroyed. This time we don’t have that kind of damage. It’s much more selective. But the beach just really took it hard. The dunes were flattened during Hurricane Ivan. And so this time when the storm came across, there was nothing to stop it.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Can you — from your flying a while ago, could you tell the difference between what was damaged by Ivan ten months ago and what was damaged on Sunday by Dennis?
RANDY HAMMER: Well, sometimes it was a little bit difficult, but it was really very clear what was damaged by Ivan. The sad thing is that you had so many people that were living in trailers and that were starting to rebuild their homes and now their trailers are taken off; their homes are destroyed.
In fact, tomorrow in the newspaper we’re going to have a story about a man that was supposed to move into his home tomorrow, and the storm took out his trailer, damaged his house. He has to start from scratch again. And that’s really — you know, we had — what was it? — 50,000 homes had tarps – what we call "blue roofs" –
JIM LEHRER: Right.
RANDY HAMMER: — the blue FEMA roofs over their homes. We still have thousands and thousands of those so you could tell those homes still had the scraps from the blue roofs on it so it was easy to tell those and the new roofs that were damaged — and there was a lot of roof damage — the lumber was very fresh.
JIM LEHRER: I was in —
RANDY HAMMER: You could tell what was from Ivan and what was in Dennis.
JIM LEHRER: I see. I was in Pensacola a few months ago. I couldn’t believe all the blue roofs.
RANDY HAMMER: I was there with you.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, I remember. Well we talked about the blue roofs at the time. Randy, what about the damage —
RANDY HAMMER: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: What about the damage to the psyche of you and your fellow citizens of Pensacola? What’s it doing to your heads?
RANDY HAMMER: It’s taken a tremendous emotional and psychological toll on the community. And what was sad was is that here we were ten minutes later we had a great Fourth of July celebration, the Blue Angels just did a show. We were kind of celebrating; we were having a sense that we were coming back, and we were just now actually beginning to clean up and rebuild. And then this comes along and for a lot of people, we have to start over.
And you know, the reason that we’re not as upset about this storm is because we were so scared. If this had come in as a Category-4 or a Category-5 with a 20-foot storm surge, it would have been disastrous. Here we are, it’s kind of weird, because here we are going like, oh, it was only a Category-3. It’s still bad, but it’s not the widespread devastation that we had.
And right now, you can really feel it because the word is that there’s a Tropical Depression 5 out there. And now people are going like, oh, my God, not another one. We’re only day 42 into the six-month hurricane season. We’ve already had two tropical storms, and we have already had a hurricane, a Category 3 hurricane. Like you said, what did we do? I wish she would find this ex-husband and get rid of him.
JIM LEHRER: Get rid of him and get him out of there.
RANDY HAMMER: Get him out of there. Get him out of there.
JIM LEHRER: What it’s doing to you and your staff on the newspaper? How are you covering this story and the down sides continual — one down story after another?
RANDY HAMMER: Well, we had 37 people that lost their homes in Hurricane Ivan, and fortunately this time as far as I can tell nobody lost their home. We have some trees on people’s homes. We have some damage, but nothing like 37 of your people to lose their homes.
And you know, it’s taken a big toll on people. It really has. I mean, they were up 24 hours before we put out today’s newspaper. I think we’ve had something like 13 million page views on our Web site today, which is actually more than we had during Hurricane Ivan. We’ve been updating it constantly, 24-hours. We’ve been manning the staff. And then we came out with a 14-page special section on the hurricane. We’re coming out with a 16-page special section tomorrow.
JIM LEHRER: Wow.
RANDY HAMMER: They’re just doing a tremendous job under, you know, extreme conditions, and they’re doing it without sleep. I don’t know how much longer they can go though.
JIM LEHRER: How are you doing, Randy?
RANDY HAMMER: I am worried about them.
JIM LEHRER: How about yourself?
RANDY HAMMER: I’m doing fine. I’m doing fine.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
RANDY HAMMER: But, I appreciate you asking.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, my best. Thank you. Good luck to you.
RANDY HAMMER: Thank you very much.