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Misery on tap for those who stay put

Watching and waiting is all that's left to do for those left behind in Pensacola.

Published September 15, 2004

PENSACOLA - As winds picked up and heavy rain washed ashore here this morning, emergency workers crammed today into a pub called New York Nick's, one of the few places still open in downtown Pensacola.

"These people have to have some place to go," said the owner, Nick Zangari.

Downtown Pensacola was deserted as residents and business owners braced for Hurricane Ivan to hit late tonight or early Thursday morning.

Zangari said he planned to stay open till the electricity went out, and set up an air mattress on the stage in case anyone needed to rest. "I don't want looters to take it."

Customers watched TV reports of Hurricane Ivan that showed waves crashing over the 26-ft. tall fishing pier at Pensacola Beach.

Four miles to the west, an impromptu airmen's smoking lounge has formed across the street from Naval Point Elementary School, serving as a shelter for some 200 airmen from Pensacola Naval Air Station.

"They won't let us smoke on school grounds," explained Danny Miller, 23, of Charlotte, N.C. "After last night, you need a few of these. We've got no cots, we're sleeping on the floor and there's 240 guys that stink."

For nearly 1,500 young men and women in school at Pensacola Naval Air Station, the situation hadn't changed much Wednesday morning.

Their military obligation meant they couldn't leave on their own, so the airmen rode yellow school buses to a trio of schools across Escambia County, including the appropriately named Naval Point and Blue Angels elementary schools. Their stay could last until at least Friday and maybe longer, officers said.

At Naval Point, a single TV played movies non-stop. Three airmen played chess and dozens more plugged into personal stereos or computers. Everywhere, young men, dressed in T-shirts and shorts emblazed with Navy insignia, tried to get comfortable on the hard linoleum floor. Dark green, newly distributed duffel bags dotted the room.

Around back, more than a dozen airmen, wearing nothing more than towels around their waists, lined up to use showers normally reserved for maintenance workers.

For Scott Morse of Huntsville, Ala., it was hard to find some peace and quiet. Tucked in a prime corner by the door, Morse, 29, was on his third book of the evacuation: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.

"I don't envy the petty officers' jobs trying to keep all this going," Morse said. "But I do wish I could have just driven home." Morse was told he couldn't leave for his fiance in Ocala.

"I knew this was going to be a miserable experience. We've been stressed out for the first two hurricanes getting ready, now it's here," Morse said. "But I brought a flash light so I can keep reading when the power goes out."

For Marc Belcher, 19, of Missoula, Mont., and Jake Edinger, 18, of St. Louis, Mo., the stay was a breeze. Fresh from boot camp in Chicago, they shared a GameBoy and counted their batteries: eight.

"This is more like summer camp," Edinger said.

What happens when the batteries die? "I'll find something to keep myself entertained," Belcher said. "This is my first hurricane. I've never been through a hurricane, a tornado, no nothing."

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