For three days over the 1985 Labor Day weekend, Hurricane Elena stalled off the coast of West Central Florida and held it a virtual hostage. More than 300,000 residents fled their homes, the largest peace-time evacuation in U.S. history.
Although Elena never came closer than 80 miles to the Tampa Bay area, its 40 to 50 mph sustained winds caused tides six feet above normal on the beaches and seven feet above normal in the bay. The storm killed four people, destroyed more than 250 homes and damaged thousands of others before finally moving north and coming ashore in Mississippi. Elena washed away the landmark Indian Rocks Pier, including snack bar, tackle shop and bathhouse, all of which went in a single piece.
"For weeks afterward," one resident recalls, "They were finding pieces of the pier from the beach to Tarpon Springs." The hurricane even altered the area's coastal geography -- it filled in the Dunedin Pass with sand, meaning Clearwater Beach boaters no longer could use the channel to get to the Gulf of Mexico.
Total damages to man-made property in Florida were estimated at $213-million.
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© Copyright 1998 St. Petersburg Times.