NINE MONTHS AFTER Hurricane Ivan made landfall here, evidence of the storm's destruction is everywhere: boarded-up windows, buildings with gutted interiors, high-water stains and miles of new construction.
"It looks bad," tourist Doug Lauer of Montgomery said flatly. "The beach is out there -- what's left of it. There's a lot of erosion."
Ivan's surge of 10 to 13 feet of water flattened sand dunes along the Alabama-Florida coastline. But Gulf Shores and neighboring Orange Beach have started large-scale beach renourishment projects, and plans are in the works to put high-rises in where some of the beachfront buildings were demolished. Among the landmarks being rebuilt is the popular Flora-Bama Lounge on the Florida-Alabama line.
Nine months after Ivan hit, Tropical Storm Arlene followed Ivan's path into the coast on June 11 with a threat to set back hurricane repairs. But the storm fizzled after giving residents and tourists a spectacular "big wave" performance.
Arlene had sustained winds of 60 mph, but once on land, the storm weakened to a tropical depression with top sustained winds of 30 mph.
The locals take the bad weather in stride. "Mother Nature does what she does," said Jack Larson, who lives about a mile from the Gulf Shores beach.
Gulf Shores has bounced back from previous hurricanes. In fact, after Hurricane Frederic devastated the resort in September 1979, a building boom followed and has hardly slowed down. Even after Ivan, plans are afoot for buildings bigger than any now standing.
But so far only about 58 percent of accommodations have reopened, and many of them are occupied by construction crews assigned to the rebuilding effort. Tourists are being forced to stay as far away as Foley, about 10 miles inland.
Lines of pickup trucks and larger vehicles packed with construction gear are parked along the beachfront highway.
"Tourist traffic has been nothing like last year," said Sam Imel, manager at Souvenir City.
Montgomery Fire Lt. Jerry Williams and his wife, Penny, vacationing in Orange Beach, said they had rented a place at the beach several times a year for about 15 years. They were disappointed when they were not told the condominium's pool had not been repaired since Ivan.
"We're urging visitors to use their own due diligence when planning a vacation to investigate or speak with management. Everybody's being honest with folks and telling them the situation," said Herb Malone, the president and CEO of the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & amp; Visitors Bureau.
Malone's message for tourists is that the beach resorts are "definitely open for business." He said some buildings await demolition, but others look like a hurricane never hit them.
At landfall early Sept. 16, Ivan roared in at Gulf Shores with 115 mph winds, just above the 111 mph threshold for Category 3.
Thanks in part to an aggressive evacuation plan, there were no deaths along the state's 30 miles of beaches, though eight deaths were linked to the storm in other parts of the state.
Getting back on course
"Beaches are open, fishing's great, golf courses open, majority of attractions open, over three-fourths of restaurants open," Malone said.
But the Williams couple said some of their favorite restaurants remain shuttered since Ivan.
Penny Williams said she was shocked more hurricane repair activity wasn't going on.
One construction foreman said there's more work than there are crews to handle it.
Scott Crosby of Pensacola, Fla., a foreman for Thrasher Waterproofing Corp., said crews have been paid double-time because of the hurricane. And he said new construction projects, which outnumber hurricane projects, may be given priority over the more dangerous reconstruction.
But Malone said slow payments from insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have delayed some hurricane repairs, which is the specialty of many of the workers.
"There's a niche for that, but they've got to be paid," Malone said.
He said the downtown part of Gulf Shores is "really going to go through mass urban renewal that will continue the next couple of years. It will be bigger and brighter than ever before."
XFor more information, visit www.gulfshores.com or call (800) 745-7263.
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