The Grand Lagoon neighborhood of Pensacola sits on the edge of Big Lagoon State Park on the coast from the inland waterway through Johnson Beach, which acts as a barrier from the Gulf of Mexico.
But residents say Hurricane Sandy broke through the sand dunes on Johnson Beach – creating about a dozen holes, still visible, allowing the bay to flow down the waterway inland.
Residents estimated that a storm of about 12 feet made its way into their Grand Lagoon homes.
“The thing is, if you look at Johnson Beach, it’s broken.” “Johnson Beach crashes,” said Celia Boyd as she stood outside her Grand Lagoon Drive home. “The water came here. So, we were receiving Gulf waves from the hurricane here.”
She said the ocean-like waves were breaking near her doorstep to try out any semblance of relief.
Celia and her husband, Justin Boyd, live in a multi-storey house midway from Grande Lagoon Drive that starts at the waterline.
The first floor of their home was raised off the ground, and the storm – and many like it in the neighborhood – turned it into a towering island above gushing inland waters Wednesday morning at the height of Hurricane Sally’s impact on Pensacola.
“This is the shoreline,” said Celia Boyd, pointing south and down her street to the beach.
“We are supposed to have barrier islands,” she added, noting that the gaps in the sand dunes of Johnson Beach remained visible with the naked eye three full days after the storm.
On Saturday, it was easy to see how high the water was in the Grand Lagoon homes. Watermarks on some of the homes, located near the inland waterway, wrapped around the outside of the first floor at a height of about three to four feet.
Debris carried by the storm created a series of scrap – planks from destroyed sidewalks, gutters that blew up homes, outdoor appliances carried out from garages, and public dirt – that ran parallel to the shore about 300 yards indoors.
“Thank God for the tractors,” said Chris Moawad, the son.
Maad Jr. and his father, retired Navy pilot Captain Chris Moawad Sr. who was piloting the F-18s, spent Saturday morning cleaning debris from their backyard.
The spike pushed off enough debris under their home and in their garage so that by the time they collected everything in their dead end, the resulting mound was about 5 feet high and 10 feet wide.
“Look at all this,” Moaz the father said, pointing to the pile outside his home on Pointe Verde. “The water drove all this from the homes of my neighbors who live south of me to my home.”
The surge also carried a small boat to the Grand Lagoon neighborhood and sank between his home and his neighbor’s house.
Mouawad the father said, “Basically, it’s a repeat of what happened 16 years ago when he hit Evan.” At that time, I rebuilt. But then again, at the time, I was a recently retired young marine pilot of 41 years old with more energy to finish it.
He continued, “At the age of 56, the thought of doing it again, knowing all that the process requires, seems to astound the mind. It is a drug for the mind.”
The exterior of his home looked relatively well maintained on a Saturday compared to some of the others on his street. The hull was painted a bright yellow, and was tall with little visible damage.
Mouawad the father said, “You look beautiful on the outside.” “I had a waterfall going down an inner stairway. The insulation and the rock slabs are rotten, and I’m pretty sure the interior will have to be completely destroyed. … Maybe it’s a total loss.”
On top of that, Moaz the father said that thieves began to appear in his neighborhood early Wednesday night.
“The thing I learned about storms is that you see the best and the worst of people,” he said, noting that he and his neighbors saw three separate groups of robbers in the Grand Lagoon over the three nights since a storm.
He said, “They will steal anything that hasn’t been nailed. They stole the chairs straight from my balcony … I haven’t seen a deputy mayor for three days who came here.”
Although neither the Moawad nor Boyd families were hit by a hurricane, both said that the cyclones had hit the area.
“There are two direct lines across the neighborhood, where the hurricanes remove all the adult pine trees,” said Mouawad Junior.
Justin Boyd said he heard tornadoes.
“You could hear funnel clouds coming,” he explained. “You’ll hear the normal wind. Then, I heard this – I don’t know – this weird, deeper noise that we had hoped for was, well, you know.”
In the midst of watching the water spin around his house and that of his neighbor, Justin Boyd was hoping against all hope that a cloud of wind and debris would leave the place where his family slept.
Fortunately, I did.