Bad dreams follow Ivan

The Rev. Walk Jones, now of Pensacola, recalls bad dreams he had after Hurricane Hugo.

BY P.J. HELLER | PENSACOLA, FL | September 21, 2004

"It’s a time to praise God and give thanks that we survived and that we can be together and worship and see each other."

—Rev. Walk Jones

The Rev. Walk Jones recalls the bad dreams he experienced after suffering through Hurricane Hugo. Now he’s having trouble sleeping after surviving Hurricane Ivan.

“After Hugo, I dreamed about storms for about a year to 18 months,” said Jones, the pastor at Northminster Presbyterian (USA) Church in Pensacola. “The last several nights, I’ve had deep and troubling dreams, not yet about storms, but I expect they’ll come.

“I know that they’ll eventually end and I’ll get over it,” he added. “But I don’t ever want to go through it again.”

Jones had been ordained only six months in 1989 when Hugo took aim at Edisto Island, S.C., where he was pastor of the Presbyterian Church on Edisto Island. Jones and wife Nancy opted to evacuate the barrier island and seek safety inland.

Unfortunately for them, Hugo pretty much followed their path, jogging north and striking the Charleston area on the night of Sept. 21. Edisto Island and the church were spared the storm’s fury.

“It was a scary night,” Jones recalled. “It took us two days to chain saw out of the subdivision we were in and then to get back to the island.”

Jones found his way to Pensacola 18 months ago after ministering at a church in Apopka, Fla., (near Orlando) and working for the Presbytery Church Foundation.

When evacuation orders were sounded for Pensacola with the pending arrival of Hurricane Ivan, Jones and his family opted to stay put.

“We evacuated Hugo 90 miles inland and we were crunched by the storm,” he said. “We thought we could have the same damage (from Ivan) 100 miles or more inland. So we decided we were as safe in our own home as we would be in a hotel on the interstate.”

Jones said he also had another reason for remaining in Pensacola.

“The primary reason I stayed in town was so we could have worship on Sunday after the storm,” he said. “I worried that if I got out of town I wouldn’t be able to get back” due to shortages of gasoline, road closures and long lines of traffic.

With wife Nancy, twin 13-year-old sons Andrew and Camden and 11-year-old daughter Anne Louise hunkered down on the first floor of their house, the Joneses rode out Ivan’s 130-mph winds and rain. Their home is about 15 miles from the ocean.

“It was scary,” Jones admitted. “Several times during the night the wind would rev up to this terrible sound. It would last about two minutes and then go away.”

The following morning, Jones found two trees had fallen on the house causing some roof damage. Other trees had fallen in the front and back yards.

“During Hugo, when each tree hit the house we felt it in the house,” Jones noted. “We had two trees hit the house with Hurricane Ivan but I don’t remember feeling them. It was surprising to look out a window as dawn broke and see trees against the house because we hadn’t felt them.”

Comparing Hugo and Ivan, Jones said he thinks Hugo was the worst of the two.

“Or it may be that I’m 15 years older,” he said. “I know it (Ivan) was frightening for the children. We tried to remain pretty strong and not act scared so hopefully they wouldn’t be scared.”

His son Andrew slept though most of the hurricane, Jones reported.

Less than a week after Ivan roared ashore, Jones has his telephone and electrical service back on and says life is slowly returning to normal. He said he expects the Pensacola Ministerial Association to meet soon to plan a faith-based response to the storm using agencies and service groups it already has in place.

Jones said the last thing he wants to think about is what he would do if another hurricane were to threaten the area.

“I do think this experience has brought us together and helped us know our neighbors better,” he said.

Hugo also left a lasting impression on Jones, prompting a deep interest in the human and church response to trauma. He did his doctorate on critical incident stress management.

“Hurricane Hugo really affected me for the next 10 years, becoming kind of the fuel for a lot of ministry I did as a chaplain with the sheriff’s office, as a volunteer firefighter, then through that becoming involved in the church‘s response to psychological trauma,” he said.

On Sunday, Jones conducted services in the church, which he said appears to have come through the storm relatively unscathed. About half of the usual 160 to 170 attendees showed up for services.

“I had a very simple message because it’s not yet time to start asking theological questions or even talk about our recovery or psychology,” he said. “It’s just a time to praise God and give thanks that we survived and that we can be together and worship and see each other.”

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