Hurricane Eloise slammed into the Florida Panhandle 45 years ago this week.
Bay County was on the east side of the category 3 storm, catching the brunt of her 125 miles an hour winds. While it wasn’t as powerful as Hurricane Michael two years ago, it was a significant event in bay county’s history.
About 100,000 people evacuated the area ahead of Eloise’s arrival on September 23rd, 1975. Those who remained like civil defense director Jay Mills tried to keep residents informed and safe.
“Well we’re consistently getting reports that the storm is going to hit Panama City,” Mills told a reporter from WFSU. “In fact, the last three hours the last reports all confirm these facts. so we have completely evacuated the beach areas here in the county and in the process of evacuating all people in 10 feet or less here in the cities.”
The civil defense team, a precursor to today’s emergency operations center, relied on a collection of amateur ham and cb radio enthusiasts to monitor condition across the area.
“We’re about as ready as we can be,” Mills said. “Hopefully we’re ready for it.”
As the storm got closer businesses and homeowners boarded up and law enforcement officers tried to get those in danger to safety.
“We’ll continue with what we’re doing. Attempting to get people out of what we consider the most dangerous areas,” said then Panama City Police Chief Thomas McAuley. “We haven’t been entirely successful with that. Because we can’t insist on it. All we can do is ask them and advise them most have responded well but some have not.”
McAuley and other local leaders focused on helping the survivors and each other.
“We’ve been gratified by the public spirit not only by the public like I’ve mentioned but all of the agencies they’ve thrown in and done rather well i think,” he said.
By the time it was over, Eloise claimed the lives of 80 people who were killed along the entire path of the storm. It destroyed 500 businesses and 8,000 people had storm-related losses between Fort Walton Beach and Panama City. The storm surge eroded about 800-thousand cubic yards of sand from the beach erosion.
The total damages in 1975 was $560 million.
Because of it’s magnitude, the World Meteorological Organization retired “Eloise” from the list of names for active hurricanes.