'It was just scary': Locals reflect on past hurricanes as the 2013 Atlantic season kicks off

Matt Algarin
After Hurricane Opal blew through the area in 1995 it wasn't an uncommon site to see boats in the parking lot.

For residents of Destin and the Gulf Coast, hurricanes are as common as sunshine and sand, and today marks the official beginning of the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's pre-season forecast calls for 13 to 20 named storms, which includes 7 to 11 hurricanes. The forecast says three to six of those hurricanes could possibly be major hurricanes, a Category 3 or above, with winds churning above 111 MPH.

While caution is the name of the game when it comes to hurricanes, Destin has been largely spared by a huge storm since Hurricane Ivan and Katrina passed by in 2004 and 2005. Although the city has been lucky as of late, long-time residents of Destin have plenty of memories from storms that have battered the city in years past.

As a child, Kathy Marler-Blue's family owned and operated a business at the foot of the Marler Bridge, where the Emerald Grande currently sits.

"I remember standing upstairs with my mom and dad and opening a window and looking out over the Gulf during a storm," Marler-Blue remembered, adding that it was sometime between 1954 and 1957. "I was holding close to my dad's leg the whole time."

And while that was her earliest hurricane memory, it wasn't the most memorable. That would come in 1995 when Hurricane Opal wreaked havoc on the city of Destin as it made landfall near Pensacola Beach as a Category 3 storm.

Marler, who served on the city council at the time, said the council and mayor were taken on a tour of the city by military officials the day after Opal passed through to evaluate the destruction that had been caused.

"It was like a war zone; it was spooky," she said. "There were helicopters flying around and the men had guns hanging out of the sides. There were military officers with dogs looking through rubble."

"It was just scary," she added.

Another member of the Marler family also has vivid memories of hurricanes past.

Councilman Cyron Marler told The Log that Hurricane Camille hit Mississippi on Aug. 17, 1969, which happened to be the day before his 12th birthday.

"It was headed toward Destin and took a turn toward Gulfport," he remembered. "I had planned a swimming party for my birthday, which I had to change because of the tidal surge."

Nineteen-Seventy-Five was also a memorable year for Marler, who was an 18-year-old radio announcer at WFSH 1340 in Niceville at the time. Hurricane Eloise made her way through the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall in the Grayton Beach/Seagrove Beach area. Marler said the storm "took off the roof of the building next door to the station."

Councilwoman Sandy Trammell also remembers a storm that came through Destin in the 70s. At the time, Trammell and her husband were living in a trailer with their small baby, while building their home on Snapper Street.

Trammell said the storm hit west of Panama City and pushed water into Joe's Bayou.

"At this time, all of the fishing fleet tied their boats up in Joe's Bayou for protection," she told The Log. "All of them rose with the tide, and the new "head boat" Lady Eventhia ended up sitting about 10-feet up on the side of the hill on the east side of Joe's Bayou."

"It was several weeks before they found someone with a crane large enough to get this huge boat off the hill," she added. "I remember looking south at the head of the bayou and seeing that Kelly Street was several feet under water and the lake on Kelly was now part of Joe's Bayou."

As part of its hurricane preparedness planning, the city of Destin has compiled its annual hurricane information guide, which provides important information for citizens regarding what to do before, during and after a storm. Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

To download the guide, visit

Looking back at her experiences during Hurricane Opal, Marler-Blue told The Log that she truly thinks many of the residents that may not have evacuated during storms learned a valuable lesson.

"I think people made a lot of important decisions about whether or not they would stay or evacuate in the future," she said. "It was definitely an eye opener."