They waited for days in the hot sun behind the patrol cars and the sheriff's deputies, straining for any glimpse.
The residents of Grande Lagoon wanted to see what Hurricane Ivan did to their homes. But they could only spot piles of debris from the entrance to their waterfront subdivision. With so much damage, local authorities kept them out.
And so they waited.
They brought coolers and portable chairs. They joked about their fine china. They warned each other about using their hands to sift through the rubble because of the snakes.
On Sunday, their fourth day of waiting to see how much they had lost, they lost their patience. About 100 residents confronted Escambia County Sheriff Ron McNesby when he stopped by.
"Why won't you let us in?" they shouted.
Three hours later, bulldozers ordered by the sheriff had cleared debris from the streets of Grande Lagoon.
The residents who had just been joking about what they would find walked along Grand Lagoon Boulevard in silence.
Five houses in, they began to weep.
Women wailed inside cars. Teenagers sat in the beds of pickup trucks with their hands covering their open mouths.
Carla Godwin quietly walked down Grande Lagoon Court as neighbors lifted roofing from bikes and brushed off ceramic plates.
"We don't even have a dining room table anymore," she sobbed. "I don't know where it is. It's gone."
This subdivision of about 300 upscale houses a mile from the Intracoastal Waterway was among the hardest hit by Ivan. Four of the seven people killed in Escambia County died here.
On some lots, driveways were the only evidence that houses once stood there. Puffs of pink insulation hung from the emply frames of homes.
"Even a bomb couldn't have done this much damage," said Escambia Sheriff's Sgt. Phil Defelice. "You couldn't make a movie like this."
Ivan battered million dollar mansions with a storm surge that pushed boats into garages blocks away. Someone's Emerson television wound up in Carla Godwin's bathroom.
"Where did this come from?" she asked. "This isn't my TV."
The boarded windows of Godwin's two-story dream home had been blown out, revealing an empty dining room. She walked slowly down the street, looking for her dining room table and crying for her neighbors.
She carried a camera but never snapped a picture.
"Are you okay?" neighbor Lisa Durant asked.
Durant, 38, stood on her home's foundation, where her living room used to be. Remnants from other people's lives were scattered around her: mud-caked cargo pants, a cassette tape about achieving financial wealth, a picture of a smiling baby. Her roof rested two houses down.
Durant found her $150 Jessica McClintock purse. Just days before Ivan, she took it away from her 3-year-old daughter.
"Look at it," she said, tossing it aside. "I wouldn't even let her play with it."
Other residents made their own discoveries.
"My cat is alive!" one man came screaming from his house.
Another man walked out of his home with his guitar and a grin. He strummed it a few times before tucking it into its case.
A woman sat in the passenger seat of her truck, her face buried in her hands, her shoulders heaving. Her house had been gutted.
On wobbly knees, she leaned against her husband and stepped out of the car.
Her daughters and son-in-law wrapped their arms around each other, tears streaming down their faces.
Mary Gaudet, 63, lost everything. More than 200 yards across the Grande Lagoon Boat Basin, baby pictures of her grown children had washed up into the back patio of Cynthia LaCour's home.
"Oh my babies!" she cried, trying to smooth out the blistered images. "I can't believe it!"
LaCour and her family had waited out the hurricane in their newly built, stormproof home.
The night Ivan arrived, they beamed flashlights outside and watched refrigerators, doors and windows float by.
"Nobody thought it was going to be this bad," LaCour said. "We never would've stayed had we known."
Most residents went to nearby relatives' homes. Others, like Durant's neighbors, left town.
The neighbors called her on her cell phone and asked about their house.
"You've got a wall and roof," Durant told them.
She thought about the conversation later.
"How do you explain to them that their house is gone? They need to see it for themselves."
DONATE GOODS TO VICTIMS
The Regional Relief Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa will accept donations for Florida's hurricane victims from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. People are encouraged to donate items on a list that's updated daily at www.volunteerflorida.org. Unsolicited donations, such as used clothing, will not be accepted. The Florida State Fairgrounds is at 4800 N. U.S. Highway 301 in Tampa. For more information, call toll-free 1-800-354-3571.
Grande Lagoon subdivision residents had had enough of waiting when they confronted the sheriff to let them back in. Once in, one resident found his guitar still strums. Another found his pet cat was still alive. But for others, reasons to celebrate were hard to find.
President George W. Bush kisses Karen Heinold as he tours damage from Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola on Sunday.
"Please give us a little more time," Escambia County Sheriff Ron McNesby pleaded with Grande Lagoon residents Sunday. After bulldozers cleared the streets, residents were allowed in until the 7 p.m. curfew in Escambia County.
Carla Godwin, 44, walks along Grande Lagoon Court toward her home Sunday, for the first time seeing the destruction in her neighborhood. "All that we have worked for is gone," she said.
A foundation is all that remains of this Grande Lagoon home.
The house's owner, who tried to ride out the storm, drowned.