Welcome Centers Direct Cars Past Ivan Mess

A motorist walked into the Grand Bay Welcome Center, looking for directions back to Pensacola.

"They've closed the border here," the welcome center worker said, pointing to a map of the region. "So you can't even go into Florida here."

Becky Clark works at the welcome center.

"We've had people come through here that have lost everything," she said. "It's just so sad. They want to get back to their houses, but they can't. And that makes it even worse."

The Pensacola motorist hadn't been home since Hurricane Ivan roared through his neighborhood. He debated detour options with the welcome center agent.

"You can't get to here," the agent said, pointing to downtown Pensacola. "But if you get on over to this area here, somewhere along the line they're going to stop you."

The Grand Bay Welcome Center on eastbound I-10 is one mile from Mississippi. It's 43 miles from a detour that keeps traffic away from Hurricane Ivan's mess. Mapping out the right way to get around the devastation has become the number one responsibility for these welcome center employees.

"It's been totally, totally different," said Connie Pearce. "Everybody want to go to Florida to see what happened, or to get home, or to visit their friends, or to take supplies."

Until Tuesday, Pearce actually gave directions with curlers in her hair. She had to dress at work, because her storm ravaged home still had no electricity.

"It's stressful," she said. "You deal with it well because you understand what they're going through."

For the time being, the Grand Bay Welcome Center will be the place for eastbound motorists to learn about detours to Gulf Shores and Florida.