Into the Eye Of Ivan

As a savage hurricane zeroes in on the Gulf Coast, a TIME reporter flies through the center of the storm

THE BIG TURBOPROP LUMBERS DOWN a runway at MacDill Air Force Base, rises awkwardly into the air and heads northwest from Tampa Bay over the Gulf of Mexico. For a couple of hours, it glides through an aerial fairyland, maneuvering around sun-struck clouds that resemble turreted castles. "This isn't so bad," I say to my seatmate, Miami-based meteorologist Joe Cione, who looks at me and laughs. It's about then that I realize the pilot has executed a sweeping U-turn and pointed the plane's nose in Hurricane Ivan's direction.

Soon sheets of rain whip against the plane's windows, dissolving the reassuring sight...

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