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Hurricane Dennis Pounds Florida Coast

Aired July 10, 2005 - 15:00   ET


JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The center is less than 20 miles from the shoreline, but the eye wall we are especially concerned about, and you can see that is now starting to make landfall at this time. The highest winds right in this area. It's always in the right front quadrant of a hurricane. And you can see that's about 13 minutes away hitting landfall right here on Santa Rosa Island. It's a very large area so if you're really anywhere from the Gulf shore extending over here just to the west of Fort Walton Beach this is where the worst of it's going to be coming in at this hour.
The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for Escambia, Okaloosa, and Santa Rosa counties because they want you to treat this hurricane like its one huge tornado spinning, moving through your area. It's moving just west of due north at this time, so really no deviations from the past, no time to do that and it has picked up that forward speed about 17, 18 miles per hour. So this is all going to be happening very -- very, very quickly.

If you live inland, if you're in the northern part of the county you need to be just as concerned because those hurricane force winds are making their way onshore. They're going to be reaching out 100 to 150 miles away from the shoreline as this continues to move on up to the north and slightly turning up to the north and the west. The rain bands are all over the place across the southeast right now. And we do have those tornado watches which are in effect across parts of southern Georgia into much of Florida. And it's these outer feeder bands; those are the ones that we're concerned about that could be producing tornadoes. He we haven't had a lot of activity of that just yet, but we're expecting that action to continue to pick up.

Here's the forecast track and the official statistics as of the 3:00 Eastern time advisory: 120 mile-per-hour winds, so that's just about in the middle of a category 3 hurricane. Category 3 hurricane is 111 to 130 miles-per-hour, so we're happy to see that this is a 3 rather than a 4. It should being weakening as it moves inland. But take a look at this. This is 8:00, yet tonight, again Eastern time, still 100-mile-per-hour winds. This is still a category 2 hurricane as it's moving right along the central part of the Alabama Mississippi state line. So, we've got a long ways to go here with Dennis. Again, the eye wall just starting to make landfall. We're going to see that within the next half an hour.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CO-ANCHOR: I think that's something good to remind folks. Let me ask a question, Jacqui. In 13 minutes, or I guess now, 12 minutes, when that eye wall makes landfall, is that when it gets really calm? When it calms down, I mean isn't it when the eye makes landfall? JERAS: Right. When the eye makes landfall...

S. O'BRIEN: People think it's over?

JERAS: That's when things are calm. The eye wall itself. This when things get really nasty, especially this part right here. Once this makes its way onshore everything breaks loose. It's this part here, this is the calm. In fact, very oftentimes you can look up when the middle of the storm is up and you can actually see blue sky. And you don't want to let that catch you off guard because the backside of the storm is still coming your way. So you get the worst, then you get a little bit of a break and then more action coming on in. And there you can see Dave penned in tracking for us, 5.4 miles center of circulation to be making its way on Santa Rosa Island.

S. O'BRIEN: OK, by your math, about 12 minutes before that worst part hits. Jacqui, thanks.

MIKE O'BRIEN, CO-ANCHOR: And it is so remarkable. I had the chance to fly in one of those hurricane hunter into Hurricane Andrew years ago. And you know, you go through this tremendous turbulence; you can't imagine what it's like. Then all of a sudden you break through you look up and see blue sky, you see blue ocean and it's just this tunnel. It's just incredible. It really is. And it can lull people into thinking it's over, and of course, you get walloped in just a few minutes.

Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella have the latest from Pensacola, Florida. Escambia Bay is their specific location. And I say that to you because they're not right on the Gulf. You might look at the water behind them and think, gosh, look at those high seas. We can only guess what's going on right now in the Gulf because we've lost, I think, our tower cam now from Pensacola.

How's it -- how's it going there, guys?

Oh, there's the -- we had the tower cam, but we can't see anything there, really, right now. But, tell us what's going on there.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, in the last, I'd say, five minutes or so, John, and the winds really have picked up. If you look over there at the trees are moving -- are getting pushed pretty good here, and as you can see, the water is just completely horizontal. The wind is just pushing this rain. And the rain has picked up as well. It's impossible to even look into the wind.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can't turn your face over here to the sand and the rain and the wind. I'd say we're pretty close to hurricane force winds sustained, now. The barometric pressure keeps dropping here, 28.91 inches of pressure, so it's getting down there. You know, this is very, very similar now, I was telling you, to Hurricane Opal in '95. Opal made it up to 150 mile- an-hour winds and then just before landfall, about where Rich Sanchez was around Fort Walton Beach, dropped down to 120 miles-an-hour, so very similar storm right now.

COOPER: And the path of Opal was in this general direction?

ZARRELLA: Yeah, same thing. Came up out of the Gulf and then came and made landfall. We were here in Pensacola and they thought it was going to hit here and then move a little bit to the right of us, drove sailboats and boats up onto Highway 98 where Rick is. And on the other side of that storm surge, and Navarre Island, debris from Navarre Island pushed all the way across the inland right up onto the mainland on to 98.

COOPER: You know, it's amazing how quickly things change. About 10 minutes ago John and I were talking and saying, you know what, this is bad, but it's not so bad. I would say now it's starting to feel worse.

ZARRELLA: Yeah. This is a hurricane now. We're in it now, Anderson.

COOPER: The -- with the eye wall, I don't know if it's possible to talk to Jacqui Jeras, if she's available. I'd love to get a sense where the eye wall, particularly that northwest quadrant which she talked about, where that is in relation to where we are. If she is available, Jacqui, we're on Escambia Bay...

JERAS: Right.

COOPER: A little bit in -- a little bit inland here in Pensacola. Any sense of where we are compared to that eye wall?

JERAS: You're getting close to the right front quadrant, right here. Let's see. Here's Escambia Bay, here's the East Bay and this is the worst part of the storm, right over here. It's moving north, so you're just barely to the west of it. You're almost due north of where the center of circulation is. So, there you can see some of these bright yellows and bright reds, I don't know if you can see it. I'm not sure where on the bay you guys are here put you're certainly on the leading edge of some of the worst of the weather -- Anderson.

ZARRELLA: Well, that's about what we expected that we were right about in that leading edge of the eye wall.

COOPER: How long do you expect these kind of conditions to last, Jacqui?

JERAS: Dave, can we put a storm tracker on there? We're going to put a storm track on that. And as it's moving to the north, it's moving about 17 miles-per-hour, so that's pretty quickly. Actually some good news, you guys are to the west of it so, unfortunately, I think you're probably going to be staying in this quite some time. Eighteen minutes for the center if it continues on its track, but if it pulls a little bit farther up to the north, you guys, you're going to stay just right on the left side of the storm and that is going to keep you in some pretty nasty conditions. Not the worst of the storm, but certainly very bad conditions throughout the next couple of hours, actually. COOPER: All right. Well, I guess that's why we -- what we should of expected. Jacqui, thanks.

It is -- it's picking up and we haven't seen, though, a lot of debris. The trees, a lot of the trees were already broke from Ivan, so they didn't really, I guess, have much left to break, but they seem to be holding at this point. And we've got a report that in Pensacola, there has not been a great amount of storm surge.

ZARRELLA: No, no. And again, that's because it were on the west side of that -- the eye wall, the winds are going to be kicking the water offshore as opposed to onshore on the right side where Rick Sanchez and them are. But quite clearly, we're right on the edge of the eye wall on that left side of it, so it's going to be bad enough, as Jacqui said.

COOPER: As you said, it's actually getting very cold. I don't know if that's just because I'm wet, but it's starting to get chilly.

ZARRELLA: And I know they can't see it, but you know, in pressure readings as they drop are significant in a hurricane, and it was over 29 inches 15 minutes ago. It's down, and Jacqui can tell the significance of this, 28.85, so it keeps dropping.

COOPER: Yeah. If Jacqui Jeras is still available, Jacqui, what is the significance of that?

JERAS: Well, that means you're getting closer to the center of the storm, actually. Yeah, the pressure is going to continue to lower until you get to the lowest part of the pressure which is in the center of the storm and then you'll start to watch that go back up. So yeah, as long as it keeps going down, down, down, you know you're getting closer to the middle of the storm.

COOPER: All right. Jacqui Jeras, thanks.

I want to go to Adam Landau who is standing by in Panama City with our affiliate.

Adam, what's the situation there?

ADAM LANDAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, we're a good 70 miles to the east of you and John and things are pretty calm here. We say "pretty calm," compared to what you're seeing. But take a look down the road and you can see virtually no one is here. Every hotel is closed. And most people have evacuated. Now, others are staying in their homes. They were expecting a bigger hit than they're getting but, of course, that's right now. No one knows for sure exactly what we're going to get. But, spanning around this area, we haven't heard many reports of damage. A possible water spout, we heard, but that was about it so far. But, take a look at the water. It's a completely different story. The winds certainly blowing the surf and you can see just how angry she is right now.

Again, the big worry here is going to be downed power lines leading to a loss of power for tens of thousands of people. We haven't seen that yet. We're, again, hoping that we don't get the worst of it for a little while. We were told the storm kind of took a direct route to the north then back to the northwest and that's when people here starting breathing a sigh of relief. But again, right now, we're having bands of heavy rain every once in a while we'll get about a 60 mile-an-hour wind gust, but other than that, so far, everyone's keeping their fingers crossed because things haven't been that bad.

COOPER: Well, I got to tell you, Adam, I wish I was there! But Adam thanks. We'll check in with you in a little bit. Also we should point out in the location where we are, you know, we've been following the status of this overhang over this gas station and it's not looking good.

ZARRELLA: No, the top of that overhang, that aluminum -- those aluminum roofing material there is starting to peel off a little bit.

COOPER: Can you see (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this entire (UNINTELLIGIBLE) up and down. You never like to see that.

ZARRELLA: The good part about it, if there is a good part, is that the wind can blow through there and it's not a structure that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we get (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

COOPER: If you can (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the winds seem to have picked up even in last couple of minutes that we've been on the air. It is definitely feeling very unpleasant, very unsafe at this point for anyone who might still be out and about.

It did look (UNINTELLIGIBLE), in Mobile Alabama. Dan, what's the scene where you are?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is probably the harshest wind and rain that we've felt all morning, since early this morning. We've been pounded here, certainly not anything like what you are feeling, there. But it really has picked up. We're standing on Government Street, a main street that runs through Mobile and one car behind me here, but pretty much this area has been deserted. A few minutes ago, we decided to take a drive around just to see what we could find. There was an area right along Mobile Bay where we did find that some signs had fallen down. There was a gate that was broken, but no large branches or anything like that have fallen down on the roadways yet, but that is certainly something that officials are expecting will happen. They're expecting a lot of debris to be out there on the streets after Dennis pass through. They have crews ready to go in response so they can clean things up as quickly as possible.

Now, one other thing that we heard from emergency officials that about 8,000 people are without power here in Mobile, but that official also saying that that may be a conservative estimate. That it could be closer to 10 to 15,000 people without power at this hour and that number is expected to rise.

COOPER: Dan, thanks very much for that. Clearly, conditions there a little bit better than they are here. John Zarrella is trying to take a reading of the wind to get a sense of it. We were getting sustained winds half an hour ago in the upper 50s. We'd had some gusts in the upper 60s. But it's hard to get a good reading where we're at because the wind isn't just coming on straight. The wind is actually swirling around so you can be standing in sort of a pocket where there's not much wind and so it's very disorienting. You sort of have to try to find a good position to get that wind in.

Rick Sanchez, who's been down further south of where we are, we're about, I don't know, about a mile or so inland from Highway 98 which is down along the coast -- the Gulf Coast. CNN's Rick Sanchez has been driving all around that area around Fort Walton and around Destin. We lost him a little bit awhile ago, but earlier, we want to show you some of what he found along that Highway 98. Take a look.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What officials feared what happened has taken place here. This is Highway 98 that goes along the coast in the Florida Panhandle. And what's going on here is that the ocean, the Gulf of Mexico is breaching the road. You can look down here and see I'm standing on the pavement. I'm standing on the highway right now and my feet are covered. And folks, this is salt water. This is actually a salt water breach and you can see just how much of the road. Michael, if you could, back the car up a little bit and you'll see just how much of Highway 98 is actually covered. And you can see the road being breached further still as the waves continue to pound part of the highway. And you see that as it gets deeper, we're in this large SUV and we're able to cross it, but it would be next to impossible for a smaller caller at this point. And we're still an hour from what would likely be the actual onset of the storm onto this part of Florida Panhandle.

We've also just gotten word moments ago that in Crestview, that's Crestview, just north of Destin, Florida, 100 people have been taken from a large hotel because the roof has blown off the top of the building. It's a report we got just moments ago and we're going to head in that direction now to try and investigate that for you. I'm Rick Sanchez with Hurricane One in Destin, Florida. CNN.


COOPER: And we're going to try to reestablish contact as soon as we can with Rick Sanchez. You never like to lose contact with someone, especially now at the beginning of the height of the storm. We're trying to get contact with him again to find out where he is. We're not sure right now.

John Zarrella has been taking wind readings. What kind of readings did you get?

ZARRELLA: It came in the low 70s, right now. Pretty consistently 65, 70 miles-an-hour, right -- bordering on hurricane force.

COOPER: OK, and we anticipate as that storm gets closer those winds are going to be picking up. We're going to try to maintain this position as long as we can. We feel pretty good about where we are and the situation we're in. So, as long as the equipment holds up we'll be able to stay on the air.

Let's check in, we have reporters all along the coast here, all along where this hurricane is going to be heading. Chad Myers, CNN meteorologist, is standing by in the much calmer Panama City.

Chad, how's it looking where you are?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, it was calm five minutes ago, Anderson, but it's not now. The water is now coming completely up over the top and breaching our island, as well. We were actually breaching all of this, these are all sea oates (ph). This was nice and ready to take this storm, but now the wind is coming in. Now, watch as I walk out of the shadow of the condominium. Watch what happens through here. The storm turns into a 74. Wait. I'm going to go up -- 79. And now we have another instrument, right here. I'm going to switch this other camera. This machine here from WSI, one of our weather vendors, we can be even -- be more accurate than this right here.

This instrument, you see right here, is based in the back of our truck and in this instrument, right here, it shows that wind speed, that gust right there was 81 miles-per-hour. The pressure is still falling 29.39. The rain is over an inch and a half. Our dew point is way up there, relative humidity, obviously, very high as the rain comes in.

The difference now, Anderson, is that I can taste the salt of the water. The salt now, coming on shore because the winds are blowing onshore. Most of the day, the winds were blowing offshore and the water -- the rain was fresh water. You couldn't taste the salt. But, now it's taking the tops of those very big waves out there. It's taking the tops of those waves off and blowing them at us. If you couldn't hear for the roar, you couldn't be able to hear probably 30 or 40 alarms going off. The homes here, the alarms are going off probably because of glass breakage. All the alarms turned on, as soon as the power goes off, the alarms will go off, but it's really blowing hard here. Anderson, I'm not sure I can be able to hear you, but I will get in the shadow of my truck and stand here for a second and toss it back to you.

COOPER: Chad, thanks very much. We'll check in with you. John Zarrella, what kind of reading were you just getting.

ZARRELLA: Yeah, I got 75, right at hurricane force and I just can't even hold it up there anymore much.

COOPER: So really, even within -- even within that we've been on the air talking these winds have picked up in this area. And as I said, it's hard to get a straight-on reading because the winds are swirling around at this point.

ZARRELLA: And really, the elevations, the higher than where we are is where the wind is even stronger than right here at ground level, so the winds are stronger than that reading we're getting. COOPER: And the question is, how strong are the winds going to get? How much faster are these things?

ZARRELLA: That's gone.

COOPER: If you can turn around. You can see -- starting the roof -- part of the roof we've been watching this for the last hour or so, it is starting to rip off, starting to buckle. You never like to see that kind of thing. It is something we've been anticipating. We're afraid, frankly, that entire roof structure, that entire overhang may go down. We have seen it buckling a fair amount over the last hour or so. The pieces are already starting to come off. That's to be anticipated. And as these winds pick up we expect to see an awful lot more of that.

ZARRELLA: I'm concerned about that cameraman out there. Make sure we get him in from underneath if that eye aluminum blows off, it's going in his direction.

COOPER: That's a good point.


COOPER: Also want to welcome viewers on CNN International who are watching around the world. We are live in Pensacola, Florida where Hurricane Dennis, the outer wall of it, has just started to make landfall south and east of here. We are trying to ride out this storm as best we can. We're going to take a short break, but our special coverage age of Hurricane Dennis continues in just a moment.



ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, among the names of epic storms you can talk about Hugo or Andrew or Camille. I think Dennis will go along with them. It will be one of those names that gets retired, undoubtedly. Hurricane Dennis now category 3, 120 miles-an-hour. The eye is just about smack dab bisected by the coast which is the official landfall, according to the meteorologists. But, as you've been seeing by just watching some of our people on the ground there, a huge battering underway right now. Max Mayfield is the head of the National Hurricane Center.

Max, first of all, check me on that statistic. Is the eye, has it official crossed land?

MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: This is a tad academic, Miles, yes, certainly, a portion of the eye is moving right over Santa Rosa Island about midway between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach and it's going to continue moving over Pensacola Bay. M. O'BRIEN: OK, so and we're at 120 miles-an-hour, that is -- and I know you're reluctant to talk about how it's weakening when you're talking about a storm of 120 miles-an-hour, but put this in perspective for us. This is a stronger storm than Ivan was at this time, right?

MAYFIELD: Well, it's very, very similar to Ivan and you know, Miles, we'll go back and look at the radar velocity data and the aircraft data, there's a wealth of information here. We'll do a post analysis on this, but we're confident it's a category 3 hurricane, but one thing I really want to emphasize is that those really extreme winds that we're talking about are in that one little area there, that very, very small eye wall in there, the donut around the eye, that's where the strong winds are. Elsewhere, those folks are, you know, going through category 1 or a category 2 hurricane force winds. So, unfortunately, that little doughnut there is moving over, you know, the Pensacola area very similar to where Ivan hit, a little bit farther to the east, however.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Max Mayfield, we got to let you go now. Thanks to stopping in and we'll check back with you very shortly.

Jacqui Jeras up in the Weather Center. And yeah, it is a little academic when we start talking about this, but we do like to, you know, what time did it cross, where did it cross is our process of reporting. Looks like we're about there?

JERAS: Yeah, we're there.

M. O'BRIEN: This is, when you start talking about 120 mile winds over a big wide area, it's like a -- as you put it a while ago, it's like a giant tornado, isn't it?

JERAS: Right. Right, and that's why the National Weather Service issued the tornado warnings for Santa Rosa, Escambia, and Okaloosa county. As Max just mentioned it's in this small area, right here, where the worst of the winds are, so it's just in this one quadrant and where Anderson and John Zarrella are, I'm not exactly sure where they are on the bay, but they're getting off a little bit easier than these folks here.

And Max also talks about how concentrated this storm is. The hurricane forced winds only extend out about 40 miles from the center of the storm, so that's pretty tightly packed even though the tropical storm forced winds extend out about 200 miles from the center of this storm. And because the worst of it is so compact is actually some very good news in that it also helps keep our storm surge down a little bit. Earlier we were talking about 13 to 18-foot storm surge and now we're talking maybe eight, 10 feet on average, we're going to maybe see four to six storm -- foot storm surge as it heads all the way over to the Apalachicola area, way on off into eastern parts of Florida. So, it certainly could have been worse.

Also we were talking about a team here, the CNN meteorologists, about the eye wall a little bit and it looks like it possibly could of collapsed just a little bit before it made landfall so, hopefully, that's going to help us out a little bit. As we get the rest of the eye onshore, here, then we'll start to watch for rapid disintensification -- is that even a word? Disintensification. It's going to reduce, weaken, pretty significantly once the whole thing makes its way onshore. But, there you can see that eye. This is Santa Rosa Island, there you can see Pensacola, here's Fort. Walton Beach, and Navarre is right about here, so it's off to the west of Navarre, at this time.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Disintensification works for me, Jacqui.

JERAS: All right.

M. O'BRIEN: And we certainly got it, that's for sure. Thank you very much, Jacqui.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah, the intensification, there were some of those pictures we're seeing from our correspondents pretty much everywhere. Shawna Busby is, I'm sure, watching. She's in a shelter in Pensacola, Florida. Shawna joins us by phone from that shelter.

Hey Shawna, can you hear me?


S. O'BRIEN: Have you been watching these pictures? You've seen our reporters blown around as they go. What do you think?

BUSBY: Oh, it's a big mess down here.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you feel that it's -- I mean, you heard Jacqui just talking about how the storm surges that were predicted to be 14 feet now kind of downgraded to eight to 10 feet. Do you feel better about that?

BUSBY: Oh definitely. It's a relief if you've gone through Ivan last year and then now Dennis. So it's definitely a relief that it hit a little bit to the east of us instead of to the west.

S. O'BRIEN: Good news for you there. You came into the shelter this morning. Is that right?

BUSBY: Yeah. About 4:00 this morning.

S. O'BRIEN: Who did you come in with?

BUSBY: My father and one of my husband's friends.

S. O'BRIEN: And, you have a daughter, too. Is she with you?

BUSBY: Yes. A 2-year-old.

S. O'BRIEN: A 2-year-old, oh wow. That's got to be just tons of fun with a 2-year-old in a crowded shelter. How's the mood in that shelter?

BUSBY: The shelter is relieved, I think, now. The emotions rise with anything, with a hurricane coming in like this and now I think the calm is settling in, so...

S. O'BRIEN: So now that it's made landfall, people feel like finally what was going to happen has happened and it's at least that part of it is done?

BUSBY: Oh, yes, ma'am.

S. O'BRIEN: OK. You left your dogs behind, is that right?

BUSBY: Yeah. I had to leave my babies, I think that was the saddest part for me.

S. O'BRIEN: How worried are you about them?

BUSBY: I think they're going to be OK since we didn't get the eye of the storm here in Escambia County. I think a lot of people are going home to safe pets.

S. O'BRIEN: Now, how long do you stay in the shelter or can you pretty much leave as soon as the storm has passed?

BUSBY: We are actually under curfew. I don't think that you can leave the shelter. Once you're here, you're here for the duration, so...

S. O'BRIEN: But, you're saying the mood's pretty good?

BUSBY: The mood is good. The food was good and the staff here has been excellent.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, the mood's good and food's good and the staff's excellent. I don't think you could ask for much more from a shelter. Shawna Busby, you sound like your mood's pretty good too, and I guess everybody's breathing easier now that the -- now that the storm has passed. Thanks for talking to us, Shawna, good luck to you.

And hopeful when she gets back to the house the dogs are fine and they can get their house back together.

M. O'BRIEN: She sounds a like worried about her four-legged babies.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah, yeah.

M. O'BRIEN: But, that's tough. It's a tough thing to leave them behind, but you know, when you go to a shelter, you don't have a lot of choice.

S. O'BRIEN: They won't take them.

M. O'BRIEN: Yeah, they won't take them and this is a real problem in situations like this.

All right, we're going to take a break. As we live you, we'll just show you where things stand, right now. It's now 3:30 on the East Coast. As Max Mayfield said, this is somewhat academic, but what you're seeing there is the moment that we've been talking about all this time and it's almost the exact same place where Ivan hit back in September of last year. This is right around Santa Rosa Sound, the Gulf Islands National Seashore into the area that's called the East Bay area of Pensacola, where we just saw Anderson cooper and John Zarrella; they're kind of getting sort of residual effects. The people who are really feeling it are right in this area. That's where the real wind is packed as that counterclockwise circulation makes its way across onto landfall. And as we've been saying, this is not the end of it. This is a storm that will persist over land for quite some time.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah, it sure will. Coming up after our short break, we're going to check in with Drew Griffin and your little telestrator -- he was actually right at the tip of one of those arrows that you drew in Fort Walton beach. We'll see how he's doing and the folks there as well.

M. O'BRIEN: Yeah, we should check in with Alina Cho, too. We haven't heard from her. I wonder if she's doing OK.

S. O'BRIEN: Right, she's very close, right on Pensacola, too.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

S. O'BRIEN: A short break, be back in a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody. Hurricane Dennis now a category 3. The eye wall is passing right on the Gulf Coast. Let's get right to Drew Griffin he is in Ft. Walton Beach and really taking the brunt of the storm there. Hey Drew how does it look?

I don't think he can hear us. Lets see if we can raise him again, as we talked about on occasion--

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Drew Griffin live in Ft. Walton Beach. I guess I've lost my connection with you. But the conditions here Soledad and Miles have gotten very bad just within the last half hour. I took a walk on 98 they call it the miracle strip parkway. Downtown Ft. Walton Beach. We are seeing a lot of the trees beginning to snap.

So far it's just the top branches but they are rolling down the street here in Ft. Walton Beach. That's going to create some dangerous situation. We haven't seen a lot of structural damage yet but again each gust seems to be stronger than the latest gust. I'm not sure how close -- whoa that's a bad one.

How close or how far we are in the -- from that eye wall. If Jacqui Jeras could tell us more directly. What everybody is Ft. Walton Beach would like to know is it going to get worse than this? Because right now it's pretty bad. Lets go back to you. I seem to have lost communication.

S. O'BRIEN: All right Drew; you know I think that is an excellent question. Can we raise Jacqui Jeras? I think that is a good question because he's saying it is bad Jacqui. Does that mean it's going to get worse or are they pretty much at the end of the bad stuff?

JERAS: He's in Ft. Walton Beach?

S. O'BRIEN: Uh-huh.

JERAS: They're on the bad side of the storm. Here's the eye itself, if you divide the storm into four parts. Right across here is where the worst of it is. He's kind of on the edge of that. He's going to continue to see that onshore flow. All those strong winds coming in and all the waves flashing up in this area. He's not in the worst part of the storm exactly right now. That's a little bit closer on off to the north into the east or the west of him.

S. O'BRIEN: All right Jacqui Jeras with a little update there. Thanks Jacqui. Hopefully, Drew was able to hear that because, of course, as we pointed out, in these conditions any live shot at all is pretty much a miracle. You got to understand that the technology is not built to sustain 70 mile an hour winds or 120 mile an hour winds as some folks are getting and flooding and things like that.

M. O'BRIEN: I got a little note from Arnie Christianson on our satellite disk and he said that what we are about to go to, here is Rick Sanchez with a videophone. The wavelength of these satellites is better for going through clouds than our big KU trucks, which are different frequency. So it's actually easier for us to get these shots in even though Rick Sanchez is driving down Highway 98 in hurricane 1, showing us really, the first time I've ever seen storm surge live as it happens, Rick. What are you seeing?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well I will tell you, Miles, it's been quite an adventure for us. We have now doubled back. What we're trying to do now is we've gotten this report that there's a roof collapsed at a hotel in Crestview and there was some one hundred people there that had to be evacuated. We just stopped we talked to some fire officials who described the same scene. They had given us directions on how to get there. We are probably a good six, seven miles away from Crestview still. But the journey itself has been one we're going to remember for quite sometime, at least the other three gentlemen in this vehicle with me right now.

Let's start with what you were mentioning a while ago. That's Highway 98 it is right between Destin and Ft. Walton Beach. And we were attempting to cross there. Since then, we have found out from some officials that are a difficult place to cross because it is a low-lying area. Needless to say, I think you may be able to see in some of the pictures now the Gulf of Mexico literally overtook the beach, overtook the shoreline and the sand dunes and then overtook the highway that we were trying to cross. We first thought it was a couple of inches. The further we got into it we realized it was impossible to cross.

We were putting ourselves in harm's way so we turned around and left that area. First, obviously, when we got to the edge of it we provided a live situation so that the viewers would see exactly what had happened there. And so no one else would attempt to do from the either the western part to cross the highway. We now are heading north on something called the Mid Bay Bridge. Which we thought would be a simple bridge to cross but it turned out to be very difficult. Needless to say there were anxious moments for us. It went on for miles. It got to the point where we could see the surf coming up on it so we got through as fast as we possibly could. And stopped our communication with you guys.

Now we've crossed over and we crossed a place called Niceville. We are, I guess you might say, doing a first from a broadcasting standpoint, traveling on this road to the location as we told you earlier today, we wanted to do, get to the breaking news and hopefully within about five, ten minutes we will be able to show you that scene for yourself right here. But the picture is holding up. Our engineers have been doing a marvelous job. We're trying to get the periphery of the storm, get in as close as we can to show you the pictures but also protect ourselves and the vehicle but it's been quite a journey, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Down toward Ft. Walton Beach area is that where you're headed pretty much now?

SANCHEZ: I don't know, Miles, if you asked a question or not. I think I may have lost you. If you want to try that again, give it a shot.

M. O'BRIEN: Can you hear me now Rick? Do you have me?

SANCHEZ: No, I lost you. I'm sorry, man. I can't hear anything you're saying.

M. O'BRIEN: All right well Rick Sanchez making his way out of Niceville where it's not so nice today, incidentally. On his way down to where we've seen -- we just saw Drew Griffin there; Alina Cho is not too far away in Mary Esther. Mean while we got people all over the map and we are just checking in with them as we see them. Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Certainly, you know believe it or not you're watching an extended edition of "American Morning." The two of us are coming to you going on ten hours and what we have seen is the build up of the storm and of course the storm hitting rapid deterioration in the hours and minutes right before the eye wall hit when it got very, very bad.

Now, it is moving through making landfall and moving on into the land. We got Chad Myers he is standing by for us in Panama City Beach. And you know what I got to say Chad; yours still looks pretty bad where you are. How is it looking?

MYERS: The gusts are the bad part. Our sustained winds are about 65 to 70 but our gusts are now getting up to 81 to 82 miles per hour. In fact I have a machine over there that I will take you to show you exactly what it is. But I'm in the shadow of a building here and I will show you that building in a second. Let me get out of the shadow of this building and walk over here to our other location and watch the wind pick up as I get away from the building. I'm going to switch over here. This is just incredible how when you get away from a little bit of shelter, how the wind picks up. Now, that's the problem with our satellite picture. About an hour ago, we actually lost the picture and because the satellite truck was right in line with all of the winds. Let's turn in here and see what we have.

That sustained wind was 66 miles per hour. Our peak gust is 81 miles per hour. Our pressure is still falling and our temperature is actually come up a little bit. That's interesting to me because now the wind is off the water, 77 degrees now, about 72 degrees just a few minutes ago. Let me show you. We'll turn the camera around and show you the sides of the condos here in Panama City. Those are about 12 stories high. The higher you go with the storm the bigger the wind is, the higher the wind gusts. There are people up there in that corner unit, just looking at them there. There he is out there. Go back up to that corner up there. They're still up there in that building up there! That's about seven stories up.

So if the wind gusts down here are 81, the wind gusts up there must be 90 to 95 miles per hour. So we had to do is take our satellite truck and park it in the shadow of that wind. Watch. Here's the shadow. Here's the wind. I can come in and right next to the truck, you get it back again, but then as you get in the wake of the truck, it's like I can stand up without a problem. It just depends on where you are. I know there's a tornado warning for many counties to our west. Simply because of the wind speed, but I don't want you to go to a basement. And most homes there don't have basements. They're on stilts. But so many places, if you talk about tornado warning, go to the lowest level. Be careful how low you go because you don't want to be when that storm surge comes up, you don't want to be in the water.

Anderson back to you. Anderson can you hear me?

S. O'BRIEN: Chad actually, I think -- I'm not sure if we can get Anderson right now. Lets see if we can get - check in with Anderson and see how they are doing. We haven't heard from them. Anderson is joining us by phone now.

Hey Anderson.

COOPER: I'm sorry; I'm on cell phone. We had to run from the location we were in. Our satellite truck went down. We're now 500 feet from where we were. We're basically behind a wall at a Ramada Hotel for the protection. There is an enormous Ramada Hotel sign. It has to be 40 feet in the air probably about a hundred feet or so up in the air. It is twisting around just like a piece of wood. This thing is -- this is no doubt for us the height of the storm so far. There's a solid wall of white, a solid wall of white. It's somewhat secure there are two walls on either side of us. But just -- if I walk five feet from the spot I'm standing in right now, I would get picked up and thrown down on the ground. It is an extraordinary sight. I have not seen anything like this in the four hurricanes I covered last year; I did not see anything like this. I wish we were on the air for it because what I'm seeing is just extraordinary wall of solid white. And it is just moving past us at a very high speed. It is a very scary moment here in Pensacola, Florida. I hope it does not get any worse than this because we have seen our trees just snapping. Even though it is day, it is very dark here. And we're now being caution and told to get off, to get to the side of the building because we hear things cracking. Trees are just swaying. Some of them are just snapping off. It is just extremely serious here in the location in Pensacola. We're seeing garbage bags fly by. There's part of a sign has now been ripped off. We're also seeing dumpsters being pushed aside like children.

S. O'BRIEN: Sounds like we lost Anderson. I was going to tell his photographer to go and pan out. Because we got a shot finally and we could see Anderson reporting on his cell phone leaned up against a building. What you heard him say was oh there he is.

OK Anderson, let's see if we can get his audio. He said the trees are snapping around them. That they went into a wall to take some cover his photographer out there trying to get some of these shots. I am not confident that he can actually hear us right now. We're having a little bit, as we mentioned, you know, no surprise really that some of this technology is failing a little bit. It's not really meant to sustain 70 plus mile an hour winds, but Anderson saying that got a little scary for them finally at one point. And they took cover, which frankly I'm glad to hear that they made that decision to get a little safer.

M. O'BRIEN: Looking at those trees being blown by the wind is - if that doesn't give you a little since of the power of all this.

S. O'BRIEN: And snapping off. It was obviously time to go. And they made the right decision. We will see if we can get him back again. What he was describing was that white wall which is the waves coming in. That is Dan Lothian we've been talking to Dan all day. He's in Mobile, Alabama. We've seen in the last hour Dan things getting worse, a downpour where you are clearly.

LOTHIAN: That is right we are being pelted by the rain. It feels like sand actually hitting your face. And that rain is now going sideways as it hits us from in front from this direction. Really blasting us. It has increased in the last half hour or so. One of the things that officials are very concerned about are power outages. The last number that we got was a conservative estimate we were told by officials of 8,000 homes in Mobile without power. But they thought that was closer to 10,000, to perhaps 15,000.

Of course, that number expected to go up. So we continue watching it here. We haven't seen any major damages in terms of trees falling down or anything like that. Earlier, we had a chance to drive around. We did see some road signs that were down and billboards starting to fall apart. Other than that, no major damage. But certainly the wind has been kicking up here as the storm -- it didn't directly impact this area like a lot of folks thought it would be but, still, getting pounded by hurricane Dennis. S. O'BRIEN: Have you seen any more people out there, Dan? Or have you found that everybody at this point is inside? Because we've seen with some of our other correspondents, they got folks come out in these storms when is it starts getting really bad to see what it's like. What have you seen?

LOTHIAN: Earlier in the day we did see folks walking by. There was a gentleman who was walking his dog out. That was before the rain and the wind starting kicking up. We haven't seen any folks walking around. What we have seen are police officers. In fact just a few minutes ago, a police car drove by us here so certainly they do not believe that the situation has reached that level where they can't go out on the road anymore. We did see a power crew come by here. They are going around trying to make sure they can restore power as soon as possible to all of the folks who have been knocked out and without power at this hour.

S. O'BRIEN: All right Dan, can you stand by for us for a little bit if you possibly can? I know you're getting kind of drenched but stick it out for a minute. I want to check in with Jacqui Jeras. Jacqui will you explain what we're seeing with Dan? For a while he had a little bit of a break. The eye wall, obviously, because of the time, has passed through, so he's getting the tail end now?

JERAS: I'm sorry Soledad could you repeat the question?

S. O'BRIEN: Sure Jacqui. What are we seeing now with Dan Lothian who is reporting to us in Mobile, Alabama, that the tail end of the storm coming through. How quickly do you expect it's actually going to pass all of our reporters who are kind of in the end of the brunt of it?

JERAS: Well you have to think about how big this storm is overall Soledad. You know the tropical storm force winds extend out more than 200 miles from the center of the storm. So it's going to take, you know, a number of hours. We're talking six hours plus before things are going to start to clear out and you are actually going to be seeing any sunshine. You mentioned Dan is here in Mobile. There you can see clusters of thunderstorms. Some of these outer bands here with the heavy rainfall. And Dave if we could put this into motion here. There you can see 62 miles away from the center of the storm. If you get this into motion we could see a little bit of the rotation. There you see him coming in here. So that is pushing off to the west and you are going to get a little bit of break here but more heavy thunderstorms continuing through the afternoon. Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right Jacqui Jeras thanks for the update. Let's get back to Anderson Cooper. A moment ago he had to move.

M. O'BRIEN: We got a signal. It's really dramatic stuff.

S. O'BRIEN: It is looking bad.

M. O'BRIEN: Can they hear us at all?

COOPER: Soledad I hear you! We are back on the air! John Zarrella and I. Let me just explain where we are. We are basically seeking the safety of the Ramada Hotel. There are two walls behind our camera and we are all basically kind of clustered behind these walls for safety. And if you look out there that is an enormous Ramada sign, which has just been twisting in the wind as you can see, it is moving. That's a big concern. We're very afraid that could come down.

ZARRELLA: It's been spinning around like a top. Really, what we're experiencing right now is a little bit of a lull compared to what we had. The gusts before were well above hurricane force. It had to be in the 95, 100 mile an hour range.

COOPER: When I called in I don't know how much of that you can get. But it is actually gone down from that point; I mean that was really there was an extraordinary wall of white. It was like a solid mass.

ZARRELLA: You couldn't see a thing out there. The trees were bent as they're bending again now. We're starting to get another one.

COOPER: Look at the tops of those trees over there; you have seen some of them have snapped already. These things are moving and as these--

ZARRELLA: Here it comes again! Look out here, here we go. Watch out! Get back! Watch out for the aluminum. It's coming apart! That is part of the sign!

COOPER: Look at this. It's all coming apart! The trees are coming down!

ZARRELLA: The tree went down.

Big trees coming down! Big trees coming down! Look at that sign! Amazing!

Here comes the sign. It's down. It's falling apart. Get back! Get back!

COOPER: Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this. John, this is incredible. Have you ever seen anything like this?

ZARRELLA: Never experienced anything like this before.

COOPER: This, of course, is the most dangerous time when the winds are this strong.

ZARRELLA: Tree limbs are flying down. These pine trees you see them out there, big branches coming down. Huge limbs.

COOPER: And it is incredible when you think these are strong pieces of metal. This is not little tin. This is a huge metal sign that survived hurricane Ivan. It has not survived hurricane Dennis.

ZARRELLA: Yeah. This is bad, as I've ever seen it Anderson.

COOPER: There is an enormous tree, which is-- ZARRELLA: Just came down. Just came down.

I'm holding on to you! I'm pulling you in!

COOPER: I know! Man!

ZARRELLA: We got that break there but that gust, obviously, well over a hundred miles an hour.

COOPER: You know what? The location we were at before, that gas station, the overhang is still there.

ZARRELLA: It is. It's still holding up.

COOPER: I would of thought if that sign gone down I would of thought that the gas station would.

ZARRELLA: That big sign that Ramada sign I knew that was going to catch the wind. I knew it was coming down today.

COOPER: Let's see what else. It's gone. Look at that. It is completely gone.

ZARRELLA: Completely gone. Completely down. Completely down now.

COOPER: That is amazing.

ZARRELLA: That air-conditioner unit here whichever this big generator unit is that was out there in the middle, by the sign so it's been pushed across the parking lot.

COOPER: It is incredible. I hope we're still on. I'm not sure if our satellite is on. That Ramada sign--

S. O'BRIEN: Looks like we just lost the signal. Anderson, if you can hear me, it looks like you just lost the signal.

M. O'BRIEN: I think they're back.

S. O'BRIEN: I think they are back. OK, set the stage for us again Anderson. We saw some of those big sheets of metal going across. That was the Ramada sign that we seen earlier that had been standing?

COOPER: Right. Yes that is correct. The Ramada sign is no longer there. It's now on the ground. What remains of it, there's just a pole up. Another gust is coming. I mean, I don't know if it comes across the television but you really get the sense of these gusts! There will be a lull and then all of a sudden another one.

ZARRELLA: Then this again. Another gust. We're in that eye wall that Jacqui Jeras was talking about on the western. We noticed -- there goes more aluminum starting to fly as the gust dies down!

COOPER: Look at that! That is part of that sign.

And again there is -- there are still pieces that could fly off of that sign.

ZARRELLA: Yes large sections that are still going to go.

COOPER: The entire thing -- I don't know if you can get a shot of that but the Ramada sign, that is on the ground that used to be up at the top of that pole. There are little pieces of tree and leaves and things, which are just whipping along. And can cause a lot of damage.

ZARRELLA: You know they lost the roof to this Ramada last year during Ivan, had it rebuilt. So they were saying rebuilt to a stronger code as well as all of the windows here are impact resistant glass. But just the same if it gets hit buy something like that flying through the air, it's going to shatter and it is going to crack.

COOPER: There is also a chandelier in front of the carport of this hotel that is swaying a lot. We're afraid of it a little bit. You can see it over there. That thing could go down. All of these things you never think about in normal times and in a storm they become deadly. Lets hope everyone is --

ZARRELLA: And that carport was damaged during Ivan. It already had taken that ivy and bent it out of the wall. That is all from Ivan up there in the corner that damage. So clearly this is more significant storm than what Ivan was. We have seen the worst of what it has to offer here in the Pensacola area.

COOPER: And just to give a sense of location, we were previously, if you've been watching our coverage for the last couple of hours, about half an hour ago we were over there by that gas station and which we thought was an OK location. But when the wind shifted, all of a sudden, the satellite went down.

ZARRELLA: More aluminum flying.

COOPER: When the wind shifted our satellite couldn't stay up. We had to bring it down because if the satellite is up in these winds it can get picked up like a sail.

ZARRELLA: Get back! More stuff coming our way. Wind direction is changing on us.

COOPER: It is getting very hairy because the winds are shifting. And all of a sudden we think we're secure because this is a corner of a building.

ZARRELLA: Look at this. It's lightning up on top of us. It's clear. I don't know if that is little section of the eye that is off to my right there but, look, it could be very well a section of the eye wall, the center of the storm. It's light out there!

ZARRELLA: It's pitch black down the other direction.

COOPER: I hate to be vain but you have a leaf on your head.

ZARRELLA: As long as it's only a leaf! COOPER: Exactly. Look. There is another tree limb that just went down. You know, it really does come in these bands and it comes in waves and you think it's kind of gone then, all of a sudden, it just hits you.

ZARRELLA: And that's the deceiving part for people who think for a while maybe it's over and maybe they're in a corner of the eye. Then, bang, they get hit with it and gone out to check something and that is how accidents happen.

COOPER: I can see right now there's a sign for Mobile and Tallahassee is that green sign there, on the highway. One of the legs of that sign has already been ripped off. It is just twisting in the wind. If these winds continue, in all likelihood, that sign is going to get ripped off as well. Thankfully the people in this Ramada Hotel have stayed inside. We have a safe exit there if things get really bad. We can run inside.

ZARRELLA: There's tape now that they turned around for us in Atlanta. Things falling apart and the sign coming down, the previous damage.

COOPER: Great.

ZARRELLA: That we've seen that -- of that sign coming down.

COOPER: Our most embarrassing moments?

ZARRELLA: Our most embarrassing moment together.

COOPER: Let's take a look at what happened a few moments ago.

We are back on the air; John Zarrella and I. Let me just explain where we are, we're basically seeking the safety of a Ramada Hotel. There are two walls behind our camera. We are all basically kind of clustered behind these walls for safety. If you look just out there, that is an enormous Ramada sign, which has just been twisting in the wind. As you can see, it is moving. That is a big concern. We are very afraid that that thing could just come down.

ZARRELLA: Yeah, it's been spinning around like a top. Really, what we're experiencing right now is a little bit of a lull compared to what we had, the gusts before were well above hurricane force. It had to be in the 95, a hundred mile an hour range.

COOPER: I don't know how much of that you could get before when I called in. It has gone done. There was an extraordinary wall of white. It was like a solid mass.

ZARRELLA: You couldn't see a thing out there. The trees were bent as they're bending again now. We're starting to get another one.

COOPER: Look at the tops of those trees over there. You've seen some of them have snapped already. But these things are moving and as these bands of the storm--

ZARRELLA: Here it comes again. Look out here! Here we go! Look out! Get back! Get back! Coming apart. It's coming apart.

COOPER: That is the aluminum. Part of the sign.

ZARRELLA: It's all coming apart! The trees are coming down!

COOPER: Did you see that tree come down?

ZARRELLA: Big trees coming down!

COOPER: Be careful. Look at that!

ZARRELLA: Here comes the sign! It's down. It's falling apart get back! Get back!

COOPER: Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this. This is incredible. Have you ever seen anything like this?

ZARRELLA: Never. I've never experienced anything like this before.

COOPER: This is the most dangerous time when the winds are this strong.

ZARRELLA: Tree limbs flying down. The pine trees to you out there big branches coming down.

COOPER: These are strong pieces of metal. This is not, you know little tin. This is a huge metal sign that survived hurricane Ivan. It has not survived hurricane Dennis.

A woman with a child who ran, they've now gone into the hotel. I'm not sure where they came from. I'd hate to think they were out. A large piece of a sign just over there. It is very -- that thing is just loose. That could kill somebody if it hit 'em. That thing is just loose. That came from the sign--

ZARRELLA: Do you feel this calm all of a sudden? It's amazing. Look how the sky has lightened up. We're in a corner or right on the edge somewhere. I mean, I'm all disoriented right now. But we've got to be on the corner of the eye of the actual eye of the storm out there it's so light.

COOPER: It feels so lighter.

ZARRELLA: It's brightened up. Just brightened up all of a sudden. The wind is still blowing here.

COOPER: I'm very concerned about that piece of sign. You know? It could take out one of these cars easily if that keeps moving. As you see, as you were talking, it's like the sun is shining.

ZARRELLA: It's amazing. It is amazing.

COOPER: This must be part of the eye?

ZARRELLA: It's got to be a little corner of the eye that we're in right here. Maybe.

COOPER: We've got a little bit of a tape as to what happened a few seconds ago before we came on air. Some of the people who ran by us, lets take a look at -- again these people were -- we're trying to find out where they were coming from. We thought everyone had pretty much been inside already. But where ever these people were wasn't safe enough. They decided to come to the hotel.

ZARRELLA: When I saw them, they came running around the corner and you saw the fear in their faces. Boy you could see it. They were scared to death as well they should be from what they just went through, because they went through what we went through I'm sure. And who knows if they were in a car or stuck out in this. But we are in the eye; this has got to be the corner of the eye.

COOPER: This is amazing. I mean I was once in a hurricane vacation years ago and the eye came and I thought it was over and I was oh quick lets get to the airport. My friends were like you know this is just the eye. This is incredible.


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