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Dennis Downgraded To Category Two

Aired July 10, 2005 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures now as Hurricane Dennis continues to pummel northwest Florida. This time it is Panama City. Although Dennis has been downgraded to a category two hurricane, it's still packing a deadly punch. This dangerous storm is already delivering a beating along the northern Gulf Coast and is making itself felt all the way from Jackson, Mississippi to Savannah, Georgia and even right here in Atlanta. But the area east of Pensacola Beach, Florida, has taken the brunt of Dennis so far. CNN's Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella, were dodging debris as it whipped through the air.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Watch out for that aluminum. Get back. Get back. Get back.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look over there, that is aluminum ...

ZARRELLA: ... coming apart ...

COOPER: That is aluminum. That is one of the signs ...

ZARRELLA: Look at them. It's all coming apart.

The trees are coming down.

COOPER: Did you see that tree went down?

ZARRELLA: Big trees are coming down. Big trees coming down.

COOPER: Be very careful, look at that ...

ZARRELLA: Here comes the sign. It's blowing apart. Get back. Get back. Get back.

COOPER: It's unbelievable. I have never seen anything like this - have you seen anything like this?

ZARRELLA: Never seen anything like this. I have never experienced anything like this before.

COOPER: I am telling you now, this is the most dangerous time, when the winds are this strong ...

ZARRELLA: Tree limbs are falling down. These pine trees, you see them out there. They keep - big branches coming down. Huge limbs. COOPER: And it's incredible when you think - these are strong pieces of metal, this is not little tins, this is huge metal signs that survived Hurricane Ivan. It has not survived Hurricane Dennis.

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


BLITZER: Earlier, Dennis left a trail of death and destruction through Haiti and Cuba. These are some of the latest pictures we're getting in from Havana. Millions of people there are without power and running water in both of these Caribbean nations which have reported at least 32 deaths. I am Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Center here in Atlanta.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And I am Kyra Phillips here with around the clock storm coverage and CNN reporters are all along the impact zone. Keith Oppenheim in Foley, Alabama, John Zarrella and Anderson Cooper still in Pensacola, Florida. Alina Cho in Mary Esther, Florida, and meteorologist Chad Myers is in Panama City but right now we're going to go check in with meteorologist Jacqui Jeras with the latest on Dennis. She joins us live in the weather center. I am reading it is Hurricane Dennis, category one now? Is that right, Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Category one. That is right. Just in. It has weakened very significantly. Dennis now a category one hurricane packing winds right around 80 miles per hour. The location is about 25 miles southwest of Monroeville, Alabama. That's right here, into the southeastern corner of the state.

It is still moving at a pretty good clip at 21 miles per hour so we like to see it move fast. That is going to keep the rainfall totals down just a little bit. The hurricane force winds have shrunk down to only about 25 miles from the center of this storm. If you remember when it made landfall, hurricane force winds extended out about 40 miles from the center of the storm. So it is continuing to weaken, it is starting to shrink up a little bit with those hurricane force winds. Rainfall will continue to be a concern now. The coastal hurricane warnings look like they have all been expired but many of which have been replaced by tropical storm warnings. So you want to keep in mind that even though the threat of the hurricane warnings and the hurricane winds have kind of expired on the Gulf areas, still tropical storm force winds are going to be existing here for several hours.

Also, some of those feeder bands on the outside here, producing some tornados. We still have a tornado warning in effect from Monroe and Baldwin County in Alabama. You have got about five minutes left on that tornado warning. One was reported earlier in Escambia County near Port (ph), we have not heard any word of damage at this time.

Tornado warnings have all been canceled for the Atlanta metro area but it is all of these outside feeder bands, there you can see the tornado watch which is in effect right now and that does include the Birmingham area. Let's take a look at a live picture right now in Birmingham. Pretty tough to see. No tornado warnings in effect for you right now but check out that heavy rainfall. You can expect to see maybe three to six inches of rain in the Birmingham area with us and that is going to be causing some flash flooding.

If you live in Birmingham, those winds are going to be picking up as well. Likely in the next maybe two, three hours we'll watch for a significant increase in the winds in the Birmingham area. Tonight is not the night to go out for a family dinner. Stay at your house tonight. Be at a safe place. If you absolutely have to go out , use extreme caution, keep your radio on if you are in the car to be aware of the threat of any more tornado warnings, as that could be a possibility as we go throughout the night and make sure you just do not travel over any roads that have water on them.

So again, category one hurricane, Dennis just barely holding on to hurricane status, in fact, just got to drop down just a few more, about five more miles an hour, to get this back to a tropical storm.

BLITZER: Even though it is category one, though, Jacqui, people should realize this is still pretty dangerous. Category one or category two, these are still hurriczanes.

JERAS: Absolutely and they can cause damage, in fact and tropical storms can cause plenty of damage. Tropical storm force winds can certainly knock down some - or snap off some very significant tree branches, you can still get some spotty power outages with this. So still a dangerous situation tonight. Yeah. Don't let down your guard.

BLITZER: All right. Eighty miles an hour, still pretty fast. Thanks very much. We will be checking back with you. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, what's next? We'll continue to watch.

PHILLIPS: Waterspouts.

BLITZER: Lacerating winds, torrential rains, even though Dennis is now downgraded to a category one storm, it still is, as I said, very dangerous. CNN's Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella are in the thick of things. They were at least a few hours ago. It doesn't look like it's much right now, but give us an update from Pensacola, Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah, the only thing that's thick right now is the dirt in my hair from the sand that's been blowing around here for the past couple of hours. It is a very different scene here in Pensacola. We are seeing a lot of people who are driving out. They have come out of their house after being hunkered down for several hours. They basically just breathed in a big sigh of relief here. As bad as the wind was and it was bad at times, this area seems to have passed okay.

ZARRELLA: Yeah, weathered it very well and it seems as if the worst of this storm was to the east of us. They got it a lot worse than we did but the fortunate fact that the storm lost its intensity, that anxiety level was getting higher and higher today and last night when you saw those winds up to 145 miles an hour and then today it started to feel a little bit better and when those winds started coming down, 135, 125, 120 ...

COOPER: It was such a fast moving storm, too. Eighteen miles an hour or so. It hit and it hit hard but it moved on quickly. We thought for a while we were in the eye of the storm because things were really bad and then sort of calmed down but it seemed like we were probably in the eye for a little why but that eye moved on ...

ZARRELLA: Right at the edge of the eye wall. On the western side of that eye wall because it cleared up, but it was bright, it was just absolutely clear. We were amazed. And almost dead calm for a while.

COOPER: And the question now is most of the people that we have heard of seem to have power. Ninety five percent of the people in Florida, according to authorities here, do have power. We had heard a figure of about 131,000 people were without power earlier but I'm not sure of the actual number at4 this point but again, at this point, still assessing the damage, still trying to figure out exactly how bad this storm was and as you said, Wolf, it continues to be a category one and it continues to be a serious storm.

ZARRELLA: And you have a curfew going in effect here tonight about - well, about an hour from now to 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning so the people that have been all out walking around are going to have to start heading home.

COOPER: Yeah, and the bridges are still shut down. The I-10 highway behind us, that is still shut down. We have been seeing Department of Transportation crews assessing the bridge, they have been driving over it, but no pedestrians, no civilians are allowed on the bridge and that goes for all the bridges in this region.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella reporting for us. Thanks guys, very much. We will be checking back with you.


PHILLIPS: Meanwhile, CNN's Rick Sanchez, hot on the heals of Hurricane Dennis. He of course has been in our mobile Hurricane One satellite truck. We now take a look at what he's brought us to this point so far.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're seeing now that the actual pumps are starting to fall over. Many of the tops that are made of aluminum are coming off. If we - Michael, move up just a little bit. I want to show them. This one is already starting to teeter and totter itself and it looks like it could go as well and expect, expect if this indeed a cat four, as expected, an hour and a half from now, when it comes onshore with maximum force winds, that this aluminum roof, like on many other of these gas stations will likely either peel off or fly off all together. It's been a long journey and now it's a loud one as well, but take a look behind me. That is what is left of a hotel here in Crestview as the wind continues to blow in off this area. It has literally - I don't know if you can see it - Stu, are you hard on that? Yeah.

I don't know if you can see it, but literally has just ripped the aluminum sheeting off of the roof completely. The wind just comes through, blows through, picks pieces of it up. A little while ago, that flap - Stu, show them that flap over there.

Up! There it goes. There it goes.

And it looks like there is some fire. It looks like there is some sparks coming off the other side. We don't know exactly what that is but there is always a possibility that there may be either some kind of gas main or something - you know what? This looks a little scary. We're going to back out of here. We're going to talk to some of the people who were here. We have taken the vehicle now. Hurricane One, since we are mobile, and we have been able to come to the other side of the building and that's what we found out. As residents were pointing in that direction, you could see the roof has fallen on top of a power line, pulled down the power line and pulled down the transformer. As the transformer got pressure on it, it started to spark and that's why moments ago firefighters arrived here on the scene as well as some members of fire rescue. It doesn't appear they are going to try to do anything to it. I think they are going to back off.

That just looks to be like a very, very dangerous situation.


PHILLIPS: Fresh video now just in to us out of St. Marks, Florida. Let's take a look at this now coming in from one of our affiliates. As you can see, the flooding that has taken place here in the St. Marks area not far from Pensacola, Florida, where Hurricane Dennis has ravaged much of that area.

As you can see, this what we've been talking about, Wolf. I mean - this is the worst part - this is the aftereffects. This is the worst part. This is where so much of the damage takes place and where people are desperately trying to save their valuables, save their business, get their pets and their pictures out of their homes. We saw some video, too, you're going to see them coming over even by boat and assessing the damage.

BLITZER: Well, you can see the flooding that they always said, and everyone who has ever watched a hurricane has pointed out that some of the most dangerous moments, not necessarily the wind from the hurricane but the flooding that almost always follows. Take a look at these dramatic pictures. This is video that we're getting. New video. CNN video. Look at this man, struggling - this has been a street in St. Marks, which is not far from Pensacola, St. Marks in Florida, and look at this, this man trying to get through the neck - almost up to his neck, this water that's coming in from the floods. I suspect, Kyra, we're going to be seeing a lot more of this video as our crews, our photographers, our camera crews, are able to get out and about and see what's going on. This looks like it probably at one point was a regular area but now these people are struggling to get through. These people are lucky to be on a boat. This guy is not that lucky.

PHILLIPS: Well, I am told that our CNN photographer is the one that actually captured this video. We are trying to get him on the phone right now. I have not been to St. Marks, Florida, but I know this is a low lying area. It's very much like New Orleans and I remember covering a hurricane in Slidell and what happens is because they don't have good systems for this water to drain and it's at such a low level, that what happens, and I saw the same exact thing, Wolf, in Louisiana. A lot of folks in the area have boats and they come in and they assess the damage, they try to save things, they try to see if anybody is inside the businesses or inside their homes because a lot of times they don't even see this coming. It just comes - they're barreled in to wherever they are trying to protect themselves and their families, they come out and this is what they get themselves into.

BLITZER: The streets that are now rivers and parking lots that are rivers and this is by no means unusual. Look at this, the corner of Riverside in Tallahassee is now a nice little lake. But it's not so nice right now. The folks in St. Marks, Florida, are going to have to struggle to deal with this problem. All of us have expected that the surge that comes in, and remember, this was a category three. It has now been downgraded to a category one with 80 mile per hour winds, but it was 120 mile per hour winds, a category three, when it first hit the beaches of the panhandle in Florida and the flooding that has erupted, at least in some parts of the lower lying areas of that Panhandle. Clearly evident right now, this dramatic new video that we're just getting in.

PHILLIPS: And I am told that photographer Mike Biello actually captured this for us. He's, you know, Wolf, known to us as Mad Dog. He goes into every war zone that has ever happened and he has been the one that was sent right into the eye of the storm and he actually captured this video for us. Kind of went through this area of St. Marks, Florida and the interesting thing about these areas is that they're used to this. As you noticed, the individuals on the boat, even the gentleman that was in the water, sort of assessing, whether it was his business or his home, they were sort of smiling and trying to keep a good sense of humor about this.

No doubt they know that this is what they have to deal with on a regular basis in this area when this type of storm comes through.

BLITZER: They may be used to it but it's not something easy to live through. You look at these markets, you look at these restaurants, you look at these homes and you look at what, four or five feet of water that surrounds all these areas. This is a serious flood by anyone's definition and it certainly is something that people, I don't think they can ever get used to this kind of situation because this is permanently going to damage not only these trailer homes that we see but these other homes as well. The water going into their living rooms, going into their bedrooms and doing extensive damage to all of the personal effects that people have accumulated over a lifetime.

PHILLIPS: Hopefully the positive part, we're not seeing a lot of people so hopefully these folks evacuated once they knew that that storm was coming in. It was going to hit this area. And you bring up the point about losing valuables and losing things inside those homes, I mean, you're going to have to deal with the issue of the insurance and of course FEMA, you interviewed the director of FEMA, Michael Brown. He was saying the president has now declared parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida major disaster areas and what did he say to you, Wolf? Now that means that FEMA can get into these areas, right? And bring in food and water and help to try and rebuild businesses and homes, right?

BLITZER: I would, having covered a lot of disasters over the years, this is a disaster, this is a major disaster, and as you point out and as we were told by the FEMA director, Mike Brown, just a little while ago here on CNN, President Bush has declared major disaster areas for parts of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

We're going to continue to watch what's going on. We'll continue to watch the flooding, the tornadoes, the hurricanes, the winds, the rain, all of that. Much more coverage of Hurricane Dennis will continue. We'll go live to Panama City, still feeling the effects of this powerful storm.

PHILLIPS: Plus, cleanup in Cuba. Los of life and damage across parts of the island. Stay with CNN, your hurricane headquarters. We'll be right back.

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.


ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

PHILLIPS: A couple more pictures we have received from you. Several CNN viewers have contributed to our coverage of Hurricane Dennis as citizen-journalists, we want to thank you so much.

This picture is from Brian in Panama City Beach, Florida. It was taken near his home early this morning. And Joyce in Siesta Key, Florida, sent us this photo of waves crashing on the beach.

BLITZER: Check these out and take a look at this. Some of the fallen and snapped trees. This picture was taken by Matthew in Weston, Florida. We want to thank all of our citizen-journalists who are sending us pictures, video, you can email us all your pictures if you are in the affected area of Hurricane Dennis. Our address,

PHILLIPS: And remember, please don't do anything risky. We want you to stay safe. We love the pictures but please stay safe. We want to go back to those pictures we continue to get video in from St. Marks, Florida, not far from Tallahassee, Florida. Our photographer Mike Biello was out there shooting this video. You heard about this small town, St. Marks. This gentlemen here is either assessing a home or business of his. He worked his way over there. Winds still blowing. It's kind of hard to work your way across that water. You will see some other folks in the area coming out in their boats, assessing the damage. It's very common for these low-lying areas where a lot of people work, they fish, they have got a lot of businesses, they own boats and even canoes and now these folks in St. Marks, Florida are coming out and assessing what is happening to their homes and what is happening to their businesses.

BLITZER: Well, you know, we have been told repeatedly by all of the hurricane experts that the winds, the rain, they come in and what they almost always cause are some serious floods and I suspect this is only just the beginning. Some of these pictures that we're seeing right now, the floods very dramatic, as we see in these shots from here.

Jacqui Jeras, talk a little bit about the floods that we're now seeing develop.

JERAS: Well, this is a perfect example, Wolf and Kyra of what - when we tell you not to focus on the eye of the storm and that making landfall that other areas are going to be affected to. Landfall was ay on off to the west over here. St. Marks right here and Apalachi Bay right on the coast. We're going to zoom in and show you. It's to the south of Tallahassee, so to the south of I-10. There you can see St. Marks. There is a squall line, one of these feeder bands just off to the east of you right now but you were within one of those bands earlier and Doppler radar is estimating there is somewhere between maybe six and eight inches of rainfall and that happened in a pretty short period of time.

Now, on top of that rainfall you also had some storm surge, forecast storm surge with somewhere between four and six feet so you put those two things together and that certainly spells trouble for St. Marks.

BLITZER: A category three hurricane, Jacqui, correct me if I am wrong, but based on our research, the storm surge generally nine to 12 feet above normal. Is that right?

JERAS: That's right. But that, remember, that's mostly just off to the east and north of the storm. It's in that right bad part of the storm but the storm surge extends out and so the farther away from the storm that you are, the less - the center of the storm that you are, the lesser the surge is going to be, so if you imagine, that is quite a ways from Pensacola, extending all the way over here into the Big Bend area.

BLITZER: So if there is that kind of dramatic flooding in St. Marks that we have just seen, we can just assume that the floods are affecting other areas as well, even if our cameras are not there to record it.

JERAS: That's true. In fact, I just saw a report about a half an hour ago on the north side of Birmingham, a few of the rural or smaller roads, like the county roads, were being cut off by some flooded waters there also.

PHILLIPS: Well, tell you what, Jacqui. Our cameras were definitely in St. Marks, Florida, where we have been bringing in this new videotape. Our photographer Mike Biello is the one that is there and captured the images. Mark, I know it's got you on the phone now and I was even telling our viewers you are someone that always seems to go into the dangerous areas and capture some of the most amazing pictures for us.

Why don't you tell us how you ended up here in St. Marks, what you saw and tell us about these folks on the boats and if they're assessing damage, etc?

You hear me all right, Mark? Mark, you hear me okay?

BLITZER: Mark, we're having trouble getting him up on the phone. We'll talk to him in a minute. I've covered a lot of stories around the world with Mark over the years. He is one of the most courageous photographers we have. He was in Baghdad, as many of our viewers know, during the First Gulf War. He has covered a lot of wars in this particular - this is a real disaster. Look at the water that is engulfing thee homes in St. Marks in Florida. That is not far from the state capital of Tallahassee in Florida.

And, as Jacqui Jeras points out, this is not where the eye of the storm was. This is to the east of where that storm was. But look at the extensive flooding that has taken place in this beautiful small town not far from Tallahassee.

It's really horrible to have to see what these people are going to have to endure.

PHILLIPS: Well, I am told we have got Mark connected with us now. Mark, can you hear us okay?

Yes, I can.

PHILLIPS: Okay. Great. We were just basically bragging about you, Wolf and I were, talking about working with you and how you have gone into war zones and you bring us the most amazing pictures. Why don't you tell us how you got here to St. Marks, Florida and what has happened to this area and if there have been any reports of injuries an just give us a sense for what St. Marks folks are dealing with.

MARK BIELLO, CNN PHOTOGRAPHER (via telephone): Well, the area was - the flood waters rose quickly and unexpectedly with a lot of these residents. St. Marks is a little fishing village and it had its big industry on the oyster beds there which they fear ill be affected by this water.

So me and Dario Shelton (ph) went down and ventured into town. We were able to get on a boat and tour the town and the residents there and what we saw was them evacuating some of the folks, some of the elderly folks and others that were trapped inside their homes. Again, the waters rose so high that they had no idea that it was going to rise that quickly and there were no injuries as far as we can tell but the businesses have all be destroyed, total losses in a lot of these shops and a little village - it's a very small, quaint, local and friendly village and everyone there is just pretty much shocked. They say this is the worst they have seen it in many, many years actually.

PHILLIPS: Well, Mark, tell us about these folks. Obviously some friendly folks put you on their boat and took your through the areas because we've seen various shots of them. Tell us about them and to they live there and are they a part of one of these businesses, say, for example, the oyster bed business, and have they been taking you around to assess everything.

BIELLO: Yeah. Basically this is a very local community. Some people - there was one resident that his family has been here 93 years so it's just kind of off the beaten track. It's not a tourist village. There are no tourist shops. There are no hotels. Just a small, quaint little fishing village right along the river where there are a lot of boats, a lot of people boat and go out on some of the tour groups there but most of their livelihood I based on their shops and the oyster industry here and it's, as you can see, pretty devastated now and the cleanup is - well, they're not sure what to do, they're still pretty much in shock at this time.

BLITZER: It's heartbreaking, Mark, to see these pictures, knowing that behind water are real human beings that have to live with this and try to start to clean up what was once a beautiful community, St. Marks, South of Tallahassee along the Gulf Coast. It is really heartbreaking to see this. Did you get any sense, Mark, that this is an isolated flood in St. Marks or is this part of a bigger problem elsewhere in the area?

BIELLO: Well, we went down and stopped and talked with some of the federal and local authorities to see at their commander centers. We heard there were report of some extensive flooding in Wakulla County and other outlying areas. We know that Route 98 was closed and this is the Apalachicola area where these coastal towns and roads are barely above the level of the gulf so any rise in water and those roads are closed, washed over, and many of the homes and businesses are destroyed. And you can see here that St. Marks is inland a bit in an inter-coastal area and I think there were predictions that some of the water was going to rise that high, but no one realized that it would rise that quickly. I think they thought maybe they had more time and it rose at an incredible rate and they were just cut right off guard.

BLITZER: Well, our heart goes out to all the people in St. Marks and the other communities where there has been this extensive flooding. Mark Biello is our photographer, wonderful photographer, world-class photographer who captured these images for us. Mark, thank you very much.

PHILLIPS: Also capturing some pretty amazing images our Chad Myers. He has been coming to us live since early this morning from Panama City, Florida. Chad, still pretty busy when it comes to wind and rain. Not as crazy as it was a couple of hours ago but it ...


PHILLIPS: But it is still moving.

MYERS: No, it is getting a whole lot better here. Things are really calming down in Panama City as the low, the hurricane, category one hurricane moves further away, our winds are going to decrease.

The problem with Apalachee Bay, which about 150 miles east of here, you would think, oh, if Panama City didn't get much, then how could Apalachi Bay get anything. It is an upside-down u. Go look at a map. The bottom is Apalachicola, the top is St. Marks, basically. The wind blew from the south for over 16 ours and it just piled water up into that upside-down U. There was no place for that water to go but up. It could even go back because the wind just kept it blowing it north.

Anywhere from Tampa all the way through Cedar Key, right on up to St. Marks, that wind blew in the same direction for hours and hours and hours and that's why that water piled up into that bay and up into St. Marks, and the folks there, boy, you know they didn't expect something like this being almost 300 miles from the center of the eye, they have that kind of damage that far away. So we feel for those folks out there, as well.

PHILLIPS: Well, Chad, I am being told you are going to head that way to St. Marks, is that right? Are you going to make your way towards St. Marks, Florida?

MYERS: That's news to me. I'll get in the car right now.

PHILLIPS: Well, I'll tell you what, I've heard - rumors have it that you are heading that way. It is true. So I guess I am the first to tell you, soldier, that you are moving along to St. Marks, Florida.

Do us a favor. Wolf and I were looking at all those businesses and those homes. Totally devastated. We were able to talk to our photographer that shot that video. Will you just find out if everyone is okay and if anyone was able to recover any of their businesses?

The pictures were just unbelievable.

MYERS: We're going to have to wait until the wind calms down because basically that entire road to there is all east-west and the winds are still coming in from the south, at times still gusting to 50, 60 miles per hour, so we can't take the satellite truck yet in that type of wind, but when I get on the road, you'll be the first to know. I will call you right away.

BLITZER: A quick question, Chad, before I let you go. If we saw those dramatic pictures from St. Marks, the flooding there, can we simply assume that there are similar horrendous scenes elsewhere, devastated by the outer bands, if you will, of this hurricane?

MYERS: That's really a difficult call because that U and the very, very top of that U was where all that water was pushed up.

Wolf, think of it like this. The top one inch of water has all this friction that the wind is blowing. That one inch keeps getting blown one way for hours and hours and hours so it piles up in one direction. The flooding will be less in Cedar Key and also down to Apalachicola. Those two places, St. George's Island - those places will have less of a surge or a pile up, if you will, then the very tip top of that upside-down U, which is Apalachi Bay. So the farther you get to the north, the closer you get to the top, which is St. Marks. That's where the flooding is going to be worse. It is goping to taper off as you go farther to the south around the east and the west side of Apalachi Bay.

BLITZER: All right. Chad Myers reporting for us. Chad, wherever you wind up, we will be speaking with you, so we will stay in close touch. You stay in close touch with us. St. Marks, a small little community along the Florida Panhandle south of Tallahassee, the state capital. We originally said it was near Pensacola. It is nowhere near Pensacola. It is way to the east of Pensacola.

PHILLIPS: And we are also going to be talking about Alabama. Alabama braced for the worst from Hurricane Dennis. Now tornadoes are the latest threat. We a e going to go to Mobile to see how that city is fairing. Stay with CNN, your hurricane headquarters for the latest as Hurricane Dennis continues to push inland.

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.


BLITZER: Hurricane Dennis causing all sorts of problems. No, there is no problem with what you are seeing. This is a dark, live picture from Montgomery, Alabama, courtesy of our affiliate WSFA. These are scenes showing how dark it is in Montgomery, Alabama, Kyra. We're not exactly sure what's going on but certainly another after effect from Hurricane Dennis. Perhaps Jacqui Jeras at the CNN weather center can help us better understand what's going on in Montgomery.

JERAS: Yeah, it's really tough to see there exactly what that's supposed to be a shot of but if you look real closely you can see a lot of jumping around. The winds in Montgomery are gusting around 40 miles per hour and there is some very heavy rain across the area. Montgomery is under what we call an inland hurricane warning, so that means that you may see some hurricane force wind gusts in your area as the center of the storm gets a little closer to Montgomery. We're at 40 mile per hour gusts right now but we will watch for those to increase through the rest of the night tonight and then they should be tapering off pretty significantly after the midnight hour.

Also, flood watches in effect for Montgomery. Five to eight inches of rainfall can be expected there. Here you can see the center of circulation way down here in the southern parts of Alabama. It is continuing to move up to the west but it should be taking a little turn more - or moving up to the north rather, it should be taking a little bit more of a turn up to the north and west so it should be staying off to your west, Montgomery, and that is good news. The farther away it is the slower the winds are going to be for you.

You can see that heavier showers which are pushing into the area, you're going to see a little break later on. The west side of town certainly getting hit right now a lot harder than the east side of town and that's just a good example of how far out this storm stretches. We're talking from about Jackson Mississippi all the way over to Savannah, Georgia, including Atlanta, Birmingham, on up into Huntsville and now even edging into southern parts of Tennessee feeling the impact of Dennis.


BLITZER: All of the southeastern part of the United States, basically, affected by this. Jacqui Jeras, thanks very much.

Alina Cho is over in Mary Esther, Florida, not far from Fort Walton, Beach in Florida. What is happening where you are, Alina?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you that a curfew still is in effect for much of Okaloosa County and that includes Mary Esther, where we are now but at this point it doesn't appear as though many people are paying attention to it.

Behind me is highway 98. A lot of people are driving along that road. I saw a man riding his Harley and I even saw a couple walking their dogs so at this point the worst appears to be over. Certainly a big change from just a few hours ago when the storm was passing through here but now Okaloosa County assessment teams are out and about taking a look at the damage but the early word, the good news is that the county appears to have faired well, certainly much better than they did ten months ago during Hurricane Ivan.

Now, earlier today, this afternoon, we spent some time with a man who bought a waterfront home just after Hurricane Ivan came through here. You may ask, why would someone do such a thing? Well, he got a really good deal on the home. He says he paid $500,000 versus maybe $800,000, say, if it was in good shape and so it was a fixer-upper. But now he is going to have to fix it up again. George Frohwein spends most of his time in Atlanta but he decided to actually come right here to Mary Esther and ride out the storm and Mr. Frohwein joins us live and I guess the big question, George, is why on earth would you come here? You've got a safe dry place in Atlanta. Why come to Mary Esther, Florida, when you know the storm is going to be big?

GEORGE FROHWEIN, RESIDENT: That's a good question and my only answer is I have been a risk taker all my life but I evaluate the risks and it was very little risk so I have enjoyed mother nature and all it has to dish out and that's part of life, living life, right?

CHO: All right. I supposed so. You're a brave man. But tell me what's next. The house really didn't sustain a lot of damage this time around, right?

FROHWEIN: That's right. And we'll fix it up eventually. We are in no hurry. So it's a good value, especially in this area and real estate is very hot and so just a good investment.

CHO: And a beautiful view.

FROHWEIN: Beautiful view. If you'd get any closer we'd be underwater.

CHO: So George, you have a backup generator so you do have power. That is very good news but not for us. We did not have that situation here at the hotel. We have lost power. Don't know when we are going to get it back and county officials say that is the case for parts of this county so that is the situation here. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. People are going to be losing power, if they haven't lost power yet, a lot of people are still going to be losing power. This is another expected fallout from this kind of hurricane. Alina Cho, thanks very much -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: We're following everything from Florida to Alabama and just after the break, as you continue to watch the hurricane coverage here on CNN, we are going to talk with Alabama's governor, Bob Riley. Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.


BLITZER: Hurricane Dennis continuing moving inland. It has now been downgraded to a category one, eighty mile per hour winds and still very, very dangerous. It hit ashore some four hours ago at a category three with 120 mile per hour winds but the fallout from this hurricane in many respects only just beginning for thousands, hundreds of thousands of people affected in the southeastern part of the United States.

Already millions of people have been affected in Cuba and in Haiti.

Let's go to Havana, CNN's Lucia Newman is standing by with more. Now it's been a couple days since Hurricane Dennis hit Cuba. What's it like right now, Lucia?


Well, it's been three days since Hurricane Dennis came and went but it certainly hasn't been forgotten. I am speaking to you now from Havana's famous Seaside Malecon Drive, and as you can see, there are people walking around (AUDIO GAP) the hurricane struck.

It's left massive destruction to infrastructure, to homes, communication lines, power lines, but even so, people now are just beginning to try and pick up the pieces.


NEWMAN (voice-over): A scene that could be entitled "after the deluge." Havana residents coming out of their houses at last in the wake of Hurricane Dennis to buy bread, their government ration cards in hand. Stores are slowly beginning to open. All over the island, millions of Cubans are still without electricity

Seventy-year-old Dona Caridad shows us what's left of her only candle, but is thrilled that the gas finally returned so she can cook this fish.

"Everything else in the fridge is spoiled because we haven't had power since Friday, she says.

Hardest by Dennis was south central Cienfuegos Province, where the storm entered Cuba and where scores of families are now homeless. The hurricane's savage winds destroyed or seriously damaged thousands of houses.

Flooding, too, was extensive. Emergency teams all over the country are working round the clock to try and reestablish basic services and provide shelter for those who no longer have it.

But the housing problem, in particular, is only expected to get worse.

(on camera): The dilapidated buildings here in Old Havana in Central Havana were drenched during the hurricane and now as they are beginning to dry now that the sun has come out, many will crack and are expected to collapse in the next few days.

(voice-over): With the airport finally open, thousands of overseas tourists who were trapped by the hurricane are starting to go home but for those that aren't going anywhere, like Jose Cartera (ph), there is little relief. A tree collapsed on his decrepit house during the hurricane.

"And unless there's a miracle, it won't survive the next one," he says.

And that's the worst part for many. The fact that Dennis isn't the final storm but just the first for this island nation that is almost always directly in the path of these vicious seasonal hurricanes.


NEWMAN (on camera): And unfortunately, Wolf, Dennis didn't just inflict material damage and discomfort, it also took 10 (AUDIO GAP) two older sisters who got under a bed to try to protect themselves just to have the wall of their house come crashing down on them.

So, a deadly hurricane, as well.

BLITZER: Lucia, if you can still hear me, in the past, Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba has sometimes been reluctant to accept international assistance in the aftermath of these kinds of disasters. Any indication now what's going on? All right. Unfortunately, we have lost audio with Lucia Newman but that was a good question, we'll try to get the answer as our continuing coverage moves along. Kyra?

PHILLIPS: All right. We want to talk to Jacqui Jeras once again as she is continuing to track the aftermath of what Hurricane Dennis is creating. Now a category one. It's been downgraded but we're following these tornado warnings. Jacqui, we're expecting to talk with the governor of Alabama, Bob Riley, as soon as we can get that connected, but what can you tell us about the tornado that has touched down and what faces Alabama now.

JERAS: Well, I have no information other than there was a report of a tornado touch down in southern Alabama earlier this evening. No reports of damage or any injuries or anything like that and knock on wood, as we speak here right now, no tornado warnings are in effect. So that's some good news but we still have the watches which are in effect and that will continue throughout much of the night here. This includes you into parts of eastern Mississippi, across Alabama, into Georgia and also into northern Florida, so that will be an ongoing threat throughout the night.

Now the center of rotation is somewhere around Monroeville, Alabama. There you can kind of see it on radar but starting to fall apart a little bit but also keep in mind this is our live Doppler radar and it's starting to get out of radar range so we're going to have to switch our radars around to get a better view of this.

This is the composite. It puts all of the radar sites all together and gives you that perfect picture that we can see, so a very large magnitude storm once again. It has weakened to a category one, 80 mile per hour winds, but it's still a threat. So it's a category one hurricane but be aware that we could still have some spotty power outages, we're going to continue to have flooding and we'll continue to have that threat of tornadoes.

Here are all the statistics. This is from the last hour advisory. This is from 7:00 Eastern Time on Dennis. There you can see the category one. There's your wind. Still some gusts being reported, up to 125 miles per hour and the location about 60 miles inland now from Pensacola, right near where it did make landfall.

It is moving pretty quickly, north-northwest, at 21 miles per hour so we want to keep this thing moving fast but unfortunately it looks like it is going to stall out. It should turn into a tropical storm later on tonight, possible even as early as the 11:00 Eastern Time advisory. We'll have to wait and see what happens there but check out the location.

By Monday afternoon it is going to moving into western parts of Tennessee and then it slows down right into the Ohio River Valley.

These are the flood watches which are in effect from Florida extending all the way up into Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. We're expecting probably about four to eight inches on average within the path of this storm but locally heavier amounts can be expected, especially into some of those feeder band areas.

So now that it's inland, our primary concerns are going to start focusing a little more on the flooding. Kyra?

PHILLIPS: All right, Jacqui. We'll continue to check in with you with the flood threat and also those threats of tornadoes. Thanks.


BLITZER: All right. Let's get some more information on what's happening in Alabama right now. Joining us is the director for homeland security for Alabama, Jim Walker. He is joining us from Clanton, Alabama. Mr. Walker, thanks very much. Help us better understand how your state is doing right now.

JIM WALKER, ALABAMA DIRECTOR OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, I think we escaped some heavy damage along our coastal counties but parts of the state are not out of the woods yet. We've still got some tornado warnings moving up through central Alabama, moving to the west right now. It's probably going to be with us for the next 12, 15 hours or so. As the winds start to dissipate we will have five to eight inches of rain, so there is going to be flash flooding in the state, the tornado warnings, so we're not out of the woods.

I think that someone made a comment here earlier that Alabama dodged a bullet. That may be so in all of our coastal counties. I don't think we're going to have some of the damage that we expected there, but there are still parts of Alabama that still have got to get through the dangers of the storm.

BLITZER: What parts of Alabama are we talking about?

WALKER: Escambia County, Clarke County, sort of central Alabama and then moving to the northwest throughout the state and we think sometime early tomorrow morning the storm will leave Alabama as it downgrades and move into northeastern Mississippi.

BLITZER: What about Birmingham, which is, of course, one of the major cities of the South?

WALKER: Birmingham has take some pretty proactive steps to prepare their citizens. We expect that the storm will skirt Birmingham to the west, although there will be some residual rain and the possibility of tornadoes as the storm churns its way up through western Alabama.

BLITZER: You said there were tornado watches, tornado warnings. Have there been any actual tornadoes that have touched down?

WALKER: There have been a couple of unreported sightings down in Escambia County. We can't confirm them, but there are warnings throughout the state although one hasn't touched the ground yet.

BLITZER: What about flooding? What's the latest information you're getting on that? WALKER: We anticipate some. We don't have any full-fledged report of a lot of damage. Fortunately, for us, we have had no fatalities yet in the State of Alabama and it will probably be tomorrow morning at first light when we can really start to assess some of the greater damage as it relates to fallen trees, fallen poles and that sort of things. But there probably will be some flash flooding but nothing significant as we talk now.

BLITZER: One final word, Mr. Walker. It's still early in the process. You want people in Alabama basically to still be very, very cautious?

WALKER: Well, they should. We've got cities around the state that currently have curfews in effect. We hope that our citizens adhere to those curfews. There is really no need to be out on the streets.

One of the things that we think we have done pretty well in Alabama was prepare for this storm. The governor declared a state of emergency on Saturday. We had a reverse laning on I-65, a major artery that runs from south to north in the State of Alabama and consider this, Wolf, that on a normal day about 1,500 cars will pass along I-65 and on Saturday we reversed lanes so we had all the lanes moving from Mobile north and we had over 6,800 cars per hour and we didn't have a single major accident or fatality. So we have leaned forward in the foxhole pretty well.

We have got pre-positioned supplies around the state so that when first light comes, we are going to be able to push the needed supplies and things down to our citizens as they need them.

BLITZER: Jim Walker is the director of homeland security for Alabama. Thanks, Mr. Walker, for spending a few moments with us.

WALKER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to all the people of Alabama.

WALKER: Thank you very much.

PHILLIPS: CNN is your hurricane headquarters. Thousands of people are spending the night in Florida's shelters. 150 shelters set up over a four state area. We are going to hear live from a Red Cross official as our coverage of Hurricane Dennis continues.

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.


PHILLIPS: Well, it is definitely the biggest storm that anyone has seen in this part of the country in a long time and it all started, really, the amazing pictures, wouldn't you say, in Pensacola, Florida, when Dennis - or Hurricane Dennis hit.

BLITZER: It hit about 3:25 Eastern Time. It came ashore. Our Anderson Cooper was right in the thick of things when it got very, very tense.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Watch out for that aluminum. Get back. Get back. Get back.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look over there, that is aluminum ...

ZARRELLA: ... coming apart ...

COOPER: That is aluminum. That is one of the signs ...

ZARRELLA: Look at them. It's all coming apart.

The trees are coming down.

COOPER: Did you see that tree went down?

ZARRELLA: Big trees are coming down. Big trees coming down.

COOPER: Be very careful, look at that ...

ZARRELLA: Here comes the sign. It's blowing apart. Get back. Get back. Get back.

COOPER: It's unbelievable. I have never seen anything like this - have you seen anything like this?

ZARRELLA: Never seen anything like this. I have never experienced anything like this before.

COOPER: I am telling you now, this is the most dangerous time, when the winds are this strong ...

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

COOPER: And it's incredible when you think - these are strong pieces of metal, this is not little tins, this is huge metal signs that survived Hurricane Ivan. It has not survived Hurricane Dennis.

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


PHILLIPS: Once again, that was Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella really working as a team there in Pensacola, Florida. John Zarrella has covered, as you know, hurricane after hurricane and has pretty much been the expert for us when it comes to all those storms, he said he's never seen anything like it.

BLITZER: And we're going to see a lot more of what they saw. We're going to take our viewers right into this hurricane. John Zarrella and Anderson Cooper doing some really incredible work for us. We also want to alert our viewers - we're doing something new this time covering this hurricane. We call it citizen journalist. We have been getting photos and video from people out there, they have been emailing us their video, their pictures, and we want to hear from you if you have pictures that you would like to share with us, with our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We'd love you to send us some of your photos, some of your video, but remember, we don't want you to do anything that could endanger your life, endanger your safety. Just go ahead and take some pictures if you feel safe about doing so and we'd like to share some of those pictures with our viewers.

PHILLIPS: CNN of course is hurricane central. We're covering everything from Florida to Alabama to where it's heading, even toward Mississippi. Our special coverage continues right now.


ZARRELLA: It's falling apart. Get back. Get back.

COOPER: Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this. John, have you seen anything like this?

ZARRELLA: Never seen anything like this.


BLITZER: Facing the wrath of Hurricane Dennis moving ashore, demolishing things in its path along the Gulf Coast. We have live reports across the region ahead.

PHILLIPS: The trouble after the storms, neighborhoods, and in this case, entire towns underwater.


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