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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Hurricane Dennis Slams Into Gulf Coast

Aired July 10, 2005 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The trouble after the storm: neighborhoods and, in this case, entire towns under water.

BLITZER: And something you'll see only here on CNN: We are going to go into the eye of the hurricane with our mobile hurricane unit and Rick Sanchez. So stay tuned. We are live from your Hurricane Headquarters.

PHILLIPS: From the CNN center in Atlanta, thanks so much for continuing to stay with us.

I'm Kyra Phillips.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We are continuing our special coverage of Hurricane Dennis. Let's go right to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He is joining us live from Pensacola.

Anderson, you are smiling now. You were not smiling only a few hours ago.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I am smiling because it is over and I am half dry, so I am pleased about that. I am really pleased that this area got through this storm, it seems, OK. We are still trying to get damage assessments from various counties all around this area in Florida. But the worst has certainly passed.

The sun is almost out, or at least, the skies have sort of brightened a little bit. But at the height of the storm it was a truly frightening experience and some very severe winds, although this storm moved very fast, indeed. So while it was scary for a certain amount of time, we will show you what it was like, in just a little bit from here, Wolf.

BLITZER: OK, we will come back to you very soon - CNN's Anderson Cooper doing some remarkable work for us, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Of course, we have been following all of the tornado warnings, even talk about possibly a tornado touching down in Alabama. It has not been confirmed, but Jacqui Jeras has been following all of that for us out of the weather center here in Atlanta, Georgia.

What do you know at this point, Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the watches remain in place at this hour for tornadoes -- a good chunk, actually, of the Southeast from Mississippi through much of southern Alabama, sending over into Georgia and in the northern parts of Florida. And this tornado threat will be ongoing.

We have a position update here from the National Hurricane Center on exactly where the center of weakening Dennis is. And it is about 15 miles east of Jackson, Alabama, and that is in southeastern Clark County.

And if you take a look here on our radar picture, it is getting harder to pick out the actual center of rotation, but this here is what remains of the eye-wall of the hurricane. So this is still where we are going to be seeing some of the very gusty winds and also, right within this path, is where we are going to see some of the heavier mass. We are going to go to the west of Montgomery, and right now, it is just to the north of I-65 - Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacqui Jeras reporting for us - Jacqui, thank you very much.

Flooding has become a huge problem miles away from where Hurricane Dennis actually came ashore. People, for example, living in St. Mark's, Florida, were caught off guard by rising flood waters. Take a look at these pictures: Most of this small fishing village, due south of Tallahassee, is still under water.

Many residents were trapped inside their homes and had to be evacuated. Emergency officials say they are getting reports of flooding in other Florida counties, as well. Residents of St. Mark's say they have never seen the water rise so high, so fast.

Joining us now by phone, CNN photojournalist Mark Biello. He shot these incredible pictures for all up us.

Take us into this scene, Mark. How did you get there? What was it like? Were you shocked by what you saw?

MARK BIELLO, CNN NEWS PHOTOGRAPHER: Yes, Wolf. You know, we went down - we heard some reports -- we stopped and talked to some federal and local authorities, and they told us that there have been some reports of some significant flooding in Wauchula County, specifically around St. Mark's area.

So we went down there to have a look, and we saw almost a whole entire town under water, with many of the residents - many of the elderly residents - were trapped inside their homes. And, apparently, this water rose so fast that it threw the whole town -- this little sleeping village, fishing village - off guard. And the water rose so fast that there was nothing they could do to stop it from taking over the town, literally.

So many of these people were trapped, and since it was a small community, everyone pitched in to help each other out and get these people out. And it is a neighborly thing to do, to go and take care of your neighbor or relative or friend, and bring in your boat and get them out of their house.

BLITZER: Take a look at this picture, Mark, of this man who was actually caught in the water of this flooding. Did you have a chance to speak with this individual?

BIELLO: Yes, apparently, he was going out just to gauge the depth of the water with that stick you saw in the water - that is a flood marker. And he was physically going to check to see how high the water rose by where it was on his chest, whether it was up to his chin or at his waist. So he would, apparently, every hour or so walk out to see if it was still cresting or still rising, or if it had subsided. And we just happened to come across him on a boat, when we were taking the tour of the town by boat.

BLITZER: You were on a boat as you were taking these pictures, but did you ever actually get into the water yourself?

BIELLO: Yes, I waded in just about up to waist, a little bit about chest high - just kind of started going down Main Street, which you are looking at. It is the actual Main Street, the one street in town where all of these shops and city hall and the post office were at. And the whole street was completely under water. And at the time we got up, this couple came by and they saw me in the water, and said, "Do you need a ride on the boat?" And I said, "Sure, I would love to take a little tour around the town and see what other damage there was. And I thought, perhaps, it was only up to waist high, but it was significantly deeper than that, as you can see, you know, at some of the shots. We went around, and this is a big boat that goes out around the river and into the Gulf.

BLITZER: You know, Mark, getting into that water could be very dirty. It could even be dangerous. There could be all sorts of little insects that could hurt you.

BIELLO: That is true. As a matter of fact, in the dry areas where there were little islands, it pushed all of the fire ants into one dry area, and all the residents, including myself, we were kind of eaten up by these fire ants. And there is also water moccasins and other snakes, water snakes, that are pushed around.

Many of the residents here, though, are fearful that the oyster beds might be damaged. A significant hit on the oyster beds, which apparently happened back in the '80s -- I think in 1985 -- and they are significantly worried about their livelihood and the oyster harvesting industry for the seasons to come.

BLITZER: Mark Biello is one of our award winning photographers doing his outstanding work as he always has done. Mark Biello taking these pictures for us, and he is joining us - Mark, thank you very much for that.

PHILLIPS: Well, Dennis came to shore as a Category 3 storm, as you know, just east of Pensacola, Florida, on Santa Rosa Island. And pretty much, the majority or our amazing pictures started with Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella who have been riding out that storm in Pensacola.

Now, Anderson, I know, you and I have covered a couple of hurricanes.

But John Zarrella, if my memory is serving me correctly, you have covered every single hurricane that CNN has ever covered. How did this one fair? Anything memorable to this point, compared to the others?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I was telling Anderson earlier, this was about as bad as I have seen it, but that is because a couple of the ones that I have been in, like Hugo and Andrew that were a bit worse than this one, you could not be out in it to see it. So this was significant, certainly a significant storm, and it hit at daylight, so you could see what was happening.

COOPER: The four that hit last year were all at night, so there was that eerie sense things would come out of the dark. This you could see everything around you. But it moves so fast.

ZARRELLA: Yes, that 17, 18 miles an hour. Andrew moved at 20 when it went across Florida, so it got in and out of here quickly. And that certainly spared some communities that long beating that they got from Frances on the East Coast last year.

COOPER: Have you been in the area that is flooded right now, that we just heard the report from?

ZARRELLA: Yes.

COOPER: And that is an area prone to flooding.

ZARRELLA: Prone to it - the hurricane centers always said, because of the contour of the Gulf of Mexico there, that any major hurricane coming up into the Gulf will push that water up into that particular area.

COOPER: I think we have some of the video that we shot earlier, really the height of the storm for us, as it was here in Pensacola, where we were seeking safety by this Ramada Hotel, very close to where we are now. I think, we are going to play some of the video for you now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

We are back on the air, John Zarrella and I. Let me just explain where we are: We are basically seeking the safety of a Ramada Hotel. There are two walls behind our camera, and we are all basically clustered behind these walls for safety. And 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: Yes, it has been spinning around like a top. Really, what we are 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: Well, I don't know how much, when I called in, I don't know how much of that you can get, but it has actually gone down from that point. I mean, that was really - it was an extraordinary wall of white. It was like a solid mass.

ZARRELLA: You could not see a thing out there, and the trees were bent, as they are bending again now. We are starting to get another one of those...

COOPER: Yes, look at the tops of the trees over there. You have seen some of them have snapped already. But these things are moving, and as these bands of the storm come...

ZARRELLA: Here it comes again - look out here.

Here we go! Jump! Get back! Get back! Get back! It's coming apart!

COOPER: Look over there: That is aluminum. That is part of the sign.

ZARRELLA: Look at that: It is all coming apart! The trees are coming down.

COOPER: Did you see that tree come down?

ZARRELLA: Big trees coming down; big trees coming down.

COOPER: Careful, look at that sign!

ZARRELLA: Here comes the sign -- it's down! It's falling apart! Get back! Get back! Get back!

COOPER: Unbelievable! I have never seen anything like this, John. This is incredible. Have you ever seen anything like this?

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

COOPER: This is, 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, they keep - big branches coming down, huge limbs.

COOPER: And it's incredible when you think, I mean, these are strong pieces of metal. This is not, you know, a little tin; this is a huge metal sign that survived Hurricane Ivan. It has not survived Hurricane Dennis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Never seen anything like it. You ever seen anything like it?

ZARRELLA: I've never seen anything like it, Anderson, no. COOPER: That is how it went here just a short time ago. You know, it would not surprise me if that was some of the worst that hit in this area in so long, because from all of the reports that we are getting right now - and they are very preliminary, we should caution with that - but not a lot of damage from what we are hearing. I think there was a house about a mile or so down that got pretty badly hit. But, otherwise, we are hearing - and again, it is early hours - these reports, preliminary reports, though, say this area survived pretty well.

ZARRELLA: Yes, the worst of it to the east of us. And the real saving grace to all of this was how quickly, before it made landfall, it went from 145 to 135 to 120 maximum when it made landfall. That is a huge difference when you come down in those categories in the magnitudes.

COOPER: It certainly is. We are very lucky, indeed. And I also want to thank all of the people we have been working with here, CNN's amazing professionals - they kept us all safe.

Kyra, let's get back to you, we will have more from Pensacola in a little bit.

PHILLIPS: Well, it is definitely quite a switch from last year. We will never forget those pictures from the Alabama-Alabama border, all the way to NHC (ph), Florida -- that is for sure. It is great to see you guys in calm elements. John Zarrella and Anderson Cooper, thanks so much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Hurricane Dennis came to shore on Santa Rosa Island. That is east of Fort Walton Beach. In Florida, CNN's Alina Cho is joining us now from Mary Esther. That is not far away from Fort Walton.

Alina, you have a good story to tell us: a man who had to actually go up to escape the flood waters in his own home. What exactly happened?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is exactly right, and we will get to that in just a minute, Wolf. But I do want to give you a sense of what is going on here, as I let this cargo pass us. We are in the parking lot of our hotel, to give you an idea of where we are. But no rain, light breeze, things are very good here in Oskaloosa County - much better than they were just a few hours ago, of course, when the storm was passing through here.

The early word here in the county is that things are good. The county fared well, much better than it did 10 months ago during Hurricane Ivan. And you are right, we did spend some time this afternoon with a man named George Frohwein. He bought a home, a waterfront home, just after Hurricane Ivan passed through this area. He bought it because he said he got a deal on it. It was a damaged home, and he said that he was going to fix it up. So he decided to buy it at what he called a deal -- $500,00 versus, say, $800,00. So he decided to come down here and ride out the storm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE FROHWEIN, MARY ESTHER RESIDENT: Everybody has to do their own thing. And, I guess, this is my thing. But you know, again - I'll say it again - I assess risks. I've taken risks all of my life; 71, I'm still here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Amazing story really, that George Frohwein, and we will talk to him a bit later on, as well, tonight. But, Wolf, Mr. Frohwein, thankfully, has a back-up generator, and so he has power over at his home, which is just a couple of blocks from where we are right now. We did not fair as well here at the hotel. We do not have power here. There are sporadic power outages throughout the county. I am not quite sure when we are going to get that power back, but, certainly, we have dried out considerably from a couple of hours ago. And everyone, at least in our immediate area, is safe, so that certainly, Wolf, is good news.

BLITZER: We are going to try and find out how many people are without power right now. I suspect tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in the southeastern part of the United States.

Alina Cho in Mary Esther, Florida. Thanks, Alina, very much - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: If you are anywhere in the affected area of Hurricane Dennis, E-mail us pictures of the storm that you have been able to capture. Our address is CNN.com/hurricane. And as our citizen journalist, we'll tell you what we can tell our camera crews, too. Do not do anything risky. Your safety is key.

I believe we got a couple of pictures just in from some of our citizen journalists. Here are some of the pictures right here. We are going to let you take a look at these.

We thank you so much. We are going to take a quick break.

BLITZER: This is Gary from Pensacola, Florida - he took this picture. And Bob from Panama City Beach, in Florida, took this picture. You see the flood waters, the water beginning to come into Panama City Beach.

And Cristin from Safety Harbor, in Florida, shot these pictures for us. All of our citizen journalists have been sending us some excellent photography, some excellent video, some still pictures. And we are grateful to them.

Our team coverage continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)/

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: As you know, as you have been tuned in to CNN, the Hurricane Headquarters for all the latest information, you have met and seen our correspondents all throughout Florida, all throughout Alabama. But one unique development that we have had is through Rich Sanchez and the mobile unit that he has been traveling with. He has been able to move from city to city. He started in Crestview, Florida - brought us some pretty amazing pictures - and then traveling live in his van from city to city. He is now headed toward Alabama. We want to give you just a little bit of highlights from what he brought us from the past five hours or so.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You are 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 move up - Michael, move up just a little bit. I'm going to show, this one is already starting to teeter and totter itself, and it looks like it could go, as well. And expect -- expect -- if this is indeed a Cat 4 as expected, an hour- and-a-half from now, when it comes on shore with maximum force winds, that this aluminum roof, like on many other of these gas stations, will likely either peel off or fly off altogether.

It has 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 that - 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 (ph), show them that flap over there.

There it goes! There it goes!

And it looks like there is some fire. It looks like there is some sparks coming off of the other side. We do not know exactly what that is. But there is always the possibility that there may be even some kind of gas main or something.

You know what, this looks a little scary. We are going to back out of here. We are going to go talk to some of the people who were here. We've 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 is where we have found out.

As residents were pointing in that direction, you can 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 is 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 and do anything to it. I think they are going to back off. That just looks to be a very, very dangerous situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Rick Sanchez there -- "Hurricane One" - just one of, as I was counting here, about 13 correspondents we have had all throughout Florida, Alabama covering this hurricane.

BLITZER: And just to remind our viewers what Rick Sanchez and his crew were doing, they had an SUV with a satellite dish really on top, that they could drive through this hurricane, drive through these affected areas, and bring these live pictures, via a videophone to us - very much like what we saw during the war in Iraq.

PHILLIPS: ... the war in Iraq.

Well, we are going to check in once again with Jacqui Jeras. She has also been working some serious hours for us. She is at the CNN Weather Center with the latest of what she is tracking from the hurricane to also the alleged tornado sightings. Definitely a number of warnings out there - right, Jacqui?

JERAS: Yes, a tornado touched down - only one confirmed by the National Weather Service, and that was in Suwanee, Florida. Some minor damage being reported there; I think it was just a carport that sustained some damage. There was also a brief touchdown in southern Alabama, but we are not seeing any reports of damage out of that.

OK, center rotation: Right here, we are starting to pick it out a little bit easier, once again. It is just over the state line out of Florida, and into southern parts of Alabama. The last advisory had winds maximum sustained at 80 miles-per-hour. That is in the Category 1 range, so still a weak hurricane and still very dangerous. We will have an advisory, a new one coming in, at the top of the hour from the NHC, and we will bring that information to you. But I think it is not going to take too long for this to become a tropical storm, rather than a hurricane any longer. It is still quite a significant threat. The rainfall is very heavy.

No tornado warnings right now in association with Dennis. However, that watch still remains in effect. That heavy rainfall causing visibility problems, causing flooding problems, and causing travel problems.

Atlanta, one of the places in on the heavy rain and the gusty wind -- we have a live picture to show you there, out of Hartsville- Jackson Airport. I see one airplane out there moving. Reporting delays now, on average - this is average delays - around two hours and nine minutes. And these are arrival and departure delays, according to the Web sites. If you have flights in and out of Atlanta tonight or tomorrow, make sure that you call ahead because there is a potential that there may be some cancellations. And you can certainly bet your bottom dollar that there are going to be quite a few delays, and that is going to be ongoing.

So back to the map to tell you who else is going to be affected, if you are traveling - and not just in Atlanta - a lot of the airports, the smaller airports in kind of the ground zero area have been closed. I know that Mobile and Pensacola have both been included on that, as well. Also Birmingham expected to see some delays, and that will extend into Memphis and Nashville tomorrow and head on up into Cincinnati, which also has been caught.

And the flooding will be a problem on the roadways. So use a lot of caution if you are going to be traveling and heading out to work tomorrow morning - Wolf, Kyra. BLITZER: Thanks very much - Jacqui Jeras. She is doing an outstanding job. She really knows this stuff well.

PHILLIPS: Well, she is talking about the airports, too.

Jacqui, I don't think Wolf is going to be going back to D.C.; I think he is going to be here in Atlanta for a few days.

BLITZER: I'll stay in Atlanta...

JERAS: We never get you down here, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm staying. I'm staying tomorrow. I will be here with Kyra all day tomorrow. We will have extensive coverage of the fallout. Thanks -- Jacqui Jeras is an excellent meteorologist.

PHILLIPS: Yes, she is.

BLITZER: She explains all of these complicated issues very, very well - as all of our meteorologists do. Chad Myers has been doing a great job; Rob Marciano. I think we have a world class team of meteorologists here at CNN.

PHILLIPS: Amen. That is why we are the Hurricane Headquarters. Our live coverage is going to continue on CNN, of course, with live reports from the Gulf Coast and the latest on the storm's movement inland.

But first, we are going to take a look back at one of the most memorable hurricanes in U.S. history:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP):

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: September 22, 1989, Hurricane Hugo slammed into South Carolina after doing heavy damage to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. A record setting 20-foot tidal surge destroyed homes around the southern Atlantic Coast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Total devastation here. Look at this.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Large portions of downtown Charlestown were destroyed, and nearby islands were demolished.

Hurricane Hugo was one of the most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history, causing an estimated $7 billion in damage, along with 82 deaths.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Panama City Beach, Florida, is usually filled with tourists this time of year. Now, much of the beach is gone, thanks to Hurricane Dennis, and much of the resort community is still in need of repair, thanks to last year's Hurricane Ivan.

Reporter Melissa Ross, of CNN affiliate WTLV, has a story from there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MELISSA ROSS, CORRESPONDENT, WTLV (voice-over): There is no more beach in Panama City Beach. Dennis is paying his most unwelcome visit, and Fun-Land has become the land about to be flooded, again. The timing is terrible; the damage from last fall's Hurricane Ivan is still everywhere.

(on camera): When we talk about damage from Hurricane Ivan, this is what we mean. Just 10 months ago, this debris was scattered all across the parking lot here, and it still has not been picked up. The storm has been cooking for several hours now; flooding, as you can see, is already beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just come to get a look at the beach one last time before we had to lock everything down.

ROSS: Brian and Cynthia Elder (ph) ignored the evacuation order that hundreds of thousands of other Gulf Coast residents heeded. Now, it is too late to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were going to at first, but then last night, it was still a weak "two." You go to bed and you wake up this morning, and it is a "four." So we are kind of stuck here now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the first floor right now, it is amazing!

ROSS: Also sticking it out, this restaurant owner; he made it through Ivan unscathed, and says, the storm surge, beach erosion, and winds don't scare him this time, either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still got power! I left a couple of lights on out here when I drove off. We still got power here. So we will be fine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Hurricane Dennis now moving through Alabama, towards Mississippi.

BLITZER: The storm is still causing major problems in Florida, where some residents are under water, literally. To give you an idea of how powerful Dennis was, this video was shot in St. Mark's, Florida, dozens of miles away from where the storm came ashore.

PHILLIPS: Dennis slammed into the Florida Panhandle in Santa Rosa Island just several hours ago. Homes were damaged, trees and power lines blown over; tens of thousands of Floridians are now without power.

BLITZER: Fortunately, so far, there are no reports of deaths or injuries, possibly because so many people heeded warnings and evacuated or went to shelters.

PHILLIPS: Dennis has lost a little steam, but it is still packing a punch. Tornado watches and warnings have been in effect tonight in Georgia and Alabama.

BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Jacqui Jeras - she's joining us, once again, with complete details. Actually, we will go to Jacqui Jeras right after this break.

Our coverage of Hurricane Dennis will continue shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... that hundreds of thousands of other Gulf Coast residents heeded. Now it's too late to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were going to at first, but then last night it was still a weak 2. You go to bed and wake up this morning and it's a 4. So, we're kind of stuck here now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got 5 foot waves hitting the (INAUDIBLE) on the first floor right now. It's amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Also sticking it out, this restaurant owner. He made it through Ivan unscathed and says the storm surge, beach erosion and winds don't scare him this time either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've still got power. I left a couple of lights on out here so when I drove by -- we've still got power here, so we'll be fine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Hurricane Dennis now moving through Alabama towards Mississippi.

BLITZER: But the storm is still causing major problems in Florida, where some residents are under water, literally. To give you an idea of how powerful Dennis was, this video was shot in St. Marks, Florida, dozens of miles away from where the storm came ashore.

PHILLIPS: Dennis slammed into the Florida Panhandle and Santa Rosa Island just several hours ago. Homes were damaged, trees and power lines blown over. Tens of thousands of Floridians are now without power.

BLITZER: Fortunately, so far there are no reports of deaths or injuries, possibly because so many people heeded warnings and evacuated or went to shelters.

PHILLIPS: Dennis has lost a little steam, but it's still packing a punch. Tornado watches and warnings have been in effect tonight in Georgia and Alabama.

BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Jacqui Jeras. She's joining us once again with the complete details. We'll have -- actually, we'll go to Jacqui Jeras right after this break.

Our coverage of Hurricane Dennis will continue after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're getting in some photos from our citizen journalists, CNN viewers who are experiencing Hurricane Dennis firsthand.

PHILLIPS: This photo taken by Bob at the Summit in Panama City, Florida. You can actually see the water starting to come up next to the building right there.

BLITZER: I see it. Take a look at this one, showing the surf crashing well past the shoreline and into motel swimming pools.

PHILLIPS: Meanwhile, Joni sends us an image from Gulf Breeze, Florida, experiencing winds much stronger than a breeze today. Here you can see sand actually starting to cover up on a deserted road there.

BLITZER: Not very breezy in Gulf Breeze. A lot more than just a breeze, as you point out.

And to our viewers, you can email us your pictures if you are in the affected areas of Hurricane Dennis. Our address, CNN.com/hurricane. Just a reminder, don't do anything risky. We want you to be safe.

PHILLIPS: Time now for the latest forecast for Hurricane Dennis.

BLITZER: Let's go to our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras. She's at the CNN Weather Center -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, guys, it's suspected to continue to weaken now and it is also expected to slow down, and that's where we start running into trouble with some of those flooding problems, is when the storm slows down and starts to stall out.

The latest update still has it moving up to the north at a pretty good clip, at 21 miles per hour. It should be weakening tonight and turn back into to a tropical storm, and then as we head into Monday eventual turning back into a tropical depression, and that's when it really, really slows down, but those winds are going to be remaining very, very strong tonight. So still some scattered power outages will be possible, maybe some limbs over some of the roadways. Not a good night to go out and travel.

This map that you're seeing here, this is forecasted precipitation over the next 48 hours, and basically the point I want to get across here is where we're going to see the heaviest of rainfall and those flooding rains, that's going to be in these purple and these bright white areas. You can see it just north of Mobile, to the west of Birmingham, just to the east of Jackson, extending right up here into the Memphis area, and that white indicates at least three inches of rain. And those of you that are up in some of these purples and reds, well, those numbers are probably going to go up as we go out in time.

I also want to show you new information that we just got in. This is Doppler radar estimated rainfall from 7:00 this morning, and look at some of these oranges and these yellows into southern Alabama here, across southwestern Georgia, and right especially just north of Apalachee Bay, up towards Tallahassee, Doppler radar there is indicating somewhere between six and eight inches of rainfall.

So right now it looks like some of the worst of rain has been well to the east of the track of the storms, and that's because these feeder bands have been pumping in from the Gulf of Mexico and bringing in all of that moisture -- Wolf and Kyra.

BLITZER: All right. Kyra, that's another good report from Jacqui Jeras. Jacqui, thank you very much.

Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: Well, we're going to talk now about the National Guard and those troops moving in. The Florida National Guard is on the move, providing security and helping a number of people in need right now.

Joining us from the Florida National Guard, Major General Douglas Burnett.

General, it's good to see you again. It's too bad it's under these conditions, but we sure appreciate you joining us today.

MAJ. GEN. DOUGLAS BURNETT, FLORIDA NATIONAL GUARD: Glad to be here -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, let's go ahead and talk about where you are. You're in Tallahassee, and I want to get into a number of other areas.

Are you in Tallahassee? Is that correct?

BURNETT: Yes, I'm in Tallahassee. The governor's Emergency Operations Center. And, of course, we also have a little less than a thousand National Guard troops here that were staged last night. One of those battalions left a little earlier today. They're just arriving in Crestview to move out very early in the morning to those areas where need will, of course, be.

The governor and I met with two more battalions tonight and they're about moving out right now, toward Crestview, as well as another battalion moving out at Jacksonville into Tallahassee. So we have several thousand National Guardsmen ready to do the business that we're going to need to do over there, and they're prepared.

PHILLIPS: So what is the first order of business? What are the immediate concerns right now? Is it more security or is it more just getting supplies to the people and helping those that need the assistance physically from your National Guardsmen and women?

BURNETT: Well, we see things on a horizontal checklist of priority. There are things that occur all at once. For example, search and rescue is very important right up from with a priority. We do have some special forces reconnaissance teams in that area right now. They'll be making those assessments as our people get in there tomorrow.

Then, of course, the humanitarian mission starts taking place immediately, which is the distribution of food, water, medical supplies, ice, those kinds of things. So folks can continue on. But, of course, security is very, very important as well, and that's one of the things that the National Guard has done for decades, and we'll be doing that piece and we'll fall in on the wing, if you will, of sworn law enforcement, local officials, for traffic management and those kinds of things.

So a lot of things going on at once. A lot of things that we've learned lessons last year and the four hurricanes that worked well for us, we're duplicating that plan again.

PHILLIPS: Sir, I want to talk to you more about (INAUDIBLE) in just a minute, but we just rolled some video of Tallahassee. I have a couple of places I would like to ask you about specifically, if you don't mind.

Tallahassee, have you received any reports of injuries or fatalities? The conditions are pretty bad. We're seeing a lot of dumpsters and buildings under water and things floating along the streets. Give us the conditions right now of Tallahassee.

BURNETT: Well, what I've seen traveling around Tallahassee in the last few hours, we've moved, checking on our National Guard soldiers that we're staging here, was power outages, particularly some traffic signalage out, and a little bit of debris blown here and there. But I've not seen anything of great substantive damage. What you would expect from the kind of winds.

Remember, we had a very tight eye here, nine to ten miles across, kind of like in Ivan, but then spread way out like Hurricane Francis last year. There was a lot of weather bands, so you get rain and wind. So the storm coming ashore doesn't necessarily mean that wind stopped, and that's what we have to be cautious about, as your team has just seen. Those high winds continue to be very dangerous and we have to watch for that.

PHILLIPS: And, sir, I've got to ask you about St. Marks, Florida. One of our photographers captured some pretty amazing images of this little fishing town. I don't know if you have actually seen the pictures, but the entire little town under water. How are you going to respond to St. Marks?

BURNETT: Well, of course, the emergency officials are down there making that assessment, as you have seen probably with your field reporters there. They're responding locally to that right now as that need is called forth and we get a task and we can move National Guard soldiers down there. And that's why we pre-stage along the area which that hurricane may impact, so we can move in very quickly. And, of course, St. Marks is not far from Tallahassee, and we've got folks, again, going down to work with the emergency officials through that search and rescue efforts.

BLITZER: General Burnett, it's Wolf Blitzer.

As you well know, about 40 percent of the United States troops in Iraq right now are National Guard or Reserve. Are you well positioned to deal with this emergency in Florida right now? Do you have enough troops?

BURNETT: Yes, sir, absolutely. We have enough troops. The National Guard has always been able to do its federal and state mission.

Let me give you an order of magnitude. We have about 12,500 men and women in Florida Air and Army National Guard, but 2,000 are down- range or in those areas today. In fact, we just sent 1,200 to Afghanistan last week. Leaves us a little less than 10,000, and last year we used not quite 5,800 responding to the four hurricanes. At one time we had a little over 5,000 on active duty.

So we're able to do that and we talk daily with the adjunct general of the adjoining states. I talked With General Porthis (ph), from Georgia, the adjunct general of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

So we know what resources they have available. They know what we have available. And we've worked that for decades. It's a very good plan called E-Mack (ph) and it works really, really good. So, yes, we can do both missions and our soldiers are ready and able to do that.

In fact, the second battalion just came back from a year in Iraq last year and the soldiers that Governor Bush and I met with today here in Tallahassee just recently in the last weeks came back from Afghanistan for a year. So they're seasoned, they're proven, and you can't overuse the Guard anymore than you can overuse the will and spirit and patriotism of the American people.

PHILLIPS: Well, from the ground to airborne assistance, Major General Douglas Burnett, we appreciate your time, Florida National Guard. We'll be following your efforts. I hope you'll continue to talk to us throughout the evening and also tomorrow. Please update us, sir, on your missions.

BURNETT: Yes, ma'am, we will. And we know our citizens are awaiting us. And we'll be there and doing the job they expect us to do.

PHILLIPS: Thank ou, general.

And if you want to help with hurricane disaster relief, well, here's who you can contact. The American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund has an 800 number. 800-435-7669. Or you can just log on to RedCross.org. You can also call the Salvation Army, another 800 number, 800-725-2769. And that Web site, 1800sal-army.org.

BLITZER: Hurricane Dennis roared ashore this afternoon on Santa Rosa Island. That's just east of Pensacola, Florida. CNN's John Zarrella, along with Anderson Cooper, rode out the storm in Pensacola. They experienced firsthand the storm's fury.

John is joining us now, live, with more.

Tell our viewers who may just be tuning in, John, what it was like.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was non-stop for about 45 minutes, just total white conditions. You couldn't see hardly anything behind you. It would subside for a few minutes. Winds were sustained hurricane force, probably gusting up in the 85, 90-mile-an- hour range, and you would get these powerful gusts of wind blowing, and then debris would start -- trees would start snapping. The pines would start snapping.

We ran from this location where we are now across the street to the Ramada Inn. And we had an alcove area where we were set up, and in that area, as we just had gotten there, we decided to make a run for it and get there, and about the time we got there we got hit with the worst of it. And it was howling.

And this enormous Ramada Inn sign eventually -- aluminum -- just bent and snapped and fell to the ground and pieces of aluminum were flying in every direction. So about 30 - 45 minutes, it was quite a hair-raising experience, and quite different, obviously, than what we're experiencing right now.

You can see behind me there is a little bit of the trees that are down here, the limbs that have fallen, and we've had crews out all day since the storm passed. And the reports we're getting are pretty heartening, that in fact that's about the extent of the damage in this general area in and around Pensacola. Lots of trees down, some very minor structural damage. So very, very good news.

But that's, of course, due in part to the fact that the storm hit further to the east, in the Destin area, Fort Walton Beach area, which got the right side of the eye well. We were in the left side of the eye well, the weaker side. So still a question as to how bad the damage is to the east.

Tonight in about 10 minutes from now a curfew goes into effect here. We have seen lots of people out here, Wolf, coming out, trying to survey the damage, see what's happened. But, again, curfew in about 10 minutes and it goes till 6 a.m. local time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John Zarrella, doing an outstanding job for us. John, thank you very much -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, 120-mile-an-hour winds, fierce waves and dangerous storm surges, that was the scene as Hurricane Dennis came ashore on Santa Rosa Island, Florida, just east of Fort Walton Beach.

CNN's Drew Griffin is in Fort Walton Beach now, much calmer than it was before. Tell us about the conditions -- Drew. DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still pretty windy and that rain that I had noticeably missed during the whole hurricane, when I was talking about this being a dry hurricane, is now here in Fort Walton Beach. But the conditions certainly a lot better than they were several hours ago.

I just want to pick up where John Zarrella took off, because we have been here in Fort Walton Beach and have been driving back and forth to Navarre Beach. In fact, I was on Navarre Beach at the height of this storm, and but for the water coming over the road and the sand, I did not see much damage.

After the storm, or the eye, had passed, we took the 15 - 17 mile drive down Highway 98 one more time, to Navarre -- it's this way, Kyra -- and we were able to take a look at damage, but nothing like you would expect --

(AUDIO GAP)

-- Category 4 hurricane are going to wake up tomorrow morning feeling blessed that the damage is not as great as it was and they'll also be asking questions about what happened to this hurricane. Did it completely die out when it hit land? It's a big story here. There are some trees down but nothing like you would expect and nothing like I have experienced from several other hurricanes in the past.

This is Santa Rosa Sound. It's still very choppy out here. There have been some boats lost. There are a lot of boats still sitting in the water from Ivan that have --

(AUDIO GAP)

PHILLIPS: All right, we've been having some technical difficulties, obviously, throughout our day. You can still see images of Drew, but he's moving around and, of course, those cords that are very delicate that are hooked up to the videophone come, I guess, apart pretty easily, as you can imagine.

He was reporting there from Fort Walton Beach, kind of giving us a sense for what folks are going through there. No fatalities or major injuries to report. But we'll try and get connected with Drew once again to talk about how that area -- the hurricane came ashore in that area, how it's affecting folks, maybe a little later on in the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's been amazing how well the technology has worked so far given the extraordinary circumstances of trying to cover a hurricane.

Federal, state and local emergency officials are ready to spring into action once they find out the scope of the damage and the need.

Joining us now by phone, Congressman Jeff Miller. He represents Florida's First Congressional District, which makes up most of the western Florida Panhandle. He's joining us now from Chumuckla, in Florida. Where exactly is Chumuckla -- Congressman.

REP. JEFF MILLER, (R) FLORIDA: It's about 40 miles north/northeast from Pensacola.

BLITZER: So how badly were you hit?

MILLER: Actually, the damage in this part of the area is a little more extensive than what we're hearing from reports in the southern end. I got out in the northern end of Santa Rosa County. There are several homes that have completely lost their roofs. A lot of agriculture in this part of the world -- barns that had been destroyed and equipment that has been overturned.

It was a very compact storm, without question, but there still is considerable damage out.

BLITZER: Have you been outside? Have you surveyed the area where you are?

MILLER: Yes, I went out in a four-wheel drive truck just about an hour ago. Spent -- well, really about a couple of hours ago, came back an hour ago, and moved through the area. A lot of downed trees, power lines. Unlike Ivan, the power poles appear to have fared well, just the lines are down. With Ivan, it just snapped everything off.

BLITZER: We've seen some very serious flooding elsewhere in Florida, St. Marks, for example, south of Tallahassee. What about where you are?

MILLER: I'm north of the flood-prone areas, but there is a considerable amount of water that came down, and I'm sure that you're going to see some flooding conditions, but not nearly the storm surge that had been expected.

BLITZER: Is it still raining and very windy where you are?

MILLER: It's somewhat windy, but there is no rain falling right now.

BLITZER: Did people evacuate the area where you are or did they stay put?

MILLER: Most people in this part of the world probably sheltered in place. I do know some folks had called -- in fact, a neighbor of ours had evacuated to Jacksonville. He had us go over and check his house and make sure it was OK. But, you know, I think it's probably about 50/50 in this part of the world.

BLITZER: What do you expect now, in the hours to come? What do you anticipate in the western Panhandle, where you are? What do you anticipate will happen?

MILLER: You're going to see a lot of people helping people, Wolf. Already, a lot of the farmers are up with their tractors, clearing the roads and going to neighbor's houses, and I'm sure you're going to see the same thing that we saw in Ivan. A lot of people helping neighbors clean up debris. A lot of power outages. We lost power about 11:00 this morning. And folks are going to get reacquainted with their neighbors, very similar to the way they did back when Ivan hit us 10 months ago.

BLITZER: In these kinds of disasters, as you well know, Congressman, it very often brings out the best in people. But, sometimes, unfortunately, it also brings out the worst. People looking to make some money, to gouge, if you will, or to go ahead and steal or to loot. Have you had any of those problems where you are?

MILLER: No, and I will tell you that even in Ivan you had very little of the gouging going on in this part of the area. People are pretty self-sufficient here, do a lot of the work themselves.

But there is a great organization that has been stood up after Ivan, Rebuild Northwest Florida, that's going to be able to help a lot of the low-income folks get their roof repaired. They were already set up for Ivan, so they're in place and ready to go, and hopefully we won't have to deal with many of those problems.

BLITZER: Congressman Jeff Miller represents the western part of Florida, the Panhandle, the First Congressional District. Congressman Miller, good luck to all of the folks in your district.

MILLER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kyra.

PHILLIPS: You know, you brought up a good point, because that did happen the last storm. I remember reporting on it, and actually talking to the attorney general about gouging that was taking place and prices that were being inflated. So that's something that we should keep our eye on. And also, folks that are in desperate need of things, there will be numbers -- I know eventually they come out when this takes place -- that they can call in to so certain people can be investigated for that.

BLITZER: And Governor Jeb Bush, in Florida, yesterday, he warned that the state is going to take that kind of situation seriously.

PHILLIPS: They take it very seriously.

BLITZER: As well they should.

PHILLIPS: Well, our special coverage of Dennis will continue, right here at hurricane headquarters.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. Much more in the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis. It's still continuing, parts of it -- parts of it -- only just getting started inland.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: This important note to our viewers, Kyra. At the top of the hour, only a few minutes away, six minutes from now, a special live edition of "Larry King Live" will be joining us, 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific. Larry King standing by for a full hour on this Hurricane Dennis.

We're showing our viewers all sorts of pictures. Video that our professional photographers have taken, but we've also got something new this time. Citizen journalists have been sending us their pictures to CNN.com.

Dino in Crestview, Florida sent us this. Look at this. Kyra, look at this. It must be a motel or an apartment building, simply smashed to the ground in Crestview, Florida.

PHILLIPS: The same one, I think, Rick Sanchez had video of, and now we're getting a clear picture.

Do we have another picture by chance?

Here we go. Dino also sending us another shot from Crestview, Florida. You're seeing some fallen trees there in addition to what he captured of that hotel in Crestview.

BLITZER: It's interesting that these viewers are sending us their pictures via the Internet to CNN.com.

Audley, in Keaton Beach, Florida, shows us this. These are all very heart-wrenching still photos in the sense that behind all of these pictures, Kyra, are individuals whose lives have been up-ended. So far we have no reports of casualties here in the United States.

PHILLIPS: Well, from our citizen journalists to our reporters here at CNN, we've been bringing you unmatched coverage of Hurricane Dennis, first as it came ashore and even now as the scope of the damage becomes clearer.

Here are some of those amazing stories they brought us throughout the day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: You've got to come to us now or never. Guys, you've got to come to us quick. We're not sure how long we can stay on.

SANCHEZ: The wind just comes through, blows through, picks pieces of it up. A little while ago that flap -- show them that flap -- over there. There it goes. There it goes. You know what, this looks a little scary. We're going to back out of here.

COOPER: It was this extraordinary wall of white. It was like a solid mass.

ZARRELLA: You couldn't see a thing out there, and the trees were bent, as they're bending again now. We're starting to get another one of those gusts. COOPER: Look at the tops of those trees over there. You see some of them have snapped already. But these things are moving and as these bands of the storm come --

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

COOPER: Look over there! Look over there!

ZARRELLA: It's coming apart.

COOPER: That's is aluminum. That is part of the side of the -- look at that!

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

COOPER: Look at that tree -- did you see that tree went down?

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

COOPER: Be very careful. Look at that --

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

COOPER: Unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon, Anderson.

And, in fact, you didn't even get the worst of it. I know what you experienced was really bad, but people on the other side of the eye, the eye that actually was moving forward, they got it a lot worse. Obviously, we don't have pictures from there yet, but we will.

What we're experiencing here now is the storm surge coming up and coming over, onto the seawall, and every once and awhile splashing over the top. Now I can talk because I'm in the shadow of a big building.

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

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

COOPER: And 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, they keep -- big branches coming down. Huge limbs.

COOPER: And it's incredible, when you think, I mean, these are strong pieces of metal. This is not, you know, a little tin. This is a huge metal sign that survived Hurricane Ivan. It has not survived Hurricane Dennis. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Those have been amazing pictures, Kyra. I think Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella did a very, very impressive job.

PHILLIPS: Rick Sanchez too, with the mobile unit, moving all across Florida, now moving into Alabama.

BLITZER: All of our teams.

PHILLIPS: Now let's check the latest forecast now for Hurricane Dennis according to Jacqui Jeras. I believe we've got some developing news.

JERAS: Yes, we do. No longer a hurricane. Dennis is now a tropical storm.

9:00 advisory in just a little bit early here tonight. Dennis weakened with winds of near 60 miles per hour. The location is about 20 miles northeast of Jackson, Alabama. So that is some good news. It's been downgraded to a tropical storm. The winds are continuing to weaken.

However, heavy rain and tornados do remain a threat. The forecast track, now a tropical storm, continuing at that status we think throughout much of the night and then weakening later in the afternoon, on Monday, to a tropical depression.

It's still moving at a good forward speed. That's good news. At about 20 miles per hour. The faster it goes, the less flooding we're going to have to deal with.

I'm especially concerned, though, about a new line developing right here. We've had one that we've been dealing with in the eastern parts of Apalachee Bay, but right around St. Marks, which has already received maybe on average somewhere between six and eight inches of rain, there is a new line that is going to be pushing through your area. Unfortunately, that is just going to aggravate conditions and make those waters go up a little bit more.

On average, rain fall amounts should be around four to eight inches right within the swath, and we'll watch those numbers dwindle down as the tropical storm makes its way on inland.

The tornado threat -- I want to talk a little bit about tornadoes. We've had maybe a handful or a dozen maybe warnings over the past couple of hours. It's been a little quiet lately, but that threat remains. If you remember, Hurricane Ivan, a lot of tornadoes with that one. In fact, more than 100. So far, we've only had one confirmed today, and that was in northern Florida, in Suwannee, but keep in mind this watch is still out there. If you hear those sirens when you go to bed tonight, you need to take this seriously and take cover for tonight.

So, again, downgraded to a tropical storm, you guys.

BLITZER: All right, Jacqui Jeras, thanks very much.

Stay with CNN for continuing coverage of this Hurricane Dennis. We're going to be back here, Kyra and I, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, one hour from now. But for now, let's go to Larry King. He's standing by with more -- Larry.

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