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Hurricane Dennis Blows Through Alabama, Florida

Aired July 10, 2005 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. (INAUDIBLE) you seen anything like this?

ZARRELLA: Never seen anything like this.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The wrath of Hurricane Dennis moving ashore, demolishing parts of the Gulf Coast.

Ahead, live reports from across the region.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Among the damage, flooding and widespread power outages. Residents worry about the homes they left behind.

BLITZER: And tracking the powerful storm, our Jacqui Jeras with the very latest.

Good evening. From the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Wolf Blitzer.

PHILLIPS: And I'm Kyra Phillips.

We're continuing our coverage of Hurricane Dennis. Let's get it right to it.

Dennis is downgraded now to a tropical storm, but the sound and the fury won't soon be forgotten in communities that stood in the path of the powerful hurricane.

BLITZER: We're taking inventory of the damage so far and checking for trouble that may just be starting for some people in the Gulf country of Florida, for example. The storm surge has washed out many roads and may be undermining some seaside homes.

And another Florida town almost completely underwater. We'll talk with a CNN photographer who took these dramatic pictures.

Both of those stories just ahead. PHILLIPS: Meanwhile, tornado watches, power outages, more flooding, many thousands of people still vulnerable to the problems from what's left of Dennis.

BLITZER: Still, the early consensus - and this is still early - is that the storm helped lessen some of the impact.

CNN's Jacqui Jeras once again joining us with the latest forecast that we have - Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, well the present impact you are talking about had to do with how far out the hurricane-force winds extended - only 40 miles away from the center of the storm when it made landfall. Also it weakened just a little bit - winds down to that Category 3, which we were happy to see. And actually, those winds were just about exactly the same as what Ivan did last year.

Now we're looking at a tropical storm. It's packing winds around 50 miles per hour at this time. All the tropical cyclone and the hurricane watches and warnings have expired for all of the coastal areas. So that's certainly some good news.

Our focus, then, is on the tornado threat, which remains here, and the flooding threat with this line that is really firing up now, as you can see, across the Florida Panhandle, extending on up into parts of Georgia, and just getting shy of the Atlanta area. So Atlanta may be getting in on some of this action here very shortly.

Here's where the flood watches remain in effect at this hour. The flood watches in the lighter green; flood warnings are in the dark green. And look at how many counties in Alabama are under that flood warning - Birmingham, down toward Montgomery, and all the way down to Mobile.

Tonight's not the night to go out and travel. Stay home tonight. Tomorrow use extra caution as you go out. Don't drive over any roads that have water on them. And those of you that live in the Tennessee River valleys and the Ohio River valleys, even into the Middle Mississippi River Valley, watch out that flooding is on the way for you potentially because of Dennis, which should become a tropical depression, we think, later on for tonight.

And speaking of tropical depressions, if you missed it a few minutes ago, we have a brand new one. This gives us no breaks. We finally got Dennis down to a tropical storm, now here we go again. We've got a Tropical Depression Number 5, still more than 1,000 miles away from the Lesser Antilles. We'll be watching this one very closely for the middle part to latter part of the week and see where it's going to be going. So everybody along the Atlantic Coast, everybody in the Gulf Coast, needs to be aware that tomorrow the official forecast has this as a tropical storm, Tropical Storm Emily. So now we're dealing with yet another.

BLITZER: And the major part of the hurricane season, Jacqui, hasn't even begun yet.

JERAS: Right.

BLITZER: What about the tornadoes? We were hearing a few hours ago about tornado alerts, tornado watches in various parts of the southeast.

What's the latest?

JERAS: Well, we still have the watches, which are in effect, Wolf. And that will likely be ongoing throughout much of the night. But as the storm weakens, we'll watch for less of that threat. We've only had one confirmation from the National Weather Service of a touchdown. That was in Suwannee, Florida. That was in northern parts of the state, but I believe that was just some minor damage. I think a carport that was blown over as a result of that tornado.

There were a number of warnings on and off throughout the evening and the overnight, and that included the Atlanta area. But we didn't have any confirmation of an actual touchdown there tonight.

BLITZER: Good news. Thanks very much, Jacqui Jeras, for that.

Although some early reports indicate Hurricane Dennis has been less destructive than Hurricane Ivan last year, that doesn't mean northwest Florida's escaped new damage. Residents and homeowners in some areas of Gulf County, Florida, may find themselves beginning the rebuilding process all over again. Reports say a storm surge near Indian Pass has washed out a section of road in Cape San Blas. Waves reportedly battered the beautiful but vulnerable spit of land at Cape San Blas, and some of the houses were being undermined by the surf. But none have washed into the Gulf.

A county spokesman says there are no reported injuries.

PHILLIPS: Now to St. Marks, Florida, which resembles a latter- day Atlantis thanks to Dennis. The streets totally submerged by storm- surge flooding.

CNN photographer Mike (sic) Biello getting these unbelievable pictures for us. When say in the wake of Hurricane Dennis - well, it's not just a figure of speech; that's exactly where Mark was.

And the closest Hurricane Dennis ever got to St. Marks was about 300 miles. So how did this little fishing village and other nearby towns end up with so much damage?

CNN's Chad Myers explains it's a matter of geography, topography and physics. Or, to put it more simply, a bunch of bad luck.


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: But it's getting a whole lot better here; things are really calming down in Panama City as the low, the hurricane, Category 1 hurricane, moves farther away, our winds are going to decrease.

The problem with Apalachee Bay, which is about 150 miles east of here - you would think, Well, if Panama City didn't get much, then how can Apalachee Bay get anything? It's 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 hours, and it just piled water up into that upside-down 'U.' There was no place for that water to go but up. It couldn't even go back because the wind just kept 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. So we feel for those folks out there as well.


BLITZER: CNN's Chad Myers explaining what happened in St. Marks, Florida.

CNN's Anderson Cooper experience Hurricane Dennis firsthand. He and CNN's John Zarrella reported live just miles from where the storm came ashore with 120-mile-an-hour winds.

Here are some of the amazing images they brought us.


COOPER: We are back on the air, John Zarrella and I.

Let me just explain where we are. We're basically seeking the safety of a Ramada hotel. There's two walls on - behind our camera, and we are all basically kind of clustered behind these walls for safety. And if you look just out there, that is the enormous Ramada sign, which has just been twisting in the wind. At one - as you can see - I mean, it is moving. We are - that is a big concern. We are very afraid that thing could just come down.

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

COOPER: Five minutes ago - I don't know how much - when I called in, I don't know how much of that you could get. But it is actually gone down from that point. I mean, that was really - it was just 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: Yes. I mean, look at the tops of those trees over there. You've seen some of them have snapped already. But these things are moving. And as these bands of the storm (INAUDIBLE)

ZARRELLA: Here it comes again.


COOPER: You can feel it right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get back! Get back! Get back!

COOPER: Look at that! Look over (INUADIBLE)! Look over there!

ZARRELLA: It's coming apart. It's coming apart.

COOPER: That is aluminum; that's one of the signs. Look at this!

ZARRELLA: Look at this! 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: (INAUDIBLE) - look at that sign (INAUDIBLE).

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

COOPER: Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. (INAUDIBLE) you seen anything like this?

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

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

ZARRELLA: Tree limbs are flying down. These pine trees - you seem them out there - (INAUDIBLE) 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, little tin. This is (INAUDIBLE) a huge metal sign that survived Hurricane Ivan. It has not survived Hurricane Dennis.


BLITZER: Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella reporting earlier for us, right in the midst of that eye of the storm.

Thousands of people filled emergency shelters across Florida as Hurricane Dennis hit.

For the latest on that part of the story, we go to Vicente Arenas of CNN affiliate KHOU. He's in Pensacola. Give us a sense, what's happening there, Vicente.

VICENTE ARENAS, KHOU CORRESPONDENT: Well, I tell you, Wolf, a lot of people still inside the civic center here in Pensacola tonight.

Right outside you can see some trees that were torn down by the hurricane. A lot of these people just want to go home, but they can't for a number of reasons. Among them, their homes are damaged, there's no electricity or water.


ARENAS (voice-over): In hurricane-battered Pensacola, fire crews were called to rescue a man trapped in a hotel elevator after the electricity suddenly went out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We opened the elevator door and it wasn't quite at floor level, so we had to force the inside doors and get him out.

ARENAS: Much of the city is still without power, as Hurricane Dennis damaged many homes and businesses here.

A generator provided some electricity for this bar in a blacked- out downtown.

It could be a few days before power is restored. One reason: an estimated 300 people were still in a city shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perfect conditions, you know, for people who are - didn't have any other place to go. And especially me - like, I stayed in a trailer. I hope it's still there.

ARENAS: Several people we spoke with weren't sure what would be left of their homes they knew they had to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a place of our own, but we felt it would be safer for the children. Rather than staying at our own place, it would be safer for the children here.

ARENAS: Areas of the shelter have 24-inch concrete walls. They kept people safe inside, as Dennis twisted and tumbled oaks outside the center's doors.


ARENAS: I'll tell you, these folks are tired; they want to go home. Some of them, as you saw in the piece there, aren't even sure if their homes are still there or how damaged they were. Some of these folks have been in this shelter since Friday morning. So they're ready to get back to their places.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Vicente Arenas, of our affiliate, KHOU in Pensacola. Thanks, Vicente - Kyra. PHILLIPS: Well, you probably remember, if you've been watching our coverage - we got some pretty amazing picture from St. Marks, Florida. It's a little fishing village not far from Tallahassee, known for oysters and very down-to-Earth people. Only about 325 living in that area, and now it is a village completely submerged underwater. According to the city manager, everyone underwater in that little village.

You'll see these pictures here, and those pictures first came in to us from our photographer Mark Biello. We got him back on the phone now.

Mark, you've been doing such a great job, not only bringing us the video, but telling us a lot about this town and how they're dealing with a situation they have never dealt before, after living there for so many years.

Give us an update on how folks are handling businesses and homes completely underwater.

MARK BIELLO, CNN NEWS PHOTOGRAPHER: Yes, Kyra, we just left that location and have just headed out of St. Marks. The water is starting to recede. It's gone down significantly. There's a lot of water damage in some of the properties.

The police are there though to make sure - ensure there's no looting or anything else going on, you know, with an area that's still out of power. Most of the surrounding area still has power except for this community at the end of - I guess that's Route 363 down to the marina.

So they're still without power and many of the - a few of the residents are in their homes. Others have left for the evening. But a lot of people have come back to secure and check on their properties and businesses to see, you know, what the damage is or if they could even get back in now that the water is receding.

PHILLIPS: Well, Mark, we probably should salute that allowed you on their boat and took you through the little town here.

Tell us - according to city manager, everybody is underwater - and we're talking about 325 people. Do you have any idea where all these folks went, including elderly folks, and if everybody is OK and accounted for?

BIELLO: I think probably a lot of people left to say with other relatives or maybe a local hotel. Some people are starting to venture back. And again, you know, they're very uneasy about leaving their home or their own property, especially with no power and, you know, kind of a remote area.

City hall and the post office are still underwater, and, you know, more than half the town still is not accessible. You know - and they're - and we'll just have to see in the morning what - you know, where that water level is.

PHILLIPS: Well, it's unbelievable to see people smiling and waving at the cameras considering what they're dealing with.

Mark Biello got these pictures for us. This gentleman here actually was trying to work his way over to the deep parts of the water there to give us a sense for how deep that water was.

We'll continue to update you on the situation there and how the 325 individuals now completely underwater are dealing with St. Marks, Florida and the conditions there - Wolf.

BLITZER: He's a great photographer, Mark Biello. I've worked with him for many years, and he's simply the best in the business.

And we'd like to bring our viewers some other images from what we're calling our "Citizen Journalists," CNN viewers who have witnessed Hurricane Dennis firsthand when it hit.

Let's show you some of these pictures.

Brian, for example, in Panama Beach - Panama City Beach. Here you see some of the early effects of Dennis on a neighborhood in Panama City Beach. That would be along the Panhandle coast.

A bit later, Brian shot tape at the shoreline. This was shot at about 3:30 p.m. Eastern this afternoon, just about the exact time that Dennis was making landfall near Pensacola, about 100 miles away.

And if you'd like to e-mail us some of your video, some of your still pictures, if you are part of this in an affected areas of Hurricane Dennis - our address, Remember, we want to caution you: don't do anything risky. We want you to stay safe.

PHILLIPS: Our team coverage continues.

As the Gulf Coast is battered by Hurricane Dennis, we'll have live reports from all along the coast when our special coverage continues. We're here all night. Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

BLITZER: Welcome back.

This is - these are new pictures that we're just getting in from Gulf Breeze in Florida. Take a look at this damage, Kyra. We've been watching - we spoke to the city manager earlier today in Gulf Breeze. But once you actually get the pictures, you don't really appreciate until you see it up close like this, the extent of the damage, the power of this hurricane.

Remember, at one point it was a hurricane - it was a Category 4 when it was going over the Gulf. Then it became a hurricane - a Category 3. It wound up going ashore at a Category 3 with the winds of about 120 miles an hour. And it can cause extensive damage, as we've just seen - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And as we know, it's not over yet. Dennis is still a very dangerous tropical storm, packing very heavy rains.

CNN's Jacqui Jeras tracking in the CNN Weather Center - Jacqui.

JERAS: I'm here. Hello?

PHILLIPS: Are you with us? All right. We're going to take a shot in a minute.

JERAS: Sorry about that.


JERAS...we were going over some new data.

PHILLIPS: Hey, it's live television. You're bringing us the latest information. That's good. What did you find out over there at the computer?

JERAS: Absolutely.

Well, I was actually just talking about St. Marks. Bonnie Schneider just came in; she's going to be taking over for me around the midnight hour. And we were just having a conversation, actually, about the area and how it just doesn't want to stop raining here.

And take a look just offshore from St. Marks. There's another very strong thunderstorm cell that's going to be making its way right over the town, and so the rainfall continues to come down. And that is just going to aggravate the conditions here. This is really going to end up being a huge story over the next 12 plus hours still.

And Tallahassee certainly has had plenty of rainfall. Doppler Radar is estimating this area, at least 6 to 8 inches. And it tends to actually underestimate tropical systems just a little bit. So if you think these pictures that we've seen throughout the day today are bad, wait until you see what this town is going to be looking like tomorrow morning if this rain doesn't stop anytime soon.

So these outer feeder bands are, as you can see, causing as much damage as the center of the eyewall. And that's why we talk about, don't focus so much on just the eyewall, because this is going to be causing some major damage and affecting a lot of people other than just within that very small portion of the cone.

We've got rain showers now which explain almost all the way to the western state line here of Mississippi, going all the way over into the Carolinas. The tornado threat does remain and there has been this line that's really been firing up, which is an extension out of that one from St. Marks. And it goes almost all the way to the south of the Atlanta area. Travel delays big time, at least two hours in Atlanta.

The maximum winds at this time, 50 miles per hour. That was the - at the top of the hour, at the 11:00 Eastern Time advisory. It's rapidly weakening, should continue to do so. Tropical depression expected tonight, and here's your forecast track, heading up towards the Bootheel of Missouri by Tuesday morning. It's not going to be out of here, it looks like, until at least the end of the week - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And, of course, we're hearing another name, Emily, quite a bit...

JERAS: Right.

PHILLIPS: ...Jacqui, so any information on that compared to what we've been dealing with throughout the day?

JERAS: Well, Emily is not born yet, so to speak.

PHILLIPS: That's the good news.

JERAS: It's Tropical Depression Number Five right now, and this is the satellite picture of it. And you can see a nice big blossom here on the satellite imagery. So we're getting some nice development. It should be intensifying, we think, over the next 12 to 24 hours and probably be becoming Emily tomorrow. Tropical storm is what it is forecast.

And there you can see the forecast track, continuing pretty strong here at least through Wednesday. And if we go out beyond that, the forecast models are going to be calling this a hurricane. But still, that's five days out and there's still quite a bit of margin for error. So it's going to be something that we would be watching very closely.

Don't take a deep sigh of relief along the Gulf Coast, because you may be under the gun later on in the upcoming week. And the Atlantic Coast also needs to be on alert, because you could potentially be affected by what could become Emily - Kyra.

BLITZER: Is this extraordinary - I'm just curious, Jacqui, that there are already four named storms, including one hurricane landed today. Emily about to get going. This early in the hurricane season - how unusual is this?

JERAS: It's of historic proportions, actually. We've never seen this many named storms this early in the season. And to be talking about five right after four - this is mid-July. If you remember last year, it was a very busy season, but things really didn't get going until about the middle of August. So this is really pretty scary to see this much action this early.

BLITZER: Jacqui Jeras, thanks very much. We'll continue to watch, to brace for Emily as well.

He spent a good chunk of his CNN career chasing down hurricanes like Dennis. But while he was keeping an eye on the storm today, our John Zarrella had a moment he'll never forget and never will we.

John Zarrella's joining us now live once again from Pensacola.

Share that moment with our viewers, John.

ZARRELLA: Wolf, it's still raining here right now, and it's another little bit of the tailing end of those squall lines and bands coming through here. So it's been like this ever since the winds actually died down.

But at about 3:30 Eastern Time, when the storm made landfall, we were standing in fairly close to this position and decided it was better to move and retreat to a secondary live shot that we had - a live location, which we did - and just in the nick of time. Because the bottom fell out on us, and the situation deteriorated absolutely instantaneously. We were on the western side of the eyewall, those winds came up and you could hear what - what we were experiencing there.


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

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

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

Look at this! 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: (INAUDIBLE) - look at that sign (INAUDIBLE).

It was like a solid mass.

ZARRELLA: You couldn't see a thing out there, and the trees were..


ZARRELLA: It was a - there was a - the sign from the Ramada Inn across the street had come - had come apart, literally, in the winds in that western eyewall. And the pieces of aluminum were flying and portions of pine trees were being snapped in half.

You know, we use that word, like toothpicks. And they literally were. And that just - a white wall of water, horizontal wind and rain blowing. And it was impossible to see.

And what you're doing at that point is - you're looking around and watching and making sure that there's nothing flying at you and that you're in a safe area, an alcove area. Where we were, Anderson Cooper and I, protected from - from the worst of it. But it was certainly one of the scarier moments that I've actually witnessed.

And one of the reasons for that is, of course, because this was a daylight landfall. You don't often get the opportunity to see these things coming ashore. So many times they hit at nightfall, which is worse because you don't know what's flying through the air or coming at you.

Or in worst cases, like Andrew and Hugo, it was impossible to be outside in the middle of it all, like we were today. But there were points in time where we were considering whether we needed to close it down and get inside to safety. But we decided to just stay in that spot; it seemed like it was safe. It appeared to be safe. And indeed it was. So we stayed where we were for the duration of it, which lasted about 30 to 45 minutes of the worst of it.

And from that point, it deteriorated - the conditions got better very quickly. And we did not have much weather to speak of after that.

And they were very, very fortunate here in Pensacola. As bad as that looked, with - with being on the western side of the eye - there has been a lot of tree limbs down, some power lines down, some minor structural damage, gas stations. Of course, the power is out all over Pensacola tonight. There's a curfew in effect.

But the situation could have been so, so much worse had this remained a Category 4 hurricane and had it stayed on a track for Pensacola, which of course was devastated less than a year ago by Hurricane Ivan. So the folks here certainly can count their blessings that they were exceedingly lucky this time around.

But, you know, as everybody has been pointing out, it's early in the hurricane season. There's another one brewing out there, so who knows how many more we're going to have to deal with before this season is all over.

Kyra, Wolf.

BLITZER: One thing we know for sure is John Zarrella will walk through each one of those hurricanes with us.

John, thanks very much - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Isn't that the truth?

Well, live coverage continues on CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

Up next, we're going to survey the damage at Panama City in a live report.

Plus, it's never been seen before: live coverage of a hurricane while in transit.

BLITZER: Our Rick Sanchez will report from the road, literally. Something you will see only here on CNN.

We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

PHILLIPS: Residents of Panama City won't forget their date with Dennis anytime soon.

Emily Pantelides of CNN affiliate WJBF is there for us live once again.

Bring us up to date, Emily.

EMILY PANTELIDES, WJBF CORRESPONDENT: Well, people here in Panama City are really breathing that sigh of relief. Thankfully, we did not get a direct from Hurricane Dennis.

But as you can see right now, we really are still feeling his effects. Some very strong wind coming into the area, and I want to say in the past hour, it really does feel it's intensified a little bit. Behind me, the ocean still churning. It's an angry ocean.

Want to show you some video of what it did look like earlier. The waves were so high at one point they knocked out the back of the city pier and some of those guardrails actually fell into the ocean. That was definitely some of the worst damage we saw here.

Also, there was some concern about construction in the area; there was some loose debris and they thought that that might be a problem. Authorities have now discovered that really none of that loose debris did become a problem, didn't go into any homes or anything like that.

So again, people here in Panama City just breathing that sigh of relief. The only problem left right now - if you can see us right now, we're in a black hole; there is absolutely no power along this beach area. But that's not much of a problem, because most of these people have evacuated.

PHILLIPS: All right, Emily. Thank you so much.

Now, Emily, I don't know if you know this because you've been out there covering the storm for us - you know there's another one brewing with the name Emily. Are you aware of that?

PANTELIDES: I heard that, and that doesn't sound good. That means I'm going to be out - back out here covering that.

PHILLIPS: Emily covering Emily. All right.

PANTELIDES: I have to do it.

PHILLIPS: Yes, that's right. It's your duty. And we'll continue to check in with you. Thanks to WJBF, your station, bringing us your live shot.

Thanks, Emily.


PHILLIPS: Well, taking a look at the "Hurricane Headlines" tonight and tomorrow: The former hurricane named Dennis is a tropical storm. Winds dropped below 60 miles an hour as it moved north through Alabama and Mississippi. That's less than half what they were at landfall this afternoon.

BLITZER: Some coastal communities underwater tonight. This is St. Marks, Florida. A CNN cameraman captured these amazing images. He says almost the entire town is underwater, and some people were trapped in their homes. One official says similar scenes stretch for miles along the coast.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency says President Bush has declared parts of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi disaster areas. That makes residents eligible for grants for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured losses.

PHILLIPS: Florida Governor Jeb Bush will visit the hardest-hit areas of his state tomorrow. He'll be joined by both of the state's U.S. senators , at least one congressman, and other federal and state officials.

BLITZER: Dennis has lost a little steam, but it's still packing a punch. Tornado watches and warnings across the Southeast tonight. Jacqui Jeras, once again, will have complete details. That's coming up.

PHILLIPS: And when water started pouring in to one (ph) man's home this afternoon, he didn't get out, he went up. That's right. His story when CNN, your hurricane headquarters, rolls on.


ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

BLITZER: CNN's Jacqui Jeras continuing to track Tropical Storm Dennis now from the CNN Weather Center. She's got some more information for us - Jacqui.

JERAS: Yes, Wolf, I like that name a lot better, Tropical Storm Dennis.

Fifty-mile-per-hour winds now. That was from the 11:00 Eastern Time advisory. So our focus is staring to change from concern about some of this wind and the storm surge and it's now changing to the flooding problems. We've been talking about St. Marks all evening long, and still getting in the wet weather.

The threat of tornadoes is still out there. We haven't had a lot of tornado action, but this is something to take very seriously (INAUDIBLE). A lot of folks are going to be going to bed now. Make you sure have your NOAA weather radio on, and if those sirens go off, you need to be taking cover, even in the middle of the night. We do expect to see the rotation, though - the tornado threat diminishing now as we head into tomorrow though. But keep in mind tonight, before you go to bed, this is certainly going to be a good possibility. Flooding rains already. There you can see where the heaviest amounts, Doppler Radar estimating somewhere in the range of - if you look at the scale that we have - 3 to 6 inches on average. I as just looking at the Doppler Radar out of Tallahassee, on their Web site there, and it looks like there's some estimates here, right around St. Marks and just to the south of Tallahassee, somewhere upwards of about 9, 10, maybe 11 inches of rainfall, and it's still coming down at this hour.

You can see also some very heavy amounts just to the west of Birmingham, just to the west of Montgomery. So we've got a nice, big swathe here where we're going to be having some flash flooding. So keep in mind tomorrow morning when you wake up that you may have some problems along the roadways, and you're not going to want to drive through this tomorrow.

It's better to be safe. Don't go through the water if you can't see the bottom of it.

The flood threat continues all the way up into parts of the Ohio Valley, into southwestern Indiana, southern Illinois, into the Bootheel of Missouri, throughout western Tennessee. Memphis, you could see some flooding overnight tonight and into tomorrow morning. Flood watches in the bright green.

And the dark green - this is where we have flood warnings. That includes almost the entire state of Alabama - Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacqui, at what point do people who live in mobile homes, when they hear about these tornado watches, these warnings - at one point do they get out and move someplace else?

JERAS: Well, when a siren goes off, you better be out of there. And you certainly need to have a plan in mind of where you're going to go certainly well before that siren goes off.

I don't think that the tornado threat is dangerous right now, that everybody who lives within the watch area needs to be leaving the mobile homes, however, as the wind threat from the hurricane also has been diminished.

BLITZER: All right. Jacqui Jeras, good advice, as usual. Thanks Jerry - Jacqui, very much - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, many people along the Gulf Coast decided to ride out that storm. Some did it as an act of defiance, others as an act of faith in the future.

Reporter Wes Sarginson of CNN affiliate WXIA has the story of a Georgia man who recently moved to Mary Esther, Florida.


GEORGE FOREWINE, MARY ESTHER, FLA., RESIDENT: This is, you know, damage from Ivan. WES SARGINSON, WXIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Forewine Kinnesaw (ph) recently bought this home on the Intercoastal Waterway in Mary Esther. It had been wrecked in the first floor by Hurricane Ivan. He decided the house had a good history, and didn't see it as a risk to sit in the old home when Dennis came to call.

We decided to sit it out with him.

FOREWINE: That is marble and it's power and (INAUDIBLE).

SARGINSON: There were some scary moments when the plywood on several of the windows and doors gave way.

FOREWINE: But I measured my risks, and this is not to me risky.

SARGINSON: And a moment of sadness when the dock, just rebuilt by George's son, floated off.

FOREWINE: Probably our dock. Oh well. I won't tell my boy. He put hours and hours into that.

SARGINSON: But mostly, for this electrical engineer, former NASA employee, rock climber, scuba diver, Hurricane Dennis was just another chapter in life.


PHILLIPS: Once again, thanks to Wes Sarginson. Mary Esther is about 60 miles from Navarre Beach. It's between Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach that Hurricane Dennis blew ashore this afternoon.

BLITZER: Hurricane Dennis didn't only rivet the attention of Gulf Coast residents. Federal emergency workers were closely monitoring the path of the storm in Washington, D.C.

CNN's Kathleen Koch with more now on how FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, gets ready to hit the ground running when a hurricane hits the United States.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): D-Day for federal emergency officials. The enemy, Dennis, ravaging the Gulf Coast.

PATRICK BRODY, CHIEF OF STAFF, FEMA: Clearly, a lot of our fellow citizens are going to be looking to us in the hours ahead. And obviously, what we do here today and what we do ongoing is going to be very important to them.

KOCH: From Miami, the head of FEMA plots strategy.

MIKE BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: Our mantra has got to be, How can we get this done?

KOCH: Faces reflect how difficult the job will be. But FEMA says it is ready. BROWN: We have all the commodities in place: the water, the ice, the meals ready to eat, cots, tents, bedding, everything we need to sustain life.

But we also have in place, unfortunately, those things we may need, like the urban search-and-rescue teams, to get into neighborhoods, to get into building to try to rescue people.

KOCH: Federal storm-tracking Web sites, getting 40 million hits an hour. Just one reason Greg Hernandez invented a new Internet service called Strom Tracker.

GREG HERNANDEZ, NOAA: That's what NOAA is all about - you know, saving lives and property. And if we can provide any Web sites that will help people keep track of these storms better and faster, then that's - that was the aim for Strom Tracker.

KOCH (on camera): The aim for federal emergency officials now: track the storm as it moves inland. And get help quickly to those who need it.

Kathleen Koch, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: CNN's Rick Sanchez spent the day in Hurricane One, our dedicated mobile hurricane unit. He's been reporting on some of the most dramatic stories throughout the day.

Here's a look.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're in Panama City, and I was here less than a year ago covering this very same storm. We're just outside of it, I should say.

These are people who are used to this. They're expecting something similar to what they experienced last time and they have pretty much evacuated this entire area. The area we're in right now is all but a ghost town.

The most precarious place to be is where we are, the northwest of the quadrant of the hurricane. And that's where you get a lot of your tornadic activity. They will obviously come in and do a lot of damage. Those winds are clocked in excess by at least another half, sometimes double what you get on the main winds.

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 move - Michael (ph) move up just a little bit. We're going 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 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.

This is salt water, all right? And it's - it's essentially the Gulf of Mexico has overtaken the land and has now overtaken Highway 98. And this is now an impassable room.

We have now doubled back. What we're trying to do now is - we've gotten this report that there's a roof collapse at a hotel in Crestview.

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 - Stu (ph), are you hard on that? Yes. I don't know if you can see that, but literally has just ripped the aluminum sheeting off of the roof completely.

We've taken the vehicle now, our Hurricane One, since we are mobile, and we've 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 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's why moments ago firefighters arrived here on the scene as well as some members of fire rescue. It doesn't appear they're going to try to do anything to it. I think they're going to back off. That just looks to me like a very, very dangerous situation.

That's a power line that has just crashed on to the road. Part of the road is - almost like the power line is coming out of the middle road.

When you cover these storms for many years, you realize that whatever you think the damage is, it never quite realizes it that way because the next day, when you wake up and you look around, you find out that there's a lot more.


BLITZER: CNN's Rick Sanchez reporting from what we call Hurricane One, that mobile SUV with satellite capabilities doing a very, very good job for us.

We'll continue our special coverage of Dennis here at the hurricane headquarters at CNN right after this quick break.


ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

BLITZER: Riding out a hurricane as powerful as this one can be very dangerous. But that didn't' scare off Mari Darr Welch. She's a photographer who saw and captured a lot of the dramatic images in Navarre, Florida, which is close to where Dennis hit land.

Mari is joining us now by phone.

Mari, where are you right now? MARI DARR WELCH, DENNIS SURVIVOR: I'm at my home in Fort Walton Beach.

BLITZER: So that's not far away.

Tell our viewers how you got to where you were and some of the pictures that you were taking.

DARR WELCH: I decided to ride out the hurricane in my home, which is right on the - on the shores of the Chopahachee Bay (ph). And while I was doing that I said, Well, gosh, you know, there are pictures to be made. And so I went out in my neighborhood during the storm, as it was happening, and made a lot of those pictures.

BLITZER: And we're showing our viewers the pictures now, at least some of them. This one shows - it looks like a sailboat simply come ashore from the water.

You remember this picture?

DARR WELCH: Yes. Yes. A yacht club across the - across the bay requires its members to take their sailboats away from the dock. And every hurricane we have several sailboats in people's yards. They've come leeched (ph) from their moorings.

BLITZER: Let's show another picture that you took. This one over here, what looks like a road - Lamar Road (ph), I'm told. But tell us what you have - what you've captured here.

DARR WELCH: I don't know which one it is.

BLITZER: It's a - it's a road, it looks like a main road - Belmar Road (ph). Is that what it's called?


BLITZER: Well, it looks like there's a lot of damage on this road on both sides with power lines and some - and some construction along the sides.

DARR WELCH: That would be Navarre Beach.

BLITZER: In Navarre Beach?

DARR WELCH: And that was hit very hard in Ivan, and they still have not recovered from Ivan.

BLITZER: Navarre Beach was actually one of the areas that was about as close to the eye of this hurricane when it made landfall as occurred. Navarre Beach is an area where you live, is that right?

DARR WLECH: Yes. It's about 15 minutes from my house.

BLITZER: And - this shows some of the devastation there.

I think we have another photo that we'll put up. We see a man standing with his back to us in front of a house.

DARR WELCH: OK. He is a gentleman who is between Fort Walton Beach and Navarre Beach.

BLITZER: He seems to be standing in a flood.

DARR WELCH: And his neighborhood was flooded again this time. Their whole neighborhood was devastated with Hurricane Ivan, and he almost broke down in tears when he got to his house and realized that it had almost been destroyed in Ivan, and he had just gotten it finished last month. And it was fine.

BLITZER: Well, it's fine, you mean today, as a result of Dennis.

DARR WELCH: It's fine today...

BLITZER: Oh thank God.

DARR WELCH: ...and he almost broke down in tears.

BLITZER: Thank God for that.

And this other picture - we're - it looks like a pier with some heavy surf coming in, and there seems to be a break in that pier. Do you know what I'm talking about?

DARR WELCH: That's the Navarre Beach Pier. And during Ivan, the end of the pier broke off. And today, the middle part and part of the beginning were also broken by the - the waves.

BLITZER: Well, these have been pretty dramatic photos, Mari Darr Welch. Thank you very much for sharing them with our viewers here at CNN. And good luck to you, good luck to all the people along that Gulf Coast.

DARR WELCH: Thank you very much, Wolf.


PHILLIPS: We're going to take a look at other news "Around the Nation" tonight.

Sad confirmation today from the FBI: remains found in Montana have been positively identified as those of missing 9-year-old Dylan Groene. Dylan and his 8-year-old sister, Shasta, disappeared from their home May 16 after the beating deaths of other family members. Shasta was found alive last week after witnesses spotted her in an Idaho restaurant with a man now in police custody.

The Pentagon says the body of a Navy SEAL has been found and recovered in Afghanistan. This would account for the fourth member of a team that disappeared two weeks ago. Two other bodies have been found. Only one member of that team survived.

Prices at the pump are higher than they've ever been. The cost of a regular gallon of self-serve gas surged over the past two weeks, jumping nearly a dime to an all-time high of $2.31 a gallon.

Our team coverage continues. As the Gulf Coast is battered by Hurricane Dennis, we're going to look back at the last several hours and see the storm through the lenses of our citizen journalists.

Stay tuned to CNN. Our coverage continues right after this.


ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

BLITZER: Things have been moving very fast today. Let's take a moment to review the events leading up to this moment.


SANCHEZ: You're looking at a storm surge. This is what was Highway 98, what was a passable road that is now essentially underwater.

JERAS: The eyewall of Hurricane Dennis is now making landfall.

COOPER: The winds really have picked up. If you look over there, the trees are move - are getting pushed pretty good here. And as you can see, the water is just completely horizontal. The wind is just pushing this rain. And the rain has really picked up as well. It's impossible to even look into the wind.

ZARRELLA: Yes. You can't turn your face over here to the sand and the rain and the wind. I'd say we're pretty close to hurricane- force winds sustained now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're experiencing here now is the storm surge coming up and coming over on to the seawall, and every once in awhile splashing over the top.

COOPER: Let me just explain where we are. We're basically seeking the safety of a Ramada hotel. There's two walls on - or behind our camera. And we are all basically kind of clustered behind these walls for safety.

And if you look just out there, that is the enormous Ramada sign, which has just been twisting in the wind. At one - as you can see, I mean, it is moving - that is a big concern. We are very afraid that that thing could just come down.


ZARRELLA: Watch out! Get back! Get back! Get back!

COOPER: Look at that! Look over (INUADIBLE)! Look over there!

ZARRELLA: It's coming apart. It's coming apart.

COOPER: That is aluminum; that's one of the signs. Look at this! ZARRELLA: Look at this! 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: (INAUDIBLE) - look at that sign (INAUDIBLE).

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

COOPER: Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this.

GOV., JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We have an awesome team that is mobilized, that is moving as we speak towards west Florida to be able to provide that first assessment of safety to make sure that our first priority is to take care of the people that may be in danger.


PHILLIPS: And we want to bring you more images from our citizen journalists, CNN viewers who witnessed Hurricane Dennis firsthand when it hit, and they sent us their photos. And we appreciate it.

Check this out. It's a photo from Charly in Carrabelle, Florida, who says that the flooding there is from the storm surge. The town is about 35 miles just west of St. Marks, a small town almost completely swamped by floodwaters.

Then Gary in Pensacola sent us this photo of several branches that broke off the oak tree in his backyard on Camden Road.

And Brenda in Magnolia Springs, Alabama, also captured some tree damage in several yards up and down Oak Street in her town.

Continue to e-mail us your pictures, please, and any video of Dennis. Our address is And a reminder: we love your picture; we'll take them. But don't ever put yourself in risk for us. We want you to stay for us.

BLITZER: And remember, CNN is your ha - camp - your hurricane headquarters, with complete coverage of Hurricane Dennis. Just because it's ashore does not mean our job is over.

In fact, Kyra, you and I will be back tomorrow for more coverage starting at noon Eastern.

PHILLIPS: We sure hope you'll join us.

Meanwhile, Carol Lin and Betty Nguyen are up next. They're going to continue our round-the-clock coverage right after this quick break.



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