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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Dennis

Aired July 10, 2005 - 02:00   ET

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


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Who is leaving and who is weathering the storm.
Good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen at the CNN Center in Atlanta, your hurricane headquarters. We have much more on our top story in just a minute, but first here's a check of other headlines making news at this hour.

A suicide bomber has killed 22 people and wounded more than 30 others in Iraq. Iraqi security sources say the bombing happened at an army recruiting center in Baghdad.

There has been a major evacuation in Britain's second biggest city. Police ordered thousands of people to leave Birmingham's entertainment district last night. Police located a suspicious package, but just about 10 minutes ago ruled it was not a bomb. The evacuation came two days after a string of terrorists bombings in London that killed more than 50 people.

Meantime, the investigation into those deadly attacks goes on and it is going slowly. Police have no suspects yet, and heat and dust in the subway tunnels are making it very difficult to recover bodies from the three trains that were targeted. It could be weeks before identities are released.

Survivors of Europe's worst civilian massacre since World War II are retracing their steps. Bosnian Muslims marched back to their home in Srebrenica this weekend. This where nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian/Serb troops from 1992 to '95. Survivors watched as recently identified victims were taken to a memorial cemetery.

OK, let's get you the latest now on the deadly and destructive path of Hurricane Dennis, which is now a Category 4 storm. It has already killed at least 32 people in Haiti and Cuba combined.

Dennis is moving north-northwest at around 14 miles an hour. And it is expected to strike the northern Gulf Coast sometime this afternoon. Meantime many Gulf Coast residents are already evacuated or on the move. Authorities have ordered a million people to leave the beaches.

And there are also fears that the hurricane's outer edges will spawn tornados. Tornado watches are up right now for the Florida Panhandle, southeast Alabama and southern Georgia. They are in effect until 8 a.m. Eastern. And as long as this storm hammers the Southeast CNN is your hurricane headquarters, bringing you live, on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Dennis. Just within the past hour Dennis has gotten stronger. For the latest we want to go now to CNN Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider in the Weather Center.

Category 4, I understand?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right, Betty. As of 1 o'clock a.m. Eastern Time this storm has been upgraded from a Category 3 to a Category 4. Meaning maximum sustained winds right now 135 m.p.h., so definitely a Category 4. And definitely a large storm, when you look at it here on our satellite perspective you see a very well-defined eye. You see a symmetrical storm and an expansive storm. We were talking earlier about how you can see that it looks like already areas around the panhandle are affected by Dennis.

It is quite evident because we have tropical storm force winds, meaning winds over 39 m.p.h., extending outward from the storm's center, over 230 miles. So you can see that it is all ready there. So we're getting those tropical storm force winds right now in the panhandle, also further to the east in Florida, as well. We're getting storms across much of the state right now, and even toward Alabama. So it is a powerful storm it is an expansive storm that is already bringing quite a bit of rain.

In fact, when we take a look at the perspective, if you are going to be along the coastline -- let's take a look -- here's the way it's going to shape up as we work our way into the next 24 hours. Actually, as the storm approaches you'll see, certainly, the weather deteriorate, as it is right now. And eventually, as the storm works its way through we're going to see some very strong gusty winds and we're going to see quite a bit of rain and also some flooding, as well. So that is something to keep in mind as you look to the south you'll see that storm headed in that direction.

In the meantime though, you can see the storm beginning to bring the thunderstorms, the lightening. Flooding is going to be a major concern for this system, as it works its way in. A Category 4 storm can bring storm surges as high as 18 feet. And storm surge can come inland six miles or greater along the Gulf of Mexico. So, we're seeing this as a Category 4, making landfall at some point in the afternoon.

Already, just to show you, we're getting some rainfalls, certainly near the Atlanta vicinity, but further back out to the south we're getting a tornado watch in effect for parts of Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Tornados are possible in this region throughout this area tonight, and plenty of rain as you can see -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Staying on top of it, Bonnie Schneider. Thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

NGUYEN: Just hours from now the outer bands from Dennis will start to lash the northeastern Gulf Coast. The eye of the storm is expected to make landfall somewhere between Pensacola, Florida and Mobile, Alabama. CNN's John Zarrella is in Pensacola and is -- or had this -- or was at this scene just less than an hour ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): For the people of Pensacola this is certainly eerily reminiscent, not just of last year when Hurricane Ivan came through here, but back in 1995 I recall being right here, not far from here, Hurricane Opal. It was a Category 4 storm as it approached the coastline and actually lost some punch down to a Category 3 hurricane before it made landfall in the Fort Walton Beach area, east of here.

Now, certainly that is what the people of Pensacola are still hoping will happen with Dennis, but that does not seem to be the case. The storm, Category 4 continuing to intensify and getting stronger as it approaches the coast line.

Now, all day throughout the day yesterday people finished up their preparations here and now in these overnight hours it is time for them to be getting a good night's sleep and relaxing because it is going to be a long rest of the day when the sun comes up, hurricane force winds could very well be on the coastline could very well be beginning to encroach inland as well.

Now the shelters are beginning to fill up here in the Pensacola area. There are more than 2,000 people in those shelters now. They do hold 8,500 people. So plenty of space available, but two of them are full, which officials in Escambia County, here say is a good sign. People have been heeding the warnings. They are getting into the shelters and if they have plans to evacuate most of them have already done that.

The rest are battening down the hatches, finishing up last-minute preparations, because by first light, with those strong winds on the coast it is going to be too late to be putting plywood up outside. It is going to be too late for running to try to find an open gas station or a convenience store to fix something up. Everything is already closed down here and will likely be closed down for quite some time as the storm moves through here, knocking out power and it may well be days, if not weeks, before power is restored to this area. Of course, all that depends on exactly where Dennis makes landfall, later today. John Zarrella reporting from Pensacola, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: And we will be watching it for you. Right now the Alabama Gulf Coast is on the east side of the danger zone. Many people are heeding evacuation orders and heading for higher ground. Others, well they are taking their chances and staying put hoping for the best. Forecasters warn, though, that Mobile may suffer a direct hit from Dennis. CNN's Dan Lothian is there and has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Boarding up and appealing to a higher power. Residents in Mobile, Alabama braced for Hurricane Dennis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think it is very important. We'd like to put that message out to everybody. You know, need to pray. That's the only thing that is going to get us through this thing. And at least calm our nerves and, you know, just keep things straight.

LOTHIAN: This restaurant's trademark shark has been removed from it's rooftop perch. The employees are pitching in, placing tables, chairs and other supplies from the first floor into large containers and sending them to storage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to believe it is so pretty, it's going to be such a bad storm coming. Hopefully we'll have a business to come back to.

LOTHIAN: Anything that can blow away has been removed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you worry about some of the inventory that's left, you know, we'll loose the coolers. Primary thing is really the safety of the employees.

LOTHIAN: Owners say they have been hit by other hurricanes. Last year Ivan caused extensive damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. It just -- they're just getting closer and closer. It's getting to be a hard time, you know.

LOTHIAN: But the threat of more storms and more damage doesn't appear to dampen the desire to keep this business right where it is, on the water's edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know that is the price you pay for living in paradise. You know, south Alabama is absolutely beautiful and we're thankful to be here.

LOTHIAN (on camera): A mandatory evacuation order has been issue for Mobile and surrounding areas and more than 70 shelters are now open. Emergency officials are now considering imposing a curfew from tomorrow morning to tomorrow evening -- Dan Lothian, CNN, Mobile, Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: And already many Alabama towns have imposed overnight curfews.

Well, Gulf Shores, did not -- or did suffer millions of dollars in damage just 10 months ago. That is when Hurricane Ivan slammed ashore. Now, Ivan was just a Category 3 and as we've been reporting this morning, Dennis is now a Category 4. Many businesses and homeowners in Gulf Shores have yet to rebuild from last year's destruction.

Joining us live now on the situation in Gulf Shores is Colette Boehm, public information officer for Baldwin County, the Emergency Management Agency there. We thank you for being with us. Before we get to what you are doing right now to prepare, give a sense of what you are doing to still recover from what Ivan has done to you, or what it did to you last year. Are you still seeing the damage from Ivan?

COLLETTE BOEHM, PIO, BALDWIN CO. EMER. MGMT.: Well, as you said, we took a hard hit from Ivan, but the coastal communities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, as well as the entire county has done a remarkable job of recovery. The beach areas went from, actually recovery to renewal. There's lots of new construction going on as well and some exciting new development.

While you still see some remnants of Ivan in some areas, like I said the recovery has been remarkable and this season just came all too quick for us.

NGUYEN: So, it sounds as if just as you've gotten it rebuilt, here comes Dennis, a Category 4 expected to do quite a bit of damage. What are you doing to prepare at this point?

BOEHM: Well, we've had some evacuation orders for Baldwin County, south of Interstate 10, which obviously includes the coastal cities. Those orders seem to have been heeded, specifically we started with our visitors earlier in the week. You know, we are a very tourist dependent town. So we thanked our visitors for returning and coming and to see our recovery and we said, you know, we want to keep you safe so you'll come back again. So we started the evacuation with them. The residents started evacuating yesterday and today. That went fairly well.

Here at Baldwin EMA they are worried that there may be some people who did not heed that warning. And we have done a recent urging for those folks if they haven't left yet, to please do so within the next couple of hours. Because we're anticipating that we'll begin to feel tropical storm force winds starting at daylight in the morning.

NGUYEN: When you say you are urging people to leave, those who kind of appear to be waiting it out to determine whether they want to stay or want to go, are you going door-to-door to get information on them? What are you doing?

BOEHM: Well, some of the local municipalities have been surveying with their public safety folks and some of them have been talking. We also have a reverse 911 system here in the county and we implemented that a couple of hours ago, again, urging people that Governor Riley and the local EMA officials would like to see them out of harm's way. So if they do not feel safe and are going to leave, they need to do that quickly.

NGUYEN: So, is the biggest concern here, if these people decide to stay is there a fear that help won't be able to get to them quickly, because your people, your crews, have to wait it out as well, before they can venture out into the danger, correct?

BOEHM: Right, public safety workers will be basically called in and grounded when winds get to a certain point. That is at about 45 to 55 miles an hour. It is just not safe for them to be out either. So, you know, we need to minimize the potential danger to human life wherever we can. So we need to keep those people safe as well, so they'll be ready to respond quickly and efficiently in the aftermath.

NGUYEN: That is understandable. Colette Boehm, we appreciate your time. Best of luck to you. Stay safe. We will be watching just as the rest of you today. Thank you.

BOEHM: Thank you.

NGUYEN: As we told you, Dennis has jumped from Category 3 to Category 4 storm. But what exactly does that mean? And what is in store for people along the Gulf shores? We will give you a storm lesson. Plus --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standing out in the middle of a hurricane is not the most sensible thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: It sure isn't, but our reporters do it anyway. Our Anderson Cooper shares some stormy memories when we come back. You want to stay tuned to CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Welcome back to CNN, your hurricane headquarters, where we will be updating you on Hurricane Dennis every 15 minutes, all morning long.

Let's get right to it now. A big change in the storm about an hour and 20 minutes ago. CNN Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider joins us now, Category 3, which is now a Category 4, when we talk about Dennis.

SCHNEIDER: Right. And you know what's interesting, Betty, as we were talking about earlier, this time yesterday we were talking about a weaker storm that was working its way across Cuba, eventually becoming Category 1, downgraded quite a bit as it interacted with land. But now there is no land for Dennis to interact with until makes landfall. So it is over the Gulf of Mexico right now. The warm waters, 85 for a temperature, so we're seeing the warm waters fuel this storm. And that is why we're seeing already those rain bands coming into Florida.

A tornado watch is in effect for the panhandle of Florida, to other sections here, the lower sections of Georgia, Alabama, we're going to see the potential for some strong thunderstorms, really I'd say throughout the night tonight and on into tomorrow.

As we take a closer look at where its raining right now, along the panhandle. We're seeing some larger cells, some bigger thunderstorms now working their way across southern Georgia. This is just the beginning. As we take a look at the satellite perspective of Dennis, you'll see a well-defined eye and the storm is getting closer and closer to making landfall, which we were expecting tonight -- excuse me -- later this afternoon into the early hours of tonight. It is hard to say, we're getting definitely closer and closer to that occurring. So the later part of this afternoon, into the early evening hours of today. Maximum sustained winds with Dennis right now are 135 m.p.h., classifying Dennis as a Category 4 hurricane. A large hurricane with strong winds that extend outward at 230 miles when you are talking about tropical storm force winds. So already we're seeing conditions deteriorate along the coast, certainly.

The track of the storm is interesting because it doesn't really loose much intensity a it comes on land. So a Category 3 versus a Category 4? Well, this is what we were talking about earlier this morning. A Category 3, maximum winds are at 130 m.p.h., with storm surge up to 12 feet. You could see large trees or utility poles down, or small homes damaged. However, look what happens when you get to a Category 4, a much more serious situation. The winds can get as high as 155 m.p.h., storm surge can grow as high as 18 feet. Widespread structural damage, very large trees blown down, and flooding up to six miles inland.

And I think the flooding inland is going to be one of the keys with Dennis. Because even as the storm makes landfall, later this afternoon, by tonight we'll still see this storm as a hurricane. According to the National Hurricane Center, that is where we get our information, when we track the storm you can see even by 8 a.m. Monday morning, maximum sustained winds are still at 75 m.p.h. That still classifies the storm as a hurricane -- Betty.

NGUYEN: OK, my question to you now, though, Bonnie, is it has been upgraded from a 3 to 4, do we expect it to go to a 5 before it makes landfall?

SCHNEIDER: Well, actually I don't think so.

NGUYEN: OK.

SCHNEIDER: At this point right now we're expecting it to remain a 4, coming on shore with winds at 140 m.p.h. In order to be a Category 5, those winds would have to get up to 155 m.p.h. And at this point we don't expect that to occur.

NGUYEN: Well, let's hope that doesn't occur. Bonnie Schneider, thank you.

As the crow flies Gulf Shores, Alabama is only 55 miles from Pensacola, Florida ad about 15 miles from Mobile, Alabama. This is the strip of coastline along the northeastern Gulf that is expected to bear the brunt of Dennis' wrath. Avery Davison of CNN affiliate WAFB is in Gulf Shores tonight and files this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AVERY DAVISON, REPORTER, WAFB (voice over): As the sun sets behind tropical clouds the streets of Orange Beach, Alabama, are deserted.

PHAROAH GRIMES, GULF SHORES RESIDENT: Just about everybody is gone.

DAVISON: Everybody but Pharoah Grimes. He's going all around this ghost town turning off natural gas valves that broke open during Hurricane Ivan.

GRIMES: Loss of a good bit of gas because the system wasn't completely isolated. So we were learned a lesson from that and doing it a different way this time.

DAVISON: They're piping out music for no one to hear at Hazel's Seafood Restaurant on the beach. The front door is 255 miles from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But no one is walking through on what should have been the busiest weekend of the year.

WHITT GOLDSMITH, GULF SHORES RESIDENT: It hurts all the businesses. It hurts me. It hurts all of us. We'll survive it though.

DAVISON: Former Baton Rouge resident Whitt Goldsmith says, after Ivan, his parking lot looked like a war zone. He thinks it will again.

GOLDSMITH: Everybody thought we had a 100-year hurricane last year. And here nine months later we're having another 100-year hurricane that's coming in on us tonight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: I want to show you some pictures now from Punta Gorda, Florida. Give you a look at what people there are seeing as Hurricane Dennis comes ashore. This is from Susan. Here's a look at some of the rain and wind. You can see the trees blowing in the background, that has already come into Punta Gorda. And some of the debris that is in the roadway, along with some of the water.

Now this is a little bit different. You don't see the water but you do see the sand, which is an indication that the wind has been picking up there; blowing things all across the roadways, including this sand that you see.

I think we have one more to show you this morning. This is also from Susan, the last one was from Joni (ph). But they're all from Punta Gorda, Florida. And you can see some flooding over the roadways there. Of course, we're going to see a lot more of that throughout the morning as we track Hurricane Dennis, now a Category 4 hurricane. You want to stay with CNN because we will give you up-to-the-minute information on where Dennis is and where Dennis is heading.

So, how is Hurricane Dennis affecting your area? Send us your photos and video to CNN.com/hurricane. But we do want to caution you, please, don't do anything risky to shoot these photos. We want to make sure we get them, but we also want to make sure that you are safe. Send them to CNN.com/hurricane. We'll put them on the air. Well, are they committed journalists? Or should they be committed? Maybe it's a bit of both for reporters who enter the eye of the hurricane. Our Anderson Cooper has done his share of the dangerous duty. And he will look back on some stormy moments when we return.

CNN is your hurricane headquarters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Let's give you a quick check right now on Hurricane Dennis. It is now a Category 4 storm. Winds have strengthened to 135 m.p.h. and could reach 145 m.p.h. soon. Dennis' path has moved slightly to the west, now that could put landfall closer to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Emergency Management officials say more than half a million people have evacuated southern Alabama already.

The storm glanced the Florida Keys yesterday, but officials say the area sustained little damage. On the Gulf Coast and Panama City, the mayor says 90 percent of residents have cleared out. That's good news. Dennis has already, though, killed 10 people in eastern Cuba. Reports from Haiti say as many as 22 people were killed in Dennis.

Now for journalists, covering a hurricane is sometimes like being on the front lines in a war zone. Here's a behind the scenes look from CNN's Anderson Cooper who covered Hurricane Ivan last year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Standing out in the middle of a hurricane is not the most sensible thing to do. The winds can easily knock you over, and debris is flying through the air.

The objective is to stay on the air as long as you can. To do that CNN relies on a team of professionals who have covered dozens of storms. True, they are a little bit crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, SINGING: We have news on Sheryl.

COOPER: During Hurricane Ivan they tied a rope to my leg to try to keep me secure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. I'm serious I'm going to pull him out of there, because he can't sit out there.

COOPER (on camera): It's the glamour of this job that I love.

(voice over): It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) too many facts.

COOPER (voice over): Easy to be taken by it's power and its strength.

(on camera): It's really almost difficult to stand at times. You really have to push yourself into the wind.

(voice over): But the truth is, the hardest part of covering a hurricane isn't standing out in the storm. The hard part is covering what the storm leaves behind.

When the wind has died down and the sun returns, you see the devastation.

(on camera): I see a bicycle over here, a candle untouched here.

(voice over): Homes shredded like cardboard. Lives lost, lives forever changed. That, of course, is the true measure of a hurricane's power. And in the face of that power, we seem very small indeed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: And people are still trying to recover from Ivan. Some of the same people are bracing themselves now for Dennis.

Well, traffic on roadways away from the Mississippi coast is thick as people rush away from the impending storm. We are going live to Gulf Port in less than 10 minutes to check on hurricane preparations there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: It is now a massive category four storm. Dennis is just hours from landfall. Bonnie Scheider will have the full forecast in just a moment. But first, we want to check on some of these other headlines making news this morning.

A suicide bomber has killed 22 people and wounded more than 30 in Iraq. Iraqi security sources say the bombing happened at an army recruiting center in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, evacuation orders have been lifted in Britain's second largest city of Birmingham. Police evacuated thousands of people from the city yesterday after receiving an intelligence threat. They found a suspicious package but later determined it was not what they called a credible explosive device.

There has been a breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear standoff. North Korea has agreed to return to six nation talks on its nuclear weapons program this month. Now the news came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Beijing, China. Efforts to restart the stalled nuclear talks were at the top of her agenda.

And space shuttle Discovery's seven astronauts are ready to go. They arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Saturday as NASA prepared to start the countdown for Wednesday's liftoff. It will be the first shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia disaster.

Do want to remind you that CNN is your hurricane headquarters and we have updates for you on the storm every 15 minutes. It's time now to check in with CNN Meteorologist Bonnie Scheider who's tracking the storm into the wee hours.

Where is Dennis right now, Bonnie?

(WEATHER REPORT)

NGUYEN: In Mississippi, thousands are fleeing the low-lying areas as the hurricane is expected to make landfall somewhere along the coast of the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, or Mississippi. So a large area there. CNN's Peter Viles is in Gulf Port, Mississippi, with the latest on the situation there.

How is the weather right now, Peter?

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, you can't feel Dennis in the weather at all. The weather here is fine, as it is a little bit east of here in Biloxi, but you're starting to feel the sense of urgency. They didn't order evacuations here until late yesterday afternoon. And they just evacuated at 5:00 yesterday the low-lying areas. Then at 8:00, as that storm started to gain strength and speed and size in the Gulf, they increased the evacuation orders to cover most of the three southern most counties in Mississippi.

And just to stress how important that is, they're saying here in Harrison, which is Biloxi and Gulf Port, that this mandatory evacuation order "is a matter of life or death." So they're really trying to get people's attention. And as far as we can tell, they have got people's attention. They shut down the casinos. This is a very heavy gaming area. They shut down the casinos at midnight and they're telling people they need them out of this part of Mississippi by 6:00 in the morning.

No evidence here that we've got bad traffic jams or anything like that. And they have a pretty elaborate evacuation plan to make sure not everybody takes the same route. We're told that seven shelters have opened here in Harrison Country and there are about 500 people in those shelters already.

And just to give you an idea of where we are. We're 60 miles west of Mobile, 110 miles west of Pensacola. So all day yesterday people were hearing about a category one or a category two that was going to hit Pensacola or perhaps Mobile. Then, as the storm strengthened in its path, it became a little less clear and people were saying, gees, I heard it just took a jog to the west. None of this confirmed by our CNN people but the kind of thing you hear talking to people here, the sense of urgency on the ground here in Mississippi really has increased in the past six or eight hours.

Betty.

NGUYEN: Especially with the evacuations coming so late, is there some fear that people are not getting word or maybe some are just waiting till daylight before they evacuate?

VILES: I don't sense any fear that the order didn't come soon enough. And when they gave it at about 5:00 yesterday afternoon, they said you have to be out by 6:00 Sunday morning. So that gave people 13 hours. And that original evacuation order only covered a thin strip of costal Mississippi. They have since expanded it and they're essentially telling everybody in these southern most counties, you need to get north and you need to get north pretty quickly.

But I would stress something the governor of Alabama was saying last night on CNN, don't wait till mid morning. Don't wait till the weather gets bad. If you're going to leave, now is the time to leave.

NGUYEN: Right. And because in the beginning they weren't expecting these hurricane force winds, correct?

VILES: Originally the forecast for this area was tropical storm strength winds, that they wouldn't get the hurricane winds. But this hurricane is so big that it's possible if it hits east of Mobile that we will get hurricane strength this far east. If there are 40 miles of hurricane strength winds on either side of the eye and the storm hits east of Mobile, we could get some hurricane strength winds here. Still not in the forecast but possible.

NGUYEN: Yes, you've got to be prepared for everything.

Peter Viles, thank you.

We also want to talk more about the emergency situation in Mississippi. Vincent Creel is public affairs manager for the city of Biloxi. He is live on the phone.

Vincent, the first thing I want to talk to you about is, what are you urging residents to do right now, especially for those who haven't evacuated?

VINCENT CREEL, BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Well, that was the first thing that the mayor was stressing earlier this week, is that people not become complacent. And then when we saw it go to a category one, we had the fear that that was going to happen. And, frankly, that's when he started making a few phone calls and prompting some of the things that we're seeing happen now.

So these casinos and resorts that you all are referring to that we have along the waterfront, that's very important because we needed to shut those down because that's a four hour process. They don't just shut down right away. We're a city of 55,000 residents here in Biloxi and probably about 200,000 along certain areas of the Gulf Coast and we've had so many newcomers move into the area in the past 10 or 15 years that we've tried to work real hard to educate people about the threat that we face from the storms and flooding.

You all mentioned the category five storm a little while ago, if it was to rise that high. You know, it's going to be 36 years next month that Hurricane Camail pretty much demolished Biloxi in the Gulf Coast. So a lot of our long-time residents, they're aware of the threat we face. But some also feel like, well, I made it through Camail, so I can make it through anything and that's just an attitude that we strongly advise that you need to respect the power of these storms and we're asking them to just think about where they're going to go and have that storm plan. And then whenever we put things in motion yesterday, that's when we wanted them to make that move and get on the road and head north or head west.

NGUYEN: Well, where can they go? Do you have shelters set up for them?

CREEL: There are shelters set up here in Harrison County. There are two here in Biloxi. And they've set up another shelter earlier this evening. And they're asking people, though, primarily to consider visiting friends or relatives in northern parts or western parts away from here.

NGUYEN: So just go ahead and evacuate the area completely is what you're hoping?

CREEL: Right. Right. Right. The county emergency medial - or, excuse me, emergency response folks are saying that it would be best to look at the shelter as your last resort.

NGUYEN: And are you seeing people heading to that warning? Are you seeing people hit the roadways and head out of the area?

CREEL: We are. We are. And it was so good that they were able to watch these reports and - we just knew this thing was going to intensify. One thing that really caught the mayor's attention and it really just amplified it as time went on, was one of the forecast, one of the models was showing a direct hit to Gulf Port. So you're looking at this to where you've got one forecast said it's going to Mobile Bay, another had it going to Pensacola. He just felt that the threat was so eminent that something needed to be done and we needed to get people moving.

NGUYEN: Yes, it's right there in the cone and you never know where it's exactly going to hit, so you have to be prepared.

Vincent Creel, we appreciate your time. Thank you. And best of luck to you today.

CREEL: Thank you very much.

NGUYEN: Has Hurricane Dennis barrels towards the Gulf Coast, we will meet a family who has decided to wait out the storm in a shelter rather than take their chances at home. That's ahead in just three minutes right here on CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Welcome back.

Hurricane Dennis has spurred evacuations all along the Northern Gulf Coast. Best guess for landfall is from Pensacola, Florida, to Biloxi, Mississippi. Dennis could be blowing at 140 miles an hour by then. Now, mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for nearly 1.5 million people in the low-lying coastal counties. And in those one million evacuations, there are indeed a million personal stories. In our next report we sum up seven of them. It involves one family, their familiar flight, and a little girl's very special friend. Here's Susan Roesgen of CNN affiliate WGNO. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN ROESGEN, WGNO CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): As the rain starts to come down, the straggled in, seven members of the same family, ranging in age from 80 years old to just three months. Like a lot of families in Pensacola, they had planned to ride out the storm at home.

SARAH MILSTADE, GRANDMOTHER: We got scared. My son kept worrying about us and he's, you know, started getting on the phone and saying, get out, get out. We were going to stay, you know.

ROESGEN: This shelter held 1,200 people in Hurricane Ivan and about half that many are here right now. But none cling more tightly to each other than the Milstade family, all seven of them, plus one more in the arms of eight-year-old Ashley.

What do you think about going to the shelter?

ASHLEY MILSTADE: Well, I haven't been to a shelter before, so I get a little scared.

ROESGEN: Did you bring a dolly?

ASHLEY MILSTADE: Yes.

ROESGEN: Does she have a name?

ASHLEY MILSTADE: Yes.

ROESGEN: What's her name?

ASHLEY MILSTADE: Molly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: That was Susan Roesgen of CNN affiliate WGNO.

Well, it is a bad case of deja vu for many Gulf Coast residents. Some of the areas in the path of Hurricane Dennis are still reeling from last year's hurricane season and 2004, as you'll recall, was a doozy. We will take a look back right after this break.

Remember, CNN is your hurricane headquarters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

NGUYEN: As we anticipate the arrival of Dennis, you have to wonder if this year's hurricane season will be anywhere near as devastating as last year's six major hurricanes raked the country in '04, shattering the national average of about five hurricanes every three years. We have a report here from Meteorologist Chad Myers. Now it was filed last year when we were still stinging from that dreadful summer. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Without a doubt, wild, wicket weather defines the 2004 hurricane season. With 14 named storms and six major hurricanes, this has been one of the most intense and deadly seasons on record.

But why was this year so extreme? Scientists found that several factors for the blame for creating the perfect storm season. They say warm Atlantic Ocean, low wind shear and irregular rainfall patterns, combined with powerful currents, steered a record number of storms toward land.

Experts say that coastal residents should brace themselves. Stormy weather like this may be around for a while. They say the tropics are in a very active phase in this current storm cycle. A climatic condition characterized by more or less severe hurricane seasons. And this one packed a punch.

PHILIP KLOTZBACH, RESEARCHER, COLORADO ST. UNIV.: It looks in general that probably the next 10 to 15 years, most of them are probably going to be active years.

MYERS: Although experts admit, they don't have all the answers. Researchers at Colorado State University have worked for over two decades to fine-tune the science of storm forecasting. They compare historic storm data, sea surface temperatures and other records to current data and try to predict how long a cycle will last and how busy a storm season will be. They found that the 19 named storms that defined the 1995 Atlantic hurricane season whipped through the warmest ocean temperatures on record. That hot event was the start of a very active phase in the current storm cycle, marked by stronger, longer and more frequent storms than decades past.

KLOTZBACH: The seasons have tended to be fairly accurate since 1995. The activity this year was somewhat even above that.

MYERS: Florida was the first state in over a century to be hit by four hurricanes in one season. Scientists say they've never seen so many storms hit the same place, so fast in recorded history. They blame the high hurricane activity and irregular wind currents for sending so many storms to the state. And this storm season broke records. Ivan became the longest lasting major hurricane in over a century. It stayed active for 22 days. Hurricane Francis caused the largest evacuation in Florida history with over 3 million forced to flee. And with over $20 billion insured losses so far, 2004 stands to be the most expensive hurricane season in U.S. history.

Chad Myers, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: And those are memories people don't want to relive with Hurricane Dennis. But coming up in the next hour special, the live coverage right here on CNN of Hurricane Dennis. We will talk with a man who rode out Hurricane Ivan last year and now he plans to ride out Dennis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Let's give you a quick check on the latest we have on Hurricane Dennis. It is now a dangerous category four storm. About 200 miles south of Panama City. Category four puts winds at between 131 and 155 miles per hour. Dennis' path has moved slightly to the west, putting landfall closer to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Emergency management officials say, more than half a million people have evacuated to Southern Alabama. Now the storm glanced the Florida Keys yesterday but officials say the area suffered little damage and there were some power outages to report.

In Panama City, the mayor says 90 percent of residents did follow evacuation orders. Dennis has already killed 10 people in Eastern Cuba. Reports from Haiti say as many as 22 people were killed there.

So, how is Hurricane Dennis affecting your area? Send us your photos and video to cnn.com/hurricane. But make sure that when you get these photos, these pictures, do not put yourself at risk in any way. We want to see them but not at the risk of your safety. Send them though to cnn.com/hurricane when and if you do get them.

Despite the danger, some people always choose to ride out the storm. And right now, though, we're going to show you some pictures - I guess that's what we were putting up there, of some of the pictures that have been sent in to us from people taking them. This is from Susan in Punta Gorda, Florida. You can see the flooding in the area from Hurricane Dennis which hasn't even made landfall just yet but the outer band, many of the areas that are felling the effects are showing a lot of it.

This is from Joni in Florida where you can see the skies are gray, the beach is abandoned, which is good news here because people are heading the warnings and getting out of the area. Many people are headed to shelters and evacuating.

And this is from Chris from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. You can see some winds there knocked over parts of a tree, which landed, unfortunately, on two cars. We're going to see a lot of wind damage, a lot of flooding in the hours to come as Hurricane Dennis washes ashore. So you'll want to stay with CNN for that. We are going to be following it all day long.

And despite the danger, some people always choose to ride out the storm, as I mentioned earlier. But at least some of them seek the relative safety of a shelter. And coming up next hour, we will talk with a shelter manager in Mobile, Alabama.

The winds of what was a category three hurricane have now strengthened. Just over two hours ago Dennis was reclassified as a powerful category four hurricane.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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