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Hurricane Dennis Bears Down on Gulf Coast

Aired July 10, 2005 - 04:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This barn was erected in 1951. It stood for more than 50 years. It came down about four or five seconds today.
GOV. JEB BUSH, (R) FL: My prayers and thoughts go to the folks of northwest Florida, particularly, that were hit last summer by Hurricane Ivan and now are preparing for a storm that may have similar type of power and destruction.


ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: It is dangerous, deadly and heading straight for the U.S. Gulf Coast. Hurricane Dennis is a Category IV storm and will make landfall later today.

Good morning, everybody, I am Betty Nguyen from the CNN Center in Atlanta. Live and on the scene, CNN is your hurricane headquarters all day long until the storm hits and even after it hits.

Dennis strengthened into a Category IV hurricane around 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time, packing top sustained winds of 145 miles an hour. Dennis is heading for the northern Gulf Coast after cutting a deadly path through the Caribbean. Thirty-two people have been killed in Haiti and Cuba combined. Meantime, many Gulf Coast residents are heading for safety. Authorities have ordered a million people to leave the beaches and there are also fears that the hurricane's outer edges will spawn tornadoes. Tornado watches are up right now for the Florida Panhandle, southeast Alabama and southern Georgia. They are in effect until 8:00 Eastern.

And a reminder. You'll want to stay tuned to CNN all day long for the latest on Hurricane Dennis. Right now, though, let's go straight to meteorologist Bonnie Schneider in the hurricane headquarters with the latest on where Dennis is and how powerful Dennis has become.

We have just been so amazed. This storm went from a category one to a Category IV, now it's close to a category five, Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I wouldn't say quite a category five or close to it yet. We don't want to alarm everyone too much ...

NGUYEN: But it's 145 miles per hour. Category five is only 155.

SCHNEIDER: Right. But I don't think in the time allotted we're going to get that strong but it is certainly very strong. You know, when you talk about a Category IV, you are talking about what is known as an extreme hurricane, a major hurricane and that is what we are seeing as well.

Right now the intensity is so strong the winds are at 145 miles per hour and the National Hurricane Center is saying that they are likely to see some fluctuation in strength, but when you look at the official forecast track, it still brings the storm in as a Category IV, with 140 mile per hour sustained winds.

So it's still a very strong storm, a powerful storm, a storm like none other that's been seen here in quite a long time to come.

Let's take a look at the tornado watch. I want to talk about that. That's a real problem when you have an approaching tropical system, even if it was a tropical storm. We saw that a couple weeks ago when we had Arlene come through that the tropical storm did produce some tornadoes.

Well, a hurricane, obviously, more expansive, more strong, so we could see some tornadoes break out. That does occur, as the storm comes in we see a wind shift, a quick wind shift that occurs on land and eventually some of that tornadic activity develop and it could pop up anywhere you see here in the vicinity of this box for you.

And we'll just take another look for you. We're seeing some heavy downpours of rain. This is the area where we are thinking the storm is most likely to strike, somewhere along the Panhandle of Florida, along the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Mississippi. We saw this area most of the night tonight pretty calm. The wind hasn't been too bad and the rain has been light to moderate, but as you can see now, we're seeing some of the heavier rain come on in, especially in southern Georgia, which is interesting, north of the area where the hurricane is likely to strike, but still, we are getting some downpours of wind and some rain certainly coming through with this powerful Category IV storm with maximum winds at 145 miles per hour.

Landfall, again, is expected later today in the afternoon and since we are expecting imminent landfall, it's important to note these hurricane safety tips.

When a storm approaches monitor your NOAA Weather Radio and make sure you have batteries for it. Power outages are likely to occur with a powerful storm like this. Listen to local authorities and don't forget, as always, evacuate if ordered.

This is not the type of thing where you want to be brave or be a martyr to try to wait it out. If you are told to evacuate, you must do that. Storm surge is going to be a major problem with this storm because we are expecting storm surge up to 18 feet and Betty, it means low-lying areas -- it doesn't even take that much to cause major flooding.

NGUYEN: Good advice, there, because we've already spoken with one gentleman today who says he is just going to wait it out at home so ... SCHNEIDER: Not a good idea.

NGUYEN: We wish them the best of luck. Thank you, Bonnie.

People in southern Alabama are bracing for Hurricane Dennis. We want to go straight now to Dauphin Island in Southern Mobile Bay, where Erica Fox from CNN affiliate WALA has the latest on the storm preparations there. Good morning, Erica.

ERICA FOX, WALA CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well listen, the wind is really certainly starting to kick up. Earlier in the evening it was very, very calm here in Dauphin Island. You couldn't even tell that a hurricane was churning in the Gulf, that now the wind is kicking up and so is the sand.

Actually, let's go ahead and measure the wind right now. Measuring right now at about, let's see, 16, 17 miles per hour. A little while ago I was measuring 25 miles per hour. It kind of jumps there. It goes to 24 right now. So it's kind of sporadic, the wind is.

Let's go ahead and take a look behind me at the Gulf. You can see the waves starting to kick up a little bit there, getting bigger and bigger as the night wears on.

Now, earlier today it was really, really calm out there in the Gulf, very, very peaceful. But you can see the waves are starting to get bigger and bigger and of course that's going to happen as the morning wears on.

Now, I want you to look to the right and I've got a spotlight here that I can point and you can see there are some homes down there and if you'll notice, what you're not seeing, you're not seeing sand dunes and unfortunately a lot of this island was devastated by Hurricane Ivan just 10 months ago. It ruined those sand dunes, which unfortunately were there to protect the homes. They are not there anymore. Now, most folks have evacuated. In fact, this area is under a mandatory evacuation and that affects half a million people. That includes folks in Mobile County, Baldwin County, Pensacola Beach areas that were devastated by Ivan and most have in fact left.

Now, there are a few I talked to earlier tonight still staying in Dauphin Island. They are saying they are going to make a decision in the morning whether or not to go and I think it looks like the best decision is to go ahead and go, looking at the strength of this storm.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. And considering what Dauphin Island experienced last year with Ivan, which was a Category III, just a reminder, much of the island was covered in approximately two feet of water. In fact, one of the state roads there was washed out, limiting access to Dauphin Island. In fact, it was only accessible by helicopter so -- with this being a Category IV, are you worried that you are going to see a lot of the same kind of damage this time around?

FOX: Absolutely. And you know, a lot of these structures have been really damaged by Ivan and now they're just even more vulnerable with Dennis coming in. A lot of folks really concerned that these places could collapse and you know, you talk about the roads being covered over, we in fact were just stopped by a police officer a couple of minutes ago. He said we need to keep an eye on the road here, coming into Dauphin Island ourselves because it easily could get water over it and then folks would just be stuck, so we're going to keep a close eye on that. We don't want that to happen.

NGUYEN: Yeah. The key is to evacuate. Erica Fox with affiliate WALA. Thank you.

Well, we don't yet know whether Gulfport, Mississippi will take a direct hit from Hurricane Dennis, but at this point anything is possible. So, residents of Mississippi's low-lying coastal counties were ordered to evacuate and joining us live from Gulfport is Steve Delahousey, director of the Harrison County Emergency Management Agency to talk to us about the situation. Are people going to shelters? Are they evacuating? Is that what you're seeing so far today?

STEVE DELAHOUSEY, HARRISON COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (on phone): Yes. We've recommended 100, about 150,000 people evacuate from Harrison County and so far we have about -- shelters, we have seven shelters open and we have about 1,000 evacuees in the shelters and they're arriving very rapidly, we think, as the morning wears on, daylight approaches.

We'll probably get more people in the shelters.

NGUYEN: How are you preparing for this Category IV storm?

DELAHOUSEY: Well, we've got a 33 percent probability at this point and we're planning for the worst and ordered the evacuations yesterday and got shelters open and handling special needs patients, relocating those people and asking everyone to ensure that their hurricane preparations are in place by 6:00 a.m. We should be receiving tropical storm force winds somewhere in mid morning on this Sunday.

NGUYEN: For people who have decided to ride it out at home, what kind of help is available to them? Are you going to have people patrolling the streets or are they pretty much on their own once the storm hits?

DELAHOUSEY: Well, we will to the limit that we can. When we get high winds, of course, they're not accessible. We are fortunate we have a big military presence down here with the Navy Seabees and Keesler Air Force Base and the Seabees especially do have heavy equipment and we have a large National Guard contingent that is in place.

Governor, of course, declaring a state of emergency, made those resources accessible to us so we will be able to make limited rescue and recoveries during the storm if conditions are not too treacherous.

NGUYEN: Yeah, the key there is limited, depending on the storm. What kind of damage are you expecting, are you preparing for? Are we looking at power outages, wind damage, what are you really getting ready to see?

DELAHOUSEY: Yeah, we are -- we are not having it yet, but we do expect some power outages. One of the areas, of course, Mississippi is a large gaming area now. The second largest in the nation. We have 13 casinos here. Our casinos were all ordered shut down around midnight. It's dockside gaming, all of the casinos are on the waterfront and that could be devastating to the economy.

NGUYEN: But, you know, coming off of Ivan last year, which was a powerful Category III, caused a lot of damage, $13 billion in damage. What have you learned from Ivan that will help you as Dennis comes ashore?

DELHOUSEY: Well, you know, Ivan, a little bit different in that it was expected to take a jog to the east. This one is still coming right on -- the forecast predictions are right on so far. We've learned not as much from Ivan but way back in Camille in 1969, a category five hurricane, we took a direct hit and in Frederick and Elena, people are still, I think, very cognizant of the dangers of these storms and they have for the most part evacuated the low-lying areas and as much as possible have sought refuge elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this storm is going to cause hurricane force winds in our northern counties, not as much on the coast as Meridian and areas like that in Mississippi as well, so they'll be receiving some damage, also.

NGUYEN: All right. Steve Delahousey with Harrison County Emergency Management. We appreciate your time and your information and best of luck to you. Stay safe.

DELAHOUSEY: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Well, if you are in the path of the storm you are seeing something others frankly want to see.

Here is your chance to share. Send us your pictures of Hurricane Dennis to but we want you to share your point of view as a citizen journalist to the world but we don't want you to be in harm's way because of it, so use caution. If you can get some interesting photos, do send them but do not put your safety at risk.

Also, we want to take a look back at some of the coverage of another storm just 10 months ago that devastated the Gulf Coastline. Hurricane Ivan hit on September 16th, 2004.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (video clip): The wind is gusting stronger and stronger. For the last several hours we had sort of the lulls between these gusts. We're in a gust right now. We'll get a lull in a little bit as the outer bands of the storm sort of wash over downtown Mobile, Alabama. But what's interesting, as this storm approaches, and it is approaching fast, about 12 to 13 miles an hour, as the storm approaches, the lulls in between those gusts get shorter and shorter and after a while, we anticipate in a few hours it is just going to be -- every -- all the wind is just going to feel like gust after gust.


NGUYEN: If you're just waking up with us, folks along they U.S. Gulf Coast are watching and waiting. Hurricane Dennis is a Category IV storm. That means it's more powerful than Hurricane Ivan that struck last September and CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider is tracking Dennis in the CNN hurricane headquarters. She joins us now with the latest on Dennis, which is a powerful and very deadly storm, Bonnie.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. It has a history of being deadly while it was down in the Caribbean and moved across Cuba and this storm has only gotten stronger. A Category IV storm with maximum sustained winds at 145 miles per hour.

Literally, we have been watching this hour by hour, minute by minute and constantly new information, reconnaissance aircraft flying in and they give us the latest information and we bring it to you as soon as we get it and we'll have another advisory coming up about 5:00 a.m. and give you the latest then but in the meantime it is a Category IV storm, an expansive storm where you have tropical storm force winds that extend outward 230 miles around the center of circulation which is very evident on this graphic here, right there, and hurricane force winds right now extend 40 miles per hour around this center of circulation.

Hurricane force winds means winds over 74 miles per hour or greater, but with a Category IV storm we could be talking about winds that are 110, 120 miles per hour near the storm center.

So it's going to be very strong, indeed, as the system gets closer and closer to making landfall, which is expected later on today. In the meantime, tornadoes are often a byproduct when a hurricane comes onshore. Or even before it comes onshore because this storm is so big and so expansive, we might see tornadoes break out before we even see the landfall.

We had some Doppler indicated tornadoes earlier this evening and now you can see we are getting those heavy rain bands that are coming in and moving across Gainesville, Florida, back across the Panhandle of Florida, as well and interestingly enough, some of the better weather we have seen has been on the Panhandle. We haven't seen really that much wind and rain yet. It's going to get much worse.

Not to say that it's certainly a nice evening there. It's not. We're getting plenty of rain coming through but things will definitely go from not so great to much worse as the storm approaches and as landfall comes in and it's really important to know exactly where the storm will hit because the northeast corner, the quadrant of the storm is really where we're going to see the worst weather. It's where we're going to see the worst storm surge as well and remember, the hurricane kind of acts as kind of almost like a spoon in the ocean. Stirring things up, stirring things up, and then it brings in that big bubble of water and we're likely to see storm surge with this system pretty high, up to 18 feet, even, with a Category IV storm. You can certainly see storm surge like that. There it is. Thirteen to 18 feet. Now one thing to note, since the storm has been upgraded from a Category III to a Category IV, one of the biggest things to note is the damage a Category IV can do. These are very strong winds, the type of winds that you could barely stand up if you are faced with them head on.

That's why it's advised certainly to evacuate if you've been told to, and if not, then you want to seek higher ground, you want to make sure you are in a safe place because we could see flooding six miles inland, so it's real important to keep these safety tips in mind.

As far as landfall goes, we're expecting it to occur later today in the afternoon. There is still a fluctuation in where exactly it will strike, somewhere long the Florida border with Alabama, further out, possibly towards Mississippi but in this vicinity, when the storm strikes, we may see some fluctuations and strength according to the hurricane center, but winds are likely to be around 140 miles per hour, a very powerful storm, a storm that this region really has not seen in quite some time. Ivan came in as a Category III and that was still so powerful, so this is going to be worse and it's going to come in on Sunday afternoon, a Category IV hurricane. The best thing to do is keep that NOAA Weather Radio going and make sure you have batteries and water and we're likely to see a lot of power outages as well.

So Betty, a Category IV, very, very strong indeed. We can even see roofs collapse and structural collapses, as well.

NGUYEN: And the power of it is noted there on your map, where it shows that even by 8:00 p.m. on Monday, you're still going to feel the affects of this ...


NGUYEN: It comes ashore later today.

SCHNEIDER: Flooding inland all the way into next week's commute. That's what we're going to be talking about.

NGUYEN: Okay, Bonnie, we will be checking back in with you at 4:30 Eastern Time. So, see you then.


NGUYEN: So, how is Hurricane Dennis affecting your area? Send us your photos and video to, but we do want to give you a word of caution. Don't do anything risky to shoot these shots. Your safety, of course, is most important.

Time now, though, to look at some of the pictures you have already sent in. This one from Susan in Punta Gorda, which got slammed as you recall, by Hurricane Ivan last year. That Category III storm killed 56 people in the U.S. but in this picture so far Dennis is causing just some minor flooding.

Also, in Florida, you can see the sand which is blown across the roadway, just giving you an idea of the winds that Dennis is packing with it. It hasn't even come ashore yet.

And this last photo is from a restaurant owner who can't help but share some of his thoughts about Dennis hitting in the height of tourism season. You see that sign right there. All he has to say to Dennis is "up yours," and I'm sure we'll see lots more of these signs as we get pictures of Dennis and its aftermath.

Well, thousands of evacuees have poured out of Mississippi's three coastal counties, fleeing the threat of Hurricane Dennis. Peter Viles has a live update from Gulfport, coming up.


NGUYEN: As people in Florida brace for Hurricane Dennis, they're still living with the memories of last year's heavy storm season and they're living at homes that still bear the scars.

CNN's personal finance editor Gerri Willis talked to some of those homeowners last year. Here's that report.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Over here, this, the big tree stump that you see here, is the one that fell on to this ...

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Put a hole in the roof, right?


WILLIS (voice-over): This is what the aftermath of the season of hurricanes looks like for Jeannette Henry, a Kissimmee, Florida resident. And she's not alone. Up and down her street, homes are being fixed, roofs patched, as the debris of four storms continues to pile up.

Across Florida, one in five homes were damaged by the hurricanes.

The quartet of storms that socked the state had the biggest economic impact in any season since Hurricane Andrew mauled Dade County in 1992. This year's damage total? $20 billion and counting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the hurricanes hit, we weren't prepared for what we were going to pay out of pocket.

WILLIS: After Andrew, however, insurers knew exactly how bad things could get. In the wake of that terrible storm that shut down 11 underwriters, state legislatures reformed rules to keep the industry solvent. A catastrophe fund was started, building codes were strengthened, and insurers were allowed to charge new, higher deductibles of as much as two to five percent of a home's value per storm.

Insurance Information Institute economist Bob Hartwig says the reforms following Andrew were every bit necessary.

BOB HARTWIG, INSURANCE INFORMATION INSTITUTE: We'll need to continue to make changes to the Florida market going forward. To put things in perspective, Hurricane Andrew wiped out every dime of profit insurers had ever made in the history of Florida.

WILLIS: Even so, the fairness of those reforms are being questioned now by those who say they shifted the financial burden on to homeowners.

TOM GALLAGHER, FLORIDA'S CFO: These high multiple deductibles will not work. Those people cannot afford it and they can't rebuild their homes and banks are going to have to foreclose mortgages if people can't get insurance.

WILLIS: Tom Gallagher, who oversees Florida's insurance industry and others, are considering changing the law in Florida to limit deductibles to one per season. In most cases, the state successfully negotiated an end to multiple deductibles this year. Another reform on the way? Making those deductibles cheaper for those willing to pay higher premiums.

But the changes may come too late for Jeanette (ph), who is still picking up the pieces from the damage of three storms that hit her house. More than likely, she'll continue paying for the hurricane for the rest of her life. She is using a 30 year federal loan to bankroll the cost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm afraid that I may spend some of the money for something that they don't want me to and that I'll end up in jail for it. This has really been a nightmare.

WILLIS: Gerri Willis, CNN, Kissimmee, Florida.



NGUYEN: Good morning from CNN headquarters in Atlanta, your hurricane headquarters. I'm Betty Nguyen. Hurricane Dennis is now a Category IV storm and is nearing the Gulf Coast of the United States.

As mentioned, CNN is your hurricane headquarters and will continue to be throughout this storm. We are going to have updates every 15 minutes, and speaking of, time now to check in with CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider in the CNN Weather Center. She has been tracking the storm all morning long, a storm that has become very powerful, Bonnie.

SCHNEIDER: You know, it's true, and Betty, tracking the storm all morning long, we have really seen it all. We have seen the storm as a category one last night. Then we saw it Category III today, back to a Category IV and then just when we thought it was pretty much said and done until landfall the storm strengthened and we've got winds now, maximum winds, 145 miles per hour. This is a strong Category IV, not just a Category IV, but a strong one.

Once you start seeing winds over 155 miles per hour, you're talking about a category five. So when you're looking at the Saffir- Simpson scale, this hurricane right here, we're considered an extreme and major hurricane where we can see major, major damage and one of the problems, of course, will be storm surge with this storm, especially here in the northeast section of the storm as it works its way onshore later today, somewhere in the vicinity of the Panhandle of Florida towards Alabama, but it's difficult to say exactly where it is headed at this point, but one thing we can tell you, there's a tornado watch in effect for parts of Florida, parts of Georgia and parts of Alabama. Tornadoes are often a byproduct of tropical systems as they come on shore or even as they approach the shoreline and we have shifting winds and a very ripe atmosphere for it and this storm really has taken advantage of that warm water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Water temperatures into the mid-eighties right now and that's just adding fuel to the fire, so we may even see some fluctuations in strength as the storm works its way further to the north and west. The movement right now is at about 14 miles per hour at present, so let's check things out for you on the track and we can show you what we're looking at.

Basically, landfall is expected later this afternoon. By tonight the storm will have made landfall. That's according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Now notice, when it comes on, it is still a Category IV. The winds are likely maybe to die down just a bit to 140 miles per hour but we're still talking about a major hurricane here and we'll continue to see that. So the maximum sustained winds at present, as I mentioned, 145 miles per hour. Just to also let you know that once we see landfall later this afternoon or even later tonight you may want to take a big sigh of relief that it's over if not.

This storm is so large and so intense that even after it makes landfall it is likely to remain a hurricane, a hurricane even into tomorrow morning as it works its way further to the north and to the west. A lot of times we see these storms as you did with Ivan kind of move to the northeast and eventually bring rain to this part of the country. I think this storm, no not the case. We'll see the track move further north and west so we'll talk about rain for places like Memphis, Little Rock, up towards Illinois.

Later on, I'd say into Tuesday, because a lot of moisture is associated with this. So by 8:00 Monday this is still a hurricane. Unbelievable. What a powerful hurricane it is indeed.

And because it is so powerful, it is important to stay safe in times like this so you really want to make sure in a Category IV storm that you take all the proper precautions because widespread structural damage is expected. We're talking about a lot of damage here. We could see roofs ripped off of homes, mobile homes can be destroyed in a Category IV storm, and literally trees, large heavy trees that can be uprooted. That's how powerful the winds are. Storm surge will be a major concern, especially because of where this storm is likely to strike along the Gulf Coast.

The water is shallow and that's a major problem when you talk about low lying areas, where you tend to see flooding, especially along the Gulf Coast, so massive evacuations, of course, are going to be followed and that's why we want to just keep you up to date with safety concerns. If you have a NOAA Weather Radio, make sure you have batteries for it because we are likely to see a lot of power outages. Listen to your local authorities for any instructions and of course, as always, evacuate if ordered.

And many locations as of recently have been ordered to evacuate as this storm has really intensified in the past 12 hours. We've seen upgrades, upgrades, and wind. Let's hope it doesn't get any stronger. At this point already a major hurricane making landfall with the U.S. somewhere along the Gulf Coast in the vicinity of Alabama, Mississippi, or maybe the Panhandle of Florida, likely to occur today.


NGUYEN: What some people are calling a monster storm, Bonnie.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

NGUYEN: We'll be talking -- we'll be checking in with you -- talking with you at 4:45 so, see you then.


NGUYEN: Thousands of people are evacuating low-lying areas of Mississippi because Dennis is expected to make landfall somewhere, as Bonnie mentioned, along the coast of the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, or Mississippi. So let's go live, now, to CNN's Peter Viles in Gulfport, Mississippi, with the situation there. Peter, are you feeling a sense of urgency as Dennis heads inland?

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Definitely feeling the urgency. Not really feeling the wind yet. Just sort of a gentle wind here but feeling the urgency. This is one of those areas that is more recently evacuated. The evacuation order here just came about 11 hours ago as the storm picked up strength in the Gulf and didn't turn to the north as some thought it would, it continued on a northwesterly direction. And as Bonnie said, there are two big concerns here in Mississippi right now. One, the obvious one, is what happens when this storm comes aground with flooding, with storm surge, with high winds, but the second concern, as she pointed out, is the belief is this storm might be so strong it will cut across Alabama in a northwesterly direction and reenter Mississippi, maybe 100, 150 miles north of the coast, so they are concerned about hurricane strength winds in areas so far inland that they have never had a hurricane that far north.

So a couple of big concerns here in Mississippi, Betty.

NGUYEN: It's being shut down there to make sure that residents and people vacationing there get out of the area. Are they forcing some shutdowns?

VILES: Oh yeah, the big business here is casinos along the Gulf Coast and Saturday night is a big night in the casinos and they shut the casinos down yesterday at four o'clock, lost the Saturday night of business to get the people out of the casinos. Also get the employees out of there. The mandatory evacuation isn't in effect until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow -- 6:00 a.m. this morning, rather. About two and a half hours from now.

So the order came yesterday, be out of these low-lying areas by six o'clock Sunday morning, but they did shut down the casinos, which are sort of the economic engine of this portion of Mississippi.

NGUYEN: And you said the deadlines for those evacuations is at six o'clock a.m. We're not so far away from that, so you see people on the runways, heading out of the area?

VILES: Yeah, but there's no real congestion here and they say it's been a very orderly evacuation. It was given early enough that they felt that they could get people out. It was expanded. It was initially just sort of a band along the coast but they have expanded that evacuation and basically said to people in the three southernmost counties of Mississippi, you need to get out of here, you need to get out soon and they've described this as a matter of life or death, this evacuation order, so trying to get that sense of urgency among people here but people here really were shaken by Ivan, even though it didn't hit here, Ivan, and of course they remember Camille. Camille is a legendary storm in this part of the country.

NGUYEN: It sure was and a lot of people still, you know, have those memories close to hand and don't want to relive anything but Dennis is a Category IV so those evacuations in order, hopefully people will heed the warnings.

Peter Viles, thank you for that.

Fort Walton Beach. We are going to talk about that now. It is a low-lying coastal area in Florida's Panhandle. Parts of the area has been under a mandatory evacuation order since yesterday morning and joining me now on the phone is Fort Walton Beach city manager, Joyce Shanahan. We thank you for being with us.

I guess the first question to you is, are people heeding these warnings, are they evacuating, as you've asked them to do?

JOYCE SHANAHAN, FORT WALTON BEACH CITY MANAGER: Yes they have. They started mandatory evacuation in the low-lying areas about 6:00 a.m. yesterday morning. Our shelter in Kenwood is full and we feel like they're heeding the lessons learned from Ivan and people are leaving the area.

NGUYEN: You said one shelter is full. Do you have many shelters open and available to people?

SHANAHAN: Yes, there is a shelter north of us and that is available and we will bus people there if need be.

NGUYEN: Do you feel that you are seeing people in these shelters, you're seeing people evacuate simply because of what was experienced last year with that Category III hurricane called Ivan which did so much damage, $13 billion in damage to the U.S.

SHANAHAN: Absolutely.

NGUYEN: What have people learned from Ivan?

SHANAHAN: They learned that you need to take these storms very, very seriously, that early evacuation is important and it's just not safe to ride it out.

NGUYEN: You know, I can hear a sense of urgency, I can hear a sense of worry in your voice. What is your biggest concern right now?

SHANAHAN: It's those people that choose to stay behind and ride it out and need those emergency calls in the middle of the storm.

NGUYEN: What are you going to be able to do for those people?

SHANAHAN: They are going to have to just sit tight until the storm passes when those high winds are out. It's not safe for anybody to be on the roadway and we'll do what we can for those folks but they'll have to sit tight until that time.

NGUYEN: Because your crews, as well, have to get out of the storm and take shelter just like everybody else.

SHANAHAN: That's correct.

NGUYEN: Okay. And as we prepare for this Category IV, what are you telling people besides evacuating? Are you comforting -- or is there anything in place at these shelters, at these different evacuation points, provide them with that emotional, that emotional cushion or the support that they may need?

SHANAHAN: The Red Cross mans all the shelters here ion the Fort Walton Beach area and they do a great job of providing not only the important shelter issues but the emotional issues as well.

NGUYEN: Okay. Joyce Shanahan at Fort Walton Beach. We appreciate your time and information. City manager there. Thank you. Best of luck to you, stay safe today.

SHANAHAN: Thank you.

NGUYEN: We do have updates on the hurricane's location every 15 minutes. The latest forecast for Hurricane Dennis with CNN's meteorologist Bonnie Schneider when we come back. Plus, we will share some pictures from you, our viewers, witnessing the effects of this Category IV hurricane.

ANNOUNCER: September 5th, 1996. Hurricane Fran howled across North Carolina's Cape Fear. The storm surge from the Category III hurricane devastated coastal areas and Fran's heavy rains generated flooding from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania. The storm's winds damaged homes and buildings from North Carolina to Virginia. When the cost was tallied, Fran did some $3.2 billion in damage.


NGUYEN: This morning, we want to know how Hurricane Dennis is affecting your area. We're asking you to send us your photos and video to but we do want to give you a word of caution. Please, don't do anything risky to get these shots. Your safety, of course, is most important.

But we do want to share with you some of the photos that we have already gotten in to CNN so you can see some of the effects of Hurricane Dennis so far. It slipped by the western coast of Florida. This picture from Bob shows the storm clouds in the background. You can see it looks real gray there, although you don't see any storm damage as of yet in that picture. But in this next picture you can see where wind and rain, yep, did cause some damage in Fort Lauderdale.

Gosh, I hope that car-owner has some insurance because that is not a pretty sight there and we're going to see a lot more of that with Dennis as it comes ashore.

A very powerful storm. Some people calling it a monster storm. It is a Category IV storm with 145 mile per hour winds and we are going to stay on top of it all day long right here at CNN, your hurricane headquarters. We're also going to talk about the dangers of a storm surge and in just a moment with meteorologist Bonnie Schneider, but first let's get an update from Bonnie on where Dennis is at this moment, where it is turning and how fast it is turning.

SCHNEIDER: Still a couple hundred miles away from making landfall right now but what's interesting to note is we have another new advisory for you. It's kind of the preliminary for the five o'clock Eastern Standard Time. Still impressive on our satellite view but I want to just point out what we have to tell you that's brand new. Here it is. We were thinking earlier from the earlier advisory that Hurricane Dennis may lose just a little bit of its strength and drop down to 140 mile per hour winds when it makes landfall later today. According to this information, it still stays right where it is, 145 mile per hour maximum sustained winds, Category IV, when it makes landfall sometime on Sunday afternoon and according to this we are thinking in the mid to late hours of the afternoon actual landfall.

However, please keep in mind this is a very large hurricane, so even before we actually see the eye wall and the center of circulation work its way across the land, we're going to see hurricane conditions for much of the Panhandle of Florida through Gulf sections of Alabama and Mississippi, even parts of Louisiana will see those strong winds and as we were talking about earlier, you will see them even further inland because even on into the early hours tomorrow, even as we work our way into Tuesday we're still seeing a powerful storm that will work its way to the north and west, a little bit more to the north than we thought earlier.

Remember, this cone kind of gets wider as we go into the future because these storms can fluctuate a bit. But landfall is expected today. It is still a Category IV. That has not changed. If anything the storm will stay just as intense as it is right now when it makes landfall later this afternoon.

Looking at our radar picture now, we still have lots of heavy rain to talk about. It's been teeming out there. Across Tampa-St. Pete we still have the thunderstorms coming through. Tallahassee, moderate rain, but it's going to get much more intense. We've got those feeder bands coming through Tallahasee in the next 30 to 45 minutes, I think you'll be getting some even strong downpours, not a good time to be outside, to do any driving. Stay inside if you can and that holds true even for the east coast of Florida back up towards Jacksonville where the thunderstorms have been very, very strong.

And speaking of the rain, as we switch computers you see a little more an idea, you can see that circulation around the center of Hurricane Dennis and storm surge is going to be a major concern with this hurricane, a major concern because landfall is expected in the Gulf Coast. We've got shallow water through here and when you try to imagine what storm surge is like, picture a big pot of water, like as if you were boiling water in your kitchen and then you took a spoon and started stirring the center. Well, naturally, the water would come up higher along the sides, and that's exactly what a hurricane does when it's in the ocean and it works its way towards the landmass.

Not only are we seeing that water build along the sides where the height increases, but imagine that's happening at the same time the whole system is moving forward. So it's a very powerful storm surge maker when you have a Category IV storm that can bring wave heights very, very high. You can see 20 feet waves with this system. And really, the storm surge comes behind the waves. The waves kind of mask the amount of storm surge we can see through here. So storm surge will equal flooding for this area. Strong winds, flooding, possibly the outbreak of tornadoes as well with Hurricane Dennis now a Category IV hurricane.

Remember, Category IV hurricanes mean that we will see that high storm surge but we will also see widespread structural damage. When we had Tropical Storm Arlene a few weeks ago, we were just talking about it wasn't so windy, it wasn't so bad. Not the case this time. Very large trees, those old trees that have been around forever, well, we might see some of those blow down with this storm. Flooding will go to six miles inland. I think much further than that, massive evacuations are certainly required and it's a good idea, as always, during this time of year and especially when a hurricane is imminent, to have your NOAA Weather Radio handy, listen to local authorities, make sure you have batteries and water and evacuate if ordered.

This is a serious storm, a major Category IV hurricane and it's not something to take lightly. It's not something that will just blow over. It's a big storm and it's going to take a while to come through and work its way through the area. Landfall is expected this afternoon. Betty?

NGUYEN: And a lot of the people in the path of this storm remember Ivan from last year which was a Category III storm. This one, Dennis, Category IV, so we're talking about a serious, powerful and dangerous storm.

Bonnie, thank you. We'll check in with you at the top of the hour.


NGUYEN: Now, one word of advice for people in the path of Hurricane Dennis. Curfews. Police and county sheriffs don't want any additional trouble and say curfews will be enforced. We have those details just ahead.


NGUYEN: On Florida's Gulf Coast, people who haven't evacuated or taken refuge in a shelter better not get caught out on the streets. Officials there have imposed curfews and say they'll be strictly enforced. Still, though, some folks are taking their chances.

Richard Allyn of CNN affiliate WPMI reports.


RICHARD ALLYN, WPMI CORRESPONDENT: Seeking shelter and staying off the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, that is a good idea. It will make it a little bit safer out here.

ALLYN: As Hurricane Dennis approaches, curfews throughout much of our area go into effect.

MILTON MITCHELL, PRICHARD RESIDENT: Keep people off the street. Most people are going out of town and there's going to be (ph) breaking into people's houses.

ALLYN: In Prichard a curfew is imposed from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. Police say curfews are critical during hurricanes to promote safety and prevent stealing

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going to be a lot of debris and stuff all over the roads and it's going to be hard, very hard to maneuver when the wind gets real rough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During hurricanes and stuff people like to loot and all that kind of stuff and that will help with that problem. People breaking in and stuff.

ALLYN: Police responded to a few incidents of looting during Hurricane Ivan. Some residents say they chose not to follow evacuation orders this time to protect their valuables.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not -- I'm going to stay home, watch my house.


NGUYEN: Again, that report from Richard Allyn of CNN affiliate WPMI in Mobile, Alabama.

Well, power loss, streets flooded and debris everywhere. That is the scene in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Dennis blew by. We will give you a glimpse of the waterlogged islands when you come back and you want to stay tuned because CNN is your hurricane headquarters. We have live updates from our Weather Center every 15 minutes.


NGUYEN: Want to welcome you back to CNN, your hurricane headquarters. Residents of the lower Florida Keys are being allowed back home today after fleeing Hurricane Dennis. The Keys were spared a direct hit from Dennis but that doesn't meant they got off easy. Jeff Weinsier from CNN's Miami affiliate, WPLG filed this report.


JEFF WEINSIER, WPLG CORRESPONDENT: A different perspective. We're on the second floor now of the Best Western and I want to show you South Roosevelt Boulevard. You cannot tell where the Atlantic Ocean is. You cannot tell where the road is and believe it or not we see people every now and then driving by. The winds continue to pound the area just north of the Key West airport. As far as damage goes, that Best Western sign is probably the worst damage that we have seen at this hotel. A little further down you can see the storm surge that is coming over. It is flowing into a wooded area between the two hotels here. Where it's going, we have no idea, but it has been flowing like this since about 8:30 last night.

Throughout the area there are downed trees like that small palm over there, but there is even a more hazardous situation on U.S. 1, where we saw a tree across the entire road.

Some more damage, not really severe, at the Best Western. Exit signs then snapped off the roof.

That tiki hut was once standing straight up but when you have winds 40, 50, 60, 70 miles an hour pounding you for 10 to 12 hours you start to lean.

We're now at the back side of the Best Western and all the storm surge that you saw in the parking lot has created a brand new river.

All the storm surge is actually flowing into a lake behind the Best Western but that lake is starting to fill up and you can see it is now starting to flood.

We haven't had power here at the Best Western since about 11 o'clock last night but the lines are all still up.

We've seen some homes where shingles have flown off and the roofs have been damaged but here at the Best Western, they're taking a direct hit and the metal roof is standing up just fine.

A huge concern here? Deadly missiles, as in heavy coconuts flying off palm trees.

How much water have we had here in the parking lot? Well here is a good indication, this is all seaweed that has flown out of the Atlantic. We discovered even the wildlife wants to get out of this weather. Right there, last night, a snake trying to get into our motel room. That's the very latest in Key West. I'm Jeff Weinsier. Back to you.


NGUYEN: That is definitely not what you want to see. Dealing with not only wind, rain, Hurricane Dennis headed your way, but snakes right outside your room. Goodness.

Alright. We are going to be here covering Hurricane Dennis all night and through the day. Our next hour of continuing covering begins right now.


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