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Hurricane Dennis: A Category 4?

Aired July 10, 2005 - 00:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's look back, briefly, over the past 24 hours. Cuba took the full force of the storm Friday night. The eye of the hurricane past near Havana, tearing off roofs and ripping down a reported 85 percent of the island's power lines.
Now earlier in the day, in Haiti, floods, mudslides and a washed away bridge sent rescuers searching for a reported 100 people missing. No word yet on their progress.

And this sure is a familiar scene every hurricane season. Coastal residents like these, on the Florida Panhandle, boarding up windows and settling in to wait, or in many cases, simply evacuating.

Now the people in Key West are cleaning up from their close encounter with Hurricane Dennis. The storm largely spared the Florida Keys. Some streets were flooded though and littered with debris. CNN's Greg Hunter has that story.


GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane force winds push water over seawalls and onto streets in Key West. Gusts up to 75 miles per hour, bent-over signs, downed trees, capsized boats, and knock out power for nearly 30,000 people in the lower Keys.

(on camera): Police here in the Key West area are telling people to stay indoors, the reason why is because the wind can literally blow you away. Now right now I'm under the protection of a stone bathroom at the beach, but when I step out into the wind, you can see the effect.

I'm literally (INAUDIBLE) into the wind.

(voice-over): Despite the safety warnings, locals drove through the storm. Ray Kaplan and wife, Lynn (ph), have lived here for 20 years. Lynn doesn't care if her French pedicure takes a beating, they both need to just get outside.

RAY KAPLAN, KEY WEST RESIDENT: I'll tell you what, you spend two days in the house with three kids, two dogs, a lizard, a tortoise, and I don't know what (INAUDIBLE), you'd want to get out also.


HUNTER: Then there's Lou Perdomo, a local tattoo artist. He's seen plenty of stormy weather in the past 10 years. He says nothing bad has ever happened to him during a hurricane until now.

LOU PERDOMO, HURRICANE DAMAGED PROPERTY: And it just happened, as soon as we walked out, and all of a sudden, going, hey, look at that tree fall down! Then I realized, that's my car it's underneath!

HUNTER: Bad as a palm tree on your car is, Perdomo says it could have been worse.

PERDOMO: Better my car than my Harley.

HUNTER: The wind is only half the problem, more than five inches of rain fell on Key West.

(on camera): And that has turned this downtown street into a virtual river.

(voice-over): These charter boat captains are already celebrating the end of Dennis at a local restaurant, one of the only places on the island serving hot food with the help of a generator.

Fishing guide Greg Shertz was forced inside today. Shertz is as local as you get in Key West. He has lived here all of his life. He says he has seen 20 hurricanes, and nothing ever makes him leave.

GREG SHERTZ, FISHING GUIDE: Ain't going nowhere, staying for the next hurricane, too, I hope.


HUNTER: And after a whole day it's still raining, although it's beginning to taper off. The lights are starting to come back on in town. Now even though there's no serious damage here, it's going to take a couple of days for them to get it back together here in Key West. Reporting from Key West, this is Greg Hunter.

LIN: Greg, it looks like it's still raining out there.

HUNTER: It has been raining all day long. It stopped a little while ago. And I had it all worked out. I was going to say, hey, it finally stopped raining. And just as we got on the air, it started raining again. This storm is really packing a lot of rain here. Even though it's not flooding anymore, it's still raining. That's how big the storm is.

LIN: Yes. You bet. And we're getting some of that rain right here on the mainland. Greg Hunter, thank you very much. Reporting from Key West.

Well, that was Key West, and now Hurricane Dennis is whirling closer to make landfall on the Gulf Coast. Straight to the CNN Weather Center and Bonnie Schneider stepping in with the very latest data from there -- Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Carol, we have another latest position for you for Hurricane Dennis. And the latest coordinates place the center, the eye of the hurricane at an estimated latitude of 26.5 north, and longitude of 85.2 west.

This is about 235 miles south of Panama City, Florida, and about 330 miles southeast of Biloxi, Mississippi. So obviously it's getting a little bit closer to making landfall.

You can really see the eye of the hurricane very, very well on our satellite imagery, a well-defined eye, a symmetrical storm gaining strength and likely to be a Category 4 by the time it makes landfall tomorrow.

As we take a look at some of the radar pictures now you'll see the heavy rain continues for the state of Florida. We saw that last night, this morning, and throughout the day today from very strong rain bands.

The watch-box that you see kind of shifts a little bit to the north as the satellite loop advances because we are looking for the potential and the threat for tornadoes to (INAUDIBLE) to the north, the panhandle of Florida as this storm advances on in and gets closer.

And as we take a closer look at where we're seeing some of the stronger storms, certainly across the panhandle of Florida, south of Jacksonville right now you're seeing moderate rain. But look at this band -- this (INAUDIBLE) band coming through. This is really going to produce some heavy downpours for you in Jacksonville along the beach, and then certainly all along the corridor towards the panhandle of Florida; of course, Panama City as well.

And moving on into Alabama and parts of Georgia, even into Atlanta we're getting some moderate rain. So obviously a very expansive storm that's affecting many areas.

Let's take a look at the track and we'll show you what we're expecting for the forecast track. And there has been a slight shift where we're expecting landfall a little bit further possibly to the west, but again, it's still early to say because notice we still have our cone here and we still have the possibility of the storm fluctuating, shifting a little slight bit to the east or to the west. Even at the last minute that's a possibility with these storms.

For right now our latest coordinates have the storm, as you can see, still out in the Gulf of Mexico, still watching it closely with a slight shift to the west. And what's interesting, though, is that even if the storm comes in at Category 4 strength, even if it's to the west of Pensacola, you'll still feel a tremendous amount of impact because you'll be on that quadrant of the storm where we see the most intense weather.

And when we're talking a Category 4 storm, we're talking about very, very damaging winds. Let's take a look. A Category 4 means maximum can get as high as 155 miles per hour with gusts even higher than that. Storm surge, a major concern along the Gulf Coast, 13 to 18 feet, widespread structural damage with large trees blown down and flooding up to six miles inland.

So that's one of the impressive things about this hurricane, Carol, is that even after it makes landfall, we're going to be talking about flooding and the possibility of tornadoes further inland as it works its way to the north.

LIN: All right. So, Bonnie, with the size and the intensity of what we're anticipating, we don't know yet for sure, but already we have a pretty good sense, what does it mean for people who are traveling on Sunday or even business travelers who are heading out Monday morning?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I would say obviously check with your airports for delays, but if you can avoid getting on the road anywhere where you saw that cone of uncertainty, really, anywhere along the Florida panhandle, to Mississippi, into Alabama, it's a good thing to just stay off the roads because what happens is when the water covers the roadway, you can't see how deep it is until you attempt to drive through it. And you don't want to do that, because it's just too risky.

LIN: You bet. All right. Thanks very much, Bonnie.

Well, Dennis unleashed its fury on Cuba. Dennis, which was a Category 4 storm at one point battered much of the island nation late last night. Homes were damaged, thousands of people are still without power. Dennis is being blamed for killing 10 people there, another 22 people are reported dead in Haiti. United Nations officials say at least 100 people are still missing.

And it is officially -- or almost officially Sunday in Pensacola, Florida, right now, the day that Hurricane Dennis will most likely make landfall there. Maybe not directly, but those who chose to stay there will certainly feel the fury of this storm. CNN's John Zarrella is one of those hardy souls waiting for Dennis on the Florida panhandle.

John, though, Dennis, the storm track is shifting west, it still appears that you are in ground zero as far as the worst part of that storm.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I'm not sure "hardy souls" is the right word I'd use to describe us, but, yes, the shift to the west just means were still in that right quadrant and we could get part of the eyewall, we could get the entire eye. You know, it's just way too early to tell at this point.

But I know at the top you were talking the calm before the storm. And I'm sure you and the viewers can see that the tree back there behind me, it is -- not a leaf on that tree is moving. And other than a few gust-like breeze that has blown through here periodically, that's the way it has been all night, really the calm before the storm. And it's going to be a much different situation here at daybreak and through the day tomorrow.

Now the folks are told -- let's see, it's 11 p.m. time here. One more hour is the cutoff time, when they're being told, listen, you've got to get on the roads, get out of town if you're getting out of town, get to the shelters by midnight. And that's about the cutoff. After midnight, things are going to start to go downhill fairly quickly here in the overnight hours. And by daylight could have hurricane force winds very close to or on the coastline. So the shelters are filling up. They have about 2,200 in shelters now. They can hold up to 8,500 people in those shelters.

And folks can probably see a little of the lights behind me. There's a bridge over there, the Interstate 10 bridge, with a lot of the cars traveling east-west on that bridge. Still some people out -- getting out, trying to get of town. But for the most part, this is the time now to have finished your preparations. It's dark out, and by the morning hours, Carol, it's going to be probably too late to try and make any last minute preparations to -- for your homes, to protect your homes.

So this is the time to be finishing it up and making that decision, if you haven't already. Are you getting out of town? Are you staying? And many of the people here, in fact, most of the people here have boarded up and have left, certainly off of the barrier islands they have gotten out. And we have seen this entire area shut down like a ghost town.

One of the real concerns, Carol, here, is, of course, debris, because it was less than a year ago that Ivan came through here and there's still a tremendous amount of debris around on the streets. There is building and construction materials people are using for rebuilding that are around on the streets. And that's a real concern because all of that becomes airborne projectiles, missiles flying through the air as this storm blows through.

So a lot of things to consider here tomorrow. And, again, by tomorrow night, we'll have a pretty good idea of just what nature has wrought on this part of the Florida panhandle -- Carol.

LIN: We sure will. Thanks very much, John Zarrella, reporting live.

Well, residents along Alabama's coast are keeping their fingers crossed as well. But there are preparing for the worst. So we are going to see how the area is getting ready for Dennis.

And how the federal government is planning to help: an inside look at FEMA's storm preps.

Plus, a look back at where Hurricane Dennis has been so far.


LIN: We want to thank our citizen journalist, Joni from Navarre Beach, Florida, for these pictures that she's sending in for our hurricane watch and hurricane damage as we wait for Hurricane Dennis to hit the shores. All right, obviously from Navarre Beach to the hurricane that's headed their way. Navarre Beach, Florida, it's a beautiful place, it's along the Gulf shores in the northern part of the Florida panhandle. It's called the Emerald Coast, and ironically rated one of the safest beaches in the country, and yet a killer hurricane is on its way. Thanks very much.

Hey, folks, keep your pictures and your videos coming to "Citizen Journalist," our "Citizen Journalist" project, be one. Send your photos from the storm coverage to We want to see what's happening in your own back yard. Maybe you've got something on your cell phone that you want to share with us. And we'll be airing your pictures throughout our special coverage as we wait for Hurricane Dennis to make landfall here in mainland United States.

In the meantime, we also want to give you the latest on Hurricane Dennis, so we're going to check in with meteorologist Bonnie Schneider at the CNN Weather Center.

Bonnie, for those people who are just tuning in, give us an idea of where Dennis is now and where it's headed.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Carol, as you can see, it's still several hundred -- a couple hundred miles, certainly, from making landfall at the present time. But we're seeing a very well-defined hurricane, a very strong one, Category 3 at present, but what's likely to happen is that this storm is likely to intensify over the next 24 hours before it makes landfall. And we even see it turn into a Category 4.

In fact, as we take a look at our track, what we're expecting is the storm to intensify, even by tomorrow morning. And eventually landfall is expected on Sunday before the evening hours. Notice here the National Hurricane Center is plotting it as a Category 4 storm, which means we're going to see some very strong winds when this storm comes in.

Currently the latitude and longitude, as you can see -- or I'll step out of the way, 26.6 north, and 85.3 west, with maximum at 125 miles per hour. So this is a strong Category 3 storm. But as I mentioned, the storm is expected to make landfall as a Category 4.

Here's an interesting graphic to show you. It gives you a unique perspective of what a hurricane looks like when it's going to come on shore. Imagine you're sitting here on the beach and you're looking at dark skies, no problem as of yet, but watch happens as we put this map into motion. You'll see the weather start to deteriorate.

In the early hours of tomorrow, we see the lightning and the thunder from the Gulf of Mexico with a vantage point along the Gulf Coast from, let's say, Pensacola and Mobile, looking southward. And watch as that storm comes in at possible Category 4 with winds up 140 miles per hour.

And remember, Category 4 hurricanes could cause storm surge, 13 to 18 feet. So that's tremendous amount of storm surge, and that's really one of the most deadly factors in hurricanes, when the water piles up along the shoreline.

And speaking of water, we're already seeing quite a bit of rain. We've seen it throughout the day today. And the rain actually a little bit further to the north and now it's just teeming rain along the panhandle and certainly south of Jacksonville as well on the East Coast.

And we're actually seeing a lot of this right lifting on into Georgia. Southern Georgia getting some strong storms, and then back out towards Alabama as well, along Panama City. So this is going to be a major rainfall event with obviously some flooding possibility. As we've seen, isolated areas of tornadoes and a tornado watch continues for much of northern Florida right now into the panhandle.

So please watch out for the possibility of tornadoes. The best advice is stay inside tonight if you can. If you live anywhere along the panhandle, it's definitely going to be some nasty weather that's going to go from bad to worse.

Landfall is expected sometime tomorrow, I'd say late afternoon into the evening hours -- Carol.

LIN: All right, Bonnie, thank you very much, we'll see you in another 15 minutes.


LIN: Now, as we just heard, the Alabama coast is right in the danger zone. Many people are heeding evacuation orders and heading for higher ground. But others are taking their chances and staying put, hoping for the best. Forecasters warn that Mobile may suffer a direct hit from Dennis.

CNN's Dan Lothian is in that city and has this report.


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think it's very important. We would like to put that message out to everybody, you know? Need to pray, that's the only thing that's 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 its rooftop perch. The employees are pitching in, places 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's so pretty, it's going to be such a bad storm coming. Hopefully we have a business to come back to.

LOTHIAN: Anything that can blow away has been removed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're worried about some of the inventory that's left. You know, we'll lose the coolers. Our main concern, really, is the safety of the employees.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. They're getting closer and closer. It's you know 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, it's the price you pay for living in paradise. You know, south Alabama is absolutely beautiful, you know, and we're thankful to be here.

LOTHIAN (on camera): A mandatory evacuation order has been issued 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.


LIN: Well, some smaller Alabama towns have already imposed overnight curfews. In other cases it's irrelevant because most of the towns have already been evacuated. Now the Gulf Coast is a long way from Washington. D.C., but federal emergency officials there are just as anxiously waiting the storm's arrival. They're also just as powerless to stop it as those families fleeing the hurricane's path.

Kathleen Koch reports.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alix Mattison and her husband packed their bags and their twins and headed to a relative's home in Washington to escape Hurricane Dennis. They live in the Florida Keys right on the water.

ALIX MATTISON, FLORIDA EVACUEE: We were out for six months from Hurricane Ivan. And then, we moved back in the middle of March. So now we're evacuating again.

KOCH: Laura Johnson, too, has evacuation fatigue.

LAURA JOHNSON, FLORIDA EVACUEE: I'm pretty worried. And we just board up our windows. And it's just a repeat of Ivan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to our video teleconference this afternoon on Hurricane Dennis.

KOCH: Across town, the Federal Emergency Management Agency conferenced with states in the storm's path to make sure everyone is ready.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The effort is going quite well, and also the cooperation with our state partners and our advanced teams in the field. MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: We're in total response mode right now. We're moving in supplies. We're moving in the meals ready-to- eat, ice water, cots, medical personnel.

KOCH: In nearby Maryland, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration kept a watchful eye on Dennis' progress. That job will continue, even as the storm moves on shore, because of the possibility of deadly inland flooding.

ROBERT KELLEY, DIR., FORECAST OPS., NOAA: Even people further inland, in the lower Mississippi Valley, heading up -- and this storm will continue up to the lower Ohio River Valley. People need to be aware because there will be heavy rain inland and it could be very dangerous.

KOCH: The 2004 hurricane season marked the largest disaster response and recovery effort in FEMA's history. It spent more than $5 billion in Florida alone. But the head of FEMA insists those hurricanes have not hampered the agency's ability to respond this year.

BROWN: We still have a lot of recovery operations going on throughout the Southeast. So we already have some people and equipment down here. So the good news about last year's storms is it has really made us even better prepared for this year's storms.

KOCH (on camera): Still, FEMA officials know they have their work cut out for them with forecasters predicting a hurricane season just as bad as last year's.

Kathleen Koch, CNN, Washington.


LIN: Now Dennis leaves a deadly trail in the Caribbean, so coming up, details on the storm's devastation, where it has been already, in Haiti and Cuba.

And Pensacola, Florida, is bracing for Dennis even as it is still recovering from last summer's Hurricane Ivan.

And we are going to talk with a survivor of Ivan.


LIN: Hurricane Dennis has already cut a deadly path of destruction across the Caribbean. At least 22 people were killed in Haiti, 10 people died in eastern Cuba.

CNN Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman has details.


LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): This is where Hurricane Dennis said goodbye to the island of Cuba, exiting shortly after midnight with winds of up to 105 miles, or 168 kilometers, an hour.

"It was very strong and incredibly noisy. It blew the shingles right off our roof," said Beatriz Gonzalez (ph) from Guanado (ph) Beach, on the outskirts of the capital.

Havana awoke to find power had not been reestablished. The downed trees and branches strewn all over the capital, a testament to the ferocity with which this storm flogged the Caribbean's largest island. In all, more than 1.4 million people were evacuated from low- lying areas and unsafe homes and buildings throughout Cuba, more than 16,000 of them foreign tourists who had come here expecting to find sun and sand, and who instead got trapped in a hurricane that, for the month of July, is extremely rare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a little bit scary in the beginning, but it was good. No problems.

NEWMAN: Damage was worst in southeastern Cuba, where downed power and communications lines, as well as destruction to homes, was significant. Ten people were killed in eastern Cuba.

Earlier, Dennis took at least 22 lives in Haiti while it was making its way towards Cuba. Massive mudslides and flooding again taking a tragic toll on that impoverished country, which still hasn't recovered from last year's hurricanes.

In Cuba, the job of trying to get back to normal is already under way.

(on camera): All in all, the people of Havana are counting their blessing, although many say they see Hurricane Dennis as a kind of an appetizer for what experts predict will be a particularly long and vicious hurricane season.

Lucia Newman, CNN, Havana.


LIN: For local residents of Pensacola, Florida, the power of hurricanes is something that they know all too well. So we are going to show you how the city is planning to take on Dennis.

And we're tracking the storm for you. We have the latest movements, which are changing, when we come back.


LIN: Taking a look at the headlines tonight and tomorrow.

Late Saturday, police in Birmingham, England, ordered the evacuation of the city's main entertainment district. They say they received a threat to the area and additional intelligence that triggered the evacuation.

U.S. Marines and Iraqi troops launch an offensive against insurgents near Falluja, capturing 22 suspects. The operation, which began Thursday, was just announced. The U.S. military carried out a major campaign in Falluja last November.

And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in the Far East amid word that North Korea will rejoin talks on its nuclear program, that's the focus of Rice's four-nation trip, which began in Beijing. The six-party talks, unsuccessful so far, will start again this month.

Welcome back to our special hurricane coverage. At this hour, people in Pensacola, Florida, are bracing for Hurricane Dennis. So let's check in with CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider who's tracking the storm -- Bonnie.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Carol, what's interesting is, bracing yourself in Pensacola, the storm actually may come in a little bit further to the west of Pensacola. But still that northeast quadrant of a hurricane can be the most intense and the most powerful.

Right now looking at our radar perspective, you can see this watch-box here slowly shifting a little to the north and west. And this is really where we're expecting the possibility of tornadoes to break out. We've had some Doppler-indicated tornadoes reported to us earlier this evening as well. But right now the watch-box means that potential exists for that to occur.

In the meantime right now the center of Dennis is about 230 miles south of Panama City, a well-defined eye, a very, very expansive storm with hurricane force winds outward at about 40 miles from the center. And 230 from the center we're seeing tropical storm force winds.

This is a very powerful hurricane, indeed, affecting certainly the peninsula of Florida, well into other states further inland like Georgia and Alabama with heavy downpours of rain and flooding on the way.

Now as we check the latest coordinates for the track of the storm, you'll see eventually the storm comes in, we're thinking about Sunday after in the late afternoon time period as a Category 4, meaning that the winds increase all the way to 140 miles per hour when the storm makes landfall. Gusts may be higher than that at 165 miles per hour.

So a Category 4 a very powerful storm. We haven't seen a Category 4 since last year, since we saw Hurricane Charley come in. And we're talking about a Category 4, it really means some very powerful wind conditions.

Let's take a look at that and we'll show you a definition of a Category 4 storm. Very powerful indeed, we're going to see a storm surge up to 18 feet, and definitely higher than that in some areas.

What's interesting to note, though, even after the storm comes on and makes landfall, even as we start the beginning of next week, we're looking at potential for flooding.

And the storm, unlike a lot of other ones that we saw earlier, instead of coming to the east, continues that westwardly track, so we're going to see some flooding likely for the Ohio Valley as we move our way into next week -- Carol.

LIN: All right. Thanks very much, Bonnie.


LIN: Now you don't have to tell the residents of Florida's panhandle that a storm of this size and strength is nothing to joke about. CNN's Randi Kaye met a Pensacola Beach family who learned that lesson a year ago.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we had Ivan the Terrible last year, got Dennis the Menace this year. It's like, what are they going to come up with next year?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the wake of Ivan, which slammed Pensacola Beach last September, there isn't much left for Dennis to destroy. Neighborhoods look like dumping grounds. Homes appear frozen in time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We rode out Ivan in Gulf Breeze a couple of blocks from the sound, in an area called Tiger Point. And it was like sitting on the train tracks with the train going by a 100 miles an hour.

KAYE: Dan (ph) and Patricia Clifton (ph) have decided to leave their home behind this time. It's just blocks from the beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so tough to leave everything you own and everything you have and walk away from it and say, hey, you know, forget it.

KAYE (on camera): And so all of this was downstairs and you're bringing this upstairs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we've just been bringing it upstairs. Because last time the storm came through the bottom was destroyed. So, just trying to save as much as we can.

KAYE (voice-over): Dennis' path look eerily similar to Ivan's. And that has the Cliftons boarding up and packing up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's move it right around the corner here.

KAYE: The Cliftons just finished some major repairs from Ivan, including a new fence. Now it's all at risk again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, the house behind has got debris all piled up in the backyard. A 100-mile-an-hour door hitting the back of my house, you know, doesn't really do a whole lot for me, as far as making me want to smile.

KAYE (on camera): Dan has good reason to worry. Clean up here in Pensacola Beach has been slow. Hurricane Ivan had dropped a house right here in the front yard of this home, right where I'm standing. That home wasn't cleared until just two weeks ago, nearly a year after that hurricane.

(voice-over): All across Pensacola Beach there are efforts to hold onto what Ivan didn't take and defend against Dennis. John Erinreich (ph) and his family are trying to keep their water sports business above water.

(on camera): What are you trying to do here with the sandbagging?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to protect brand new grass from getting washed away, get undercut by the waves.

KAYE (voice-over): Late Saturday afternoon, as the sky turned gray and the ocean turned choppy, there were a handful of brave kite boarders still trying to enjoy the calm before the storm. But soon enough the wind kicked up and the sky opened up. Pensacola Beach was officially shutting down, evacuation in full swing. All kinds seemed to heed the warning, find higher ground, go somewhere safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what you pay to live in Paradise.

KAYE: And come back when Dennis is done.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Pensacola Beach, Florida.


LIN: So let's go and check on the conditions in Pensacola right now. That's where, ready or not, the Category 3 hurricane will arrive in force in just a few hours. Our CNN crew is there to meet it. John Zarrella on a quiet night, perhaps not-so-quiet soon to come -- John.

ZARRELLA: Boy, that's for sure, Carol, not a quiet -- you know, I remember back in -- being here back in 1995 for Hurricane Opal, not far from where we're standing now, and Opal was a Category 4 in the Gulf of Mexico, it ended up going into Ft. Walton Beach.

And it actually decreased in intensity, it was an October storm, down to a Category 3. And that's kind of what people are hoping around here now, that that's what will happen with this one, but it doesn't appear to be in the cards at all, that it's going to go down. If anything, it's going to continue to go up in intensity.

Now the Escambia Country emergency management officials telling us just a little while ago that two of the 10 shelters they have in the area are now full. They still have a number of beds and spaces available in the other shelters. And they're continuing to urge people to take advantage of the opportunity and get to that shelter and get to those shelters just as soon as they can, because now is the time to do it.

And, of course, you know, if it's your first experience in a shelter, it can kind of be an overwhelming thing. And it certainly is overwhelming if you're a child.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I haven't been to a shelter before, so I get a little scared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you bring a dolly?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does she have a name?





ZARRELLA: Now everything here is completely battened down, as they say. People have rushed their preparations to completion. Now the overnight hours, not much time left to do much of anything in the next few hours, the conditions here are expected to go downhill pretty quickly.

So anybody that has anything left to do at this late hour of the evening needs to finish it up pretty quickly because by tomorrow at first light, hurricane force winds could very easily be at or near -- you know, or on the coastline. So it will not be a good opportunity or a good time to try and finish anything up.

This is about it, running out of time. And it's just now a matter of waiting to see what Dennis brings and where exactly Dennis goes -- Carol.

LIN: John, we always get this question about you guys out in the field in the midst of a hurricane, how you protect yourself during storm coverage, because I know you're standing there, positioned, ready to go first thing in the morning.

ZARRELLA: Yes. You know, what you have to do is literally you kind of try to get a sense of where are the best places to be, where are the safest places to be? I can tell you right now, I'm looking at a chandelier right above us and I know this isn't going to be a good place to be standing tomorrow.

You think about the barometric pressure and the fact that you're not going to be able to get in and out of doorways. The doors will be impossible to open. Where are you going to set up your live truck? Where are going to have your camera? How are you going to be safe and at the same time try to deliver the pictures?

So all of those things are going into the planning ahead of time. And then even with the best planning, you know, sometimes you get into situations where it's just impossible. And more than likely tomorrow will be one of those cases where for some periods of time the weather will be just so intensely awful here that it will be impossible to broadcast the pictures back. And we'll all be hunkered down, waiting for the worst of it to pass by -- Carol.

LIN: You had better be safe. Thanks very much, John.

In the meantime, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are closely monitoring Hurricane Dennis' progress. FEMA will spearhead the government's disaster response and recovery.

Now earlier I spoke with FEMA Director Michael Brown.


BROWN: Well, all day today we've been prepared all the way from New Orleans all the way over to Tampa, essentially. But as we get further and further into the evening and the storm begins to strengthen, what we will do is we will start concentrating more of our resources into the Gulf Shores and Pensacola area, because it looks like that's where the storm is probably going to hit.

LIN: So what are you able to offer people right before the storm, during the storm, and afterwards?

BROWN: Well, FEMA always focuses, as soon as the governors ask us, we always focus on live-saving efforts. Our primary mission in this phase of our operations is to get the medical teams in there, the search and rescue teams in there, to make certain that we're having the first responders in every way possible to save lives and protect property. That's our primary mission right now.

LIN: Give us your sense of how the response this year in terms of people cooperating with the evacuation and the storm warnings and being able to deploy your resources into place, how does this compare with the last hurricane season?

BROWN: You know, last year we were really stretched. It was a really good exercise for us, four hurricanes, first time in over 100 years. Now here we are in July, it's not even the middle of July yet.

So we've worked very hard, as soon as we finished last year's hurricane season, to figure out what we could do even better this year. And we've put those kinds of things in place. We had our logistics set up so that we can move not only in front of the store, but back behind the store also.

So we'll be able to bring in meal ready-to-eat, cots, medical equipment, medical supplies, almost immediately, as soon Governor Bush and Governor Riley request.

LIN: Director Brown, this is looking pretty ugly. I mean, Hurricane Dennis is predicted to be upgraded to a Category 4, winds in excess of 130 miles an hour when it makes landfall on Sunday afternoon or evening. What can you tell the people out there along the Gulf shores?

BROWN: Well, it is getting near the point where it is going to be too late to do anything. So if you have not evacuated, as the governors have asked you to do; if you have not boarded up your homes and your business facilities or whatever and moved, you need to do that right now and get out of the way.

Now people always tend to focus on the winds, which I know are very important, winds of 140 miles an hour or better, that is serious. But Max Mayfield and I were just looking at some of the surge models. And I see models that are showing water surge of 12 feet above normal very far inland from Pensacola.

So we could see very severe flooding. And that's, unfortunately, where most of the deaths come from.

LIN: All right. We are going to hope for the best when Hurricane Dennis makes landfall Sunday. Thank you very much, Director Brown, good luck.

BROWN: Thank you.


LIN: In the meantime, Hurricane Dennis is battering Florida's Gulf coast as residents still cope with the damage of last summer's Hurricane Ivan. So we are going to talk with the residents about the challenges then and now.

We're going to go back over Dennis' trail and the damage the storm has left behind so far as well.


LIN: Welcome back to our special coverage of Hurricane Dennis. I'm Carol Lin. In fact, we want to show you where Hurricane Dennis is right now and what is expected. So we're going to go to the CNN Weather Center, meteorologist Bonnie Schneider tracking that -- Bonnie.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Carol, right now the storm center of circulation is about 230 miles -- or 235 miles south of Panama City right now. But this is a very large hurricane. Right now a Category 3, but so expansive you can really make out that well-defined. And that's the sign of a powerful hurricane. Not to mention the fact that it's quite symmetrical at this point. We were looking at this last night into early in the morning. And it was a Category 1, breaking apart as it came over Cuba. What a difference a day makes with this storm. It's really incredible.

Let's take a look at the basics right now of what we're expecting with this storm for our headlines. Well, right now Hurricane Dennis has maximum winds at 125 miles per hour. This storm is strengthening. Landfall is expected Sunday towards the late afternoon as a Category 4 storm, a very powerful storm indeed with winds climbing pretty high. Remember, Category 4 winds can go as high as 155 miles per hour.

Storm surge expected, 13 to 18 feet, and isolated tornadoes are possible as well. So this is going to be a very, very serious situation, especially as we get closer towards Sunday when landfall is expected. But just to take a look a little bit further on into the future, even once this hurricane makes landfall after tomorrow, it's still a hurricane. Often we see these hurricanes kind of break apart as we saw with Dennis when it interacted with Cuba last night and this morning.

Watch what happens, you can see, it's still a pretty substantial hurricane, even as it comes on shore. So we're going to talk about the possibility for flooding all the way towards Tennessee as early as Monday and then into Tuesday further northward as well.

So this hurricane is so powerful that it's likely to stay in full force as a hurricane, of course, downgrade in intensity once it does interact with land, but still powerful enough to bring the potential for isolated tornadoes and flooding well, well inland.

And you were talking earlier to the Hurricane Center, and they were mentioning that storm surge is going to be a major concern with this hurricane. A Category 4 coming in is a powerful, large hurricane. And as we mentioned with Category 4 hurricanes, you could see storm surge pretty high indeed.

In fact, as we check out the latest information for Category 4, it shows that we could storm surge as high as 18 feet. That means widespread structural damage, very large trees could be blown down with this one, and flooding six miles inland.

That's nothing, I think we're going to see flooding much further inland than that with this one, such a large storm coming in over the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, moving in at full force at a Category 4. This is going to cause a lot of flooding and a lot of problems, and most likely power outages as well.

We'll have more coming up -- Carol.

LIN: All right. Good advice, Bonnie, because most people who die from hurricane damage die in the aftermath, not in the...

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

LIN: Not in the midst of the storm. All right, thanks very much, Bonnie. We'll see you in just a few minutes. Every 15 minutes we're going to have weather updates.

Now many who survived the wrath of Hurricane Ivan last September say things could not possibly get any worse, but now they are in the path of Hurricane Dennis, the very same Gulf shore cities that were struck by Hurricane Ivan last fall. Betty Jernigan nearly lost her life in Hurricane Ivan. She and her fiancee, Johnny Hawkins, have decided to stay put and tough out Dennis. He joins me now from Pensacola, Florida.

Johnny, give me an idea of why you decided to do that.

JOHNNY HAWKINS, HURRICANE IVAN SURVIVOR: Well, you never know which way to go. When it comes to land, you don't know if it's going to go east, if it's going to go west. So whichever direction you go, then you've got to drive back to through the bad weather. Your life is -- it's just dangerous highway, which is, you know, all the people need to leave.

This time I am on a lot higher ground, about 40 to 50 foot above sea level at this time. I am in a solid brick home in the middle of a subdivision had hardly any damage from Ivan. So I just -- figured my chances are just as good here as they would be going anywhere else.

LIN: Well, Ivan was Category 3, Dennis is supposed to be a Category 4, which is exponentially more powerful, Johnny. I mean, they're saying that if the winds don't get you, maybe the subsequent tornadoes might, even if you're not vulnerable to flooding.

HAWKINS: That is true. And at the time I decided to stay, I wasn't expecting a 4. And I'm hoping still that it kind of (INAUDIBLE) when it gets close to land here that it dies back down. So I'm really praying and hoping it does something like it this time.

LIN: Is there anything that could change your mind?

HAWKINS: Yes. Come daylight, if it is still getting stronger and more this way, I still may decide to leave.

LIN: All right. Well, what does Betty say about all this? I mean, she remembers what happened in Ivan?

HAWKINS: High anxiety would put it mildly.

LIN: Yes.

HAWKINS: She is very scared.

LIN: Because what happened to her last year? Why was she almost killed by the hurricane?

HAWKINS: Well, the storm surge nearly destroyed the house we were in. And she was in the water for about eight hours and her mother died in her arms.

LIN: Oh my goodness. Johnny, you know what you mean to her, I mean, we're taking a look at some of the pictures of the devastation from Hurricane Ivan last year in your area, and it's unbelievable that anybody even survived that. I mean, these houses are completely leveled.

And look, I'm looking at bricks on the ground. You're say you're in a solid brick house, that's not necessarily going to protect you.

HAWKINS: Well, no, it won't by the water, it won't. I wouldn't be close to the water. I mean, it -- I have seen homes there that were nothing but just foundations left after the storm -- or the water.

LIN: How are you going to ride it out? What do you think you're going to do when you're surrounded by hurricane force winds? HAWKINS: Well, just pray. After a point, it's too late.

LIN: Mm-hmm.

HAWKINS: But by -- in the morning, I will still have -- I'll have time to get out if I decide I'll have to.

LIN: Is Betty going to stay with you or is she gone?

HAWKINS: She'll be with me, yes.

LIN: She is staying by your side.

HAWKINS: Oh yes.

LIN: Boy.

HAWKINS: She won't let me leave her side.

LIN: You know, she's one strong woman. And my golly, you must an awfully special man to her for her to put up through this one more time this year.

HAWKINS: I'll tell you, it's hard for me to believe.

LIN: All right. Johnny, you know what? We're going to be talking to you tomorrow, all right?

HAWKINS: All right.

LIN: We want to make sure that you're going to be safe. So we're going to let our viewers know, we're going to check back in with you just to make sure you ride out the storm and you stay alive.

HAWKINS: Well, don't wait too late.


LIN: OK. And my same advice to you, young man.

HAWKINS: All right.

LIN: All right.

HAWKINS: Good night.

LIN: Thank you very much.

We've got much more here from your Hurricane Center coverage, continuing right after a quick break, we'll be right back.


LIN: And good morning to you now on the other side of midnight here on the East Coast. I'm Carol Lin at the Hurricane Center. Let's toss it to Bonnie Schneider at the CNN Weather Center to see where Hurricane Dennis is right now and where it's headed.

SCHNEIDER: Carol, right now the storm center of circulation is about 235 miles south of Panama City. It's very obvious here on this graph. You can see center, the eye of the storm, very well-defined with those bright orange cloud tops right around it. So we're seeing very, very strong winds, obviously, around the eye wall. And this is an expansive hurricane with maximum winds right now at 125 miles per hour.

Landfall is expected tomorrow, likely in the late afternoon, somewhere in the vicinity towards the Alabama-Florida border, near Pensacola, perhaps a little bit further west. As we take a look at the track and what we're expecting, you'll see that landfall is expected by 8 p.m. on Sunday with maximum winds at 140 miles per hour.

What's interesting to note, if upgraded, it strengthens and becomes a Category 4, most likely when this storm makes landfall -- Carol.

LIN: All right. Thanks very much, Bonnie.

In the meantime, you know, we know that Hurricane Dennis is coming. All right? We've been covering it all night long. And emergency officials say that Gulf Coast residents who aren't prepared now have just a little bit of time left, maybe another hour or two before it's too late.

So let's take you back now a few days to the time Dennis actually came into our lives.


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Cindy, and then maybe even Dennis. Right now it's just Tropical Depression 4, but Dennis is on the way.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: I urge all Floridians that live in the upper Florida Keys and along the Gulf Coast, in the panhandle to take hurricane preparedness measures now.

NEWMAN: Well, Hurricane Dennis finally has touched the mainland here, entered the Cienfuegos Province in the south of Cuban. And it's slowly making its way up here toward Matanzas and Havana Provinces in the north of the country, where I'm speaking to you from.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The hurricane will be moving back over open water, and while it has weakened now, it has done so because it has moved over land. As it moves back over the to the water, that warm water into the Gulf of Mexico, that's the heat engine, that's what provides the energy for this thing. So more strengthening will be expected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where a tornado touched down, one of the reasons they think that -- as these little girls heard it this morning about 6:00, they said it wasn't a lot of wind, it was a boom. In fact, one said it sounded like a bomb, an explosion. And this is damage. You see they're cleaning up right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This barn was erected in 1951. It stood for more than 50 years. It came down in about four or five seconds today.

BUSH: 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 power and destruction.


LIN: You're with the most reliable source for up-to-minute information on this hurricane. Your "Hurricane Headquarters" is CNN. Our coverage continues right now through the wee hours into the morning. And when Dennis makes landfall, CNN is going to be with you.

I'm Carol Lin, have a great night. My colleague Betty Nguyen is about to take over.


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