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Dennis: The Aftermath; Hurricane Insurance Tips

Aired July 11, 2005 - 10:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Dennis flows through the Gulf Coast today. The residents clean up the mess. Flood damage, power outages, beach erosion, all extensive.
The clock now ticking toward the launch of Discovery. The space shuttle scheduled to liftoff on Wednesday. It's the first shuttle mission since the Colombia disaster two-and-a-half years ago.

And the London bombings harden the president's resolve in the war on terror. Mr. Bush lays out his strategy on this AMERICAN MORNING.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome from CNN Center in Atlanta. This is a special edition of CNN's AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Miles O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

We've got some information coming to us now from London. King's Cross Station, you recall, of course, in London, the site of one of the bombings on Thursday, well now you can see there an evacuation is in progress. No other information, though, coming to us. We're going to update you on the story as soon as we get anything to tell you there.

We will learn more, however, as soon as we hear from Tony Blair. He's talking to the House of Commons today. Hopefully the prime minister will be able to update us on many fronts about what's happening in London today.

Also, we should mention, we're expecting to hear from President Bush in this hour as well. We'll bring that to you live when that happens, too.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Let's kick right off with the latest development on Dennis, meanwhile. The storm has been downgraded to a tropical depression but it still carries heavy rains and the possibility of some serious tornadoes. Hundreds of thousands are without power at this moment. Utility crews from many other states have been called in to Florida, in particular. But some people could be without power for weeks.

And how much will Hurricane Dennis cost, many are asking? Initial estimates say $2.5 billion in insured losses alone. We have correspondents all along the Gulf Coast checking out widespread damage from Hurricane Dennis. CNN's Dan Lothian in Gulf Breeze, Florida. We'll hear from him in a moment. But right now let's go to our Meteorologist Chad Myers who is joining us from St. Marks where they're drying out but it's still kind of a big mess.


CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: It truly is, Miles. And a lot of people here do have flood insurance. They knew that they were on the river. The little grocery store over here, Bo Lynn's, owned by Joy and Jeff, they do have flood insurance. But the problem is, flood insurance typically isn't replacement value. They have so many freezers in there that are 15, 20 years old. Now the depreciation on that freezer is down to like 10 percent of what a new one can buy -- what it will cost and so, therefore, they're going to have trouble even replacing maybe two or three of those 10 freezers.

Across the street, Posey's. Topless oysters is what they call them. World famous. Built in 1940. Yes, they've been through this before, back in 1985. But -- with Kate. But they are going to rebuild.

The problem is this flood was not a freshwater flood. This flood was a saltwater flood. This water came up the river from the Gulf of Mexico, blown by the wind, a constant wind out of the south as that wind blew the water, just little bits, just a eighth of an inch at a time the water came up, the water came up, the water came up. But as soon as it rushed into this little river here, the St. Mark's River, then it just went up so fast because it was funneled into the bottom of a funnel. And, obviously, this is the top of the funnel, we're in it here. The water came up. Six feet it came up in about three hours the marina owners were saying.

And Posey's, obviously, there a mess. All the businesses in downtown. And that's a relative term. There's only about 320 people that live here. All the business here, though, really have a lot of cleaning up to do, a lot of rewiring to do because of the saltwater damage and, you know, there's just a lot of this just isn't going to be covered by homeowner's or business owner's. This is flood. So you're going to have to have that flood insurance that they talk about in order to get any money back at all.


MILES O'BRIEN: Now, Chad, on the one hand, because I listened very closely, pay attention to you, often take notes, I would know that this would be an area that might be susceptible because it's on the right side of the storm, upper right quadrant and all that. And by the same token, I think a lot of people are surprised that St. Marks got hit this way.

MYERS: It's almost a function, Miles, of the shape of Apalachee Bay. Apalachee Bay is kind of an upside down v or a little lambda symbol. They're an upside down v. And just inches and inches of water that maybe it went up in Stenhatchi (ph), maybe it went up a couple feet in Apalachicola. In fact, it went up about four to five feet even in St. George's Island. But you keep push that into a much smaller and smaller and smaller place and the water goes up.

Think of it like this. If you plug the bottom of a funnel and you fill the funnel up with water, the deepest part of that water is right in the middle, right where the funnel come to a point, right? The sides are pretty shallow because that's where it comes to a point, the water's here, the funnel's here. But the deepest part is where we are. We're in the bottom of the funnel or the top of Apalachee Bay. That's why the water came up so fast. That's why it came up. It went down so fast, for that matter.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Good job, Chad. As always, those analogies working for me. Appreciate it.

MYERS: All right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, it work for me, too.

Not so far from where Chad is, we find CNN's Dan Lothian checking out the damage as well in Gulf Breeze, Florida, right across the bridge from Pensacola and not very far from where Dennis came on shore.

Hey, Dan, what's going on there?


As you know, all of the focus now is on the cleanup. Assessing the damage, first of all, and then beginning that large task of cleaning up. Behind me is Pensacola Beach, Santa Rosa Island. We tried to get over there from this point. As you mentioned, it is an area that was hard hit.

But the bridge right here is blocked. The reason for that, we are told by officials, is that they want to basically access the integrity of that bridge. It did take quite a pounding during the hurricane. So they want to make sure that that bridge is safe.

And also, once you get across the bridge and on to the island, there is a lot of debris, we are told, out on the street. A lot of tiles on the street and also some power lines that have come down. So they want to make sure that it's safe before we are allowed to go over the bridge.

As we were driving in here, though, we did see a lot of damage. What you don't see are those blocks and blocks of damage that we saw during Ivan. Here, you have spotty damage, gas stations where the coverings over the tanks have fallen down. There are a lot of signs that are down all around. Large trees that have fallen down. We even passed a parking lot that was still flooded out and there was a truck on its side.

The big problem now, as you have mentioned earlier, is the issue of power outages. At the peak of this storm, 60 percent of the Panhandle was left without power. A total of about 240,000 people, we're told by power officials, that they have a thousand crews out there trying to restore power. And eventually hope to have as many as 3,000 crews coming in from all across the southeast to restore power. They hope to get the power back on as quickly as possible but say it could take as long as two weeks. Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian reporting for us from Gulf Breeze in Florida.


MILES O'BRIEN: Hurricane Dennis is now Tropical Depression Dennis. Still causing a lot of problems, of course. Rob Marciano is tracking it for us in the weather center.



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We've been asking everybody for pictures of the storm damage from Dennis and many of you have responded with some pretty great pictures. We want to show you a sequence of three pictures that show a catastrophic beach erosion. These photos were sent to us from Neill in Seagrove Beach, Florida. That's west of Panama City Beach.

This is a picture of the beach on Friday morning. Now let's fast forward to Sunday morning, that's before Dennis made landfall. You can see the waves lapping at the deck but everything looks sort of the same.

MILES O'BRIEN: Steps in tact. That's an important pointer there.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly, focus on the steps here.

MILES O'BRIEN: Focus on the steps now.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Because you can now see, in the next picture, the storm comes on shore. Where are the steps? Where is the deck? Collapsed, washed out into the Gulf. Pretty remarkable to see that sequence right there I think. So keep those photos and videos coming in.

MILES O'BRIEN: Steps towards disaster there, I guess you could say. is the place to send your offerings. You, too, can become a citizen journalist. I hear our photographers are up in arms over there but they'll be all right. They'll get over it, don't you think.

Let's check the headlines now. Citizen Journalist Kelly Wallace is here. No, she's a professional, folks. Yes. Yes.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, yes. We don't want anyone to lose their jobs, right, from the competition out there.

MILES O'BRIEN: No, no, no. No.

WALLACE: Competition makes us better, though, Miles, right?

MILES O'BRIEN: Keeps us hungry. That's important. All right.

WALLACE: It does. All right.

Good morning to you and good morning, everyone. Here are some other stories now in the news.

U.S. force have rounded up several people suspected of making bombs in Iraq. Military officials say 13 suspects have been detained over last two days. Nine of them near Tikrit. The 13 are suspected of making and placing bombs in North Central Iraq. Officials say a civilian tip led to the arrests.

The first victim of the London terror bombings has been identified. The 53-year-old woman reportedly died in the explosion in the train between King's Cross Station and Russell Square. A little while ago, police updated Thursday's death toll to 52. Police briefly evacuated the area around King's Cross Station just moments ago. Authorities have now given an all-clear for the area. Also, President Bush planning to talk about Thursday's attack as part of an update on the war on terror. That is later this hour. And CNN, of course, will bring that to you live.

A police standoff ending with the death of a suspect and the young child he was holding. Los Angeles police say the gunman emerged from his home following an hour's long standoff last night. Police say the gunman fired and wounded one officer before other officers returned fire. The wounded officer is expected to recover. Police call the killing of the 19-month-old girl, "a true tragedy."

And jury selection beginning in Houston today in a trial against the makers of Vioxx. Merck is accused of knowing Vioxx was dangerous long before the painkiller was pulled off the market last year. Officials at Merck say they acted responsibly and plan to defend themselves against what could mount to thousands of damage claims.

That a quick check of the headline. Back to Miles and Soledad in Atlanta.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Thanks, Kelly.

MILES O'BRIEN: Thank you. Thank you, Kelly. Appreciate that.

Still to come on this special hurricane edition of AMERICAN MORNING, dozens of town were hard hit by Dennis. We'll talk to one Florida police chief to see how his city fared.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Plus, the crew of the space shuttle Discovery undergoes some special training. We'll explain exactly what they're doing coming up.

MILES O'BRIEN: And, are you prepared just in case a hurricane hits your house? Do you know what to do or whom to call? That is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING as well. Tips, everyone, well, maybe if you live in Arizona it's not a big deal, but everyone who is in path of a hurricane should know.


MILES O'BRIEN: Well, a little spinoff. A subsidiary of Hurricane Dennis parked itself over the city of Atlanta and (INAUDIBLE) overnight. Dropped about five inches plus, six inches in some cases. This is down in Douglas County, about 60 miles or so south of Atlanta. This is the scene in Atlanta.

We know Rob is calling this like the train. Look at that, the way those kind of bands have come through. And some of them have just kind of parked themselves, dropping a ton of rain there over the city of Atlanta. And that's just one little example of what's going on as hurricane, then tropical storm, now tropical depression Dennis progresses onward.

The latest estimates put the insured losses of Dennis to about $2.5 billion. That number will change, of course, as the damage assessment continues. It is, after all, just the morning after here. Big money, of course, but it doesn't come close to the payout for any of the four hurricanes that pour into the Gulf last year. Ivan, which went through the same spot, was a $12 billion storm.

On the phone with us is the Ft. Walton Beach Police Chief Ron Bishop.

Chief, good to have you with us. What's your damage assessment there?

RON BISHOP, FT. WALTON POLICE CHIEF: Right now we've got the damage assessment teams that are out assessing the damage but it doesn't really look that bad. Looks like we came through it pretty good. We've got a lot of power outages out right now but it's my understanding that Gulf Power is working diligently to get them -- the power restored. And they're saying probably by this afternoon we should have a lot of the power back.

MILES O'BRIEN: Not at all what was anticipated or predicted. I'm sure you were among the people thinking it might be a lot worse. There were a lot of folks, that in spite of warnings, rode out the storms in their homes. I guess they had the right idea?

BISHOP: Yeah, but that's, you know, we try to evacuate as many people as possible. And some people, of course, decide to ride it out sometimes, you know. I don't really recommend that. But we had mobilized at 8:00 in the afternoon on Saturday evening and got all of the essential people to the emergency operations center here located on the second floor of the police building. And we held our breath there for a while when we got initial reports that the eye of the hurricane was supposed to hit Chatahatci Bay(ph), which is where we're located at. But when the thing turned back, we certainly breathed a sigh of relief.

MILES O'BRIEN: God forbid, Chief, that you get another one this season. It is supposed to be an active season, so, you know, it's a possibility. Are you worried that the way this one played out might discourage people from heeding your warnings the next time? BISHOP: Not really. It looks like, you know, we've gone through three in the last few years and I think everybody pretty much pays close attention, certainly to CNN and the broadcasts and, you know, the updates on these hurricanes. And it looks like a lot of people boarded up this time. I'm not really sure how many people stayed but it seems like the streets were deserted a lot faster than normal. So I think a lot of people did clear out of here. And, you know, I don't think this will discourage them any at all because we take this pretty serious now.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. And quickly, any serious emergency calls during the storm that you weren't able to respond to or anything?

BISHOP: No, not really. We had a couple of elderly people we had to go out, prior to the hurricane, and get them to a storm shelter. But other than that, I think everything went pretty smooth.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right, Chief, you dodged a bullet, as they say. Chief Ron Bishop, Ft. Walton Police Chief. We wish you well.

BISHOP: Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN: As residents in the southeast put up with another hurricane season, many homeowners are wondering what to do if their home is hit by a hurricane. Still to come, Gerri Willis will have a few tips for us.

Hey, Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Miles, good to see you.

Dennis may have been downgraded to a tropical storm, but it still proved to be a menace to people in its path. We'll have tips when CNN LIVE TODAY continues.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Homeowners who evacuated from Hurricane Dennis may return to find their homes damaged, maybe even destroyed. In today's "Top Five Tips," we're going to take a look at what you need to know about your insurance if your home is hit by a natural disaster. CNN's Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis in New York today.

Hey, Gerri. Good morning to you.

WILLIS: Good morning, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I guess the main thing to ask yourself is, am I insured? And if you're not, you've got some big problems, right?

WILLIS: Absolutely. Listen, you have got to contact your insurer stat, right away, to let them know that you have problems and the extent of your problems. Now, rest assured, if your house was destroyed by this hurricane, you will be contacted first to get an assessment of the damage. They typically prioritize these lists as they go to look at them. But let me tell you, Soledad, it can take a while because the average claim is processed in about 90 days. And if you have a complicated situation, it could take up to six months.

Also know you will be reimbursed for reasonable expenses if you have to leave your home, stay in a hotel. But the emphasis here, naturally, Soledad, is reasonable.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You know, you also give us the tip, document, document, document. But in a natural disasters, it's probably one of the first things to go, all your documents that just float away when water comes through your home/

WILLIS: You bet. But what we mean here is, you want to document the damage to your house. So you want to write down the things that are broken, destroyed by the storm. Even take picture, if you can find a camera or even the video camera, so that the insurance adjuster can see firsthand what happened. It's up to you. It's your responsibility ti document these things.

And one other thing here, remember that if you have comprehensive insurance, your car is covered as well, so you might want to take pictures of that, too.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The next tip, live with it for now. What does that mean?

WILLIS: Well, you really can't make extensive upgrades to your house until the insurance adjusters get in there. If there is damage to your house that's occurring because there's a big hole there, obviously you want to stem that. You want to make sure that the leak doesn't damage your house further. But don't make so many improvements that the insurance adjuster can't see what happened. Make only temporary repairs so that they can get a sense of it.

And one important thing to keep in mind here, there is a tax deduction for people who are not reimbursed by their insurers to the extent of their damage. So you want to keep as complete a record as possible about what's being spend and for what.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Let's get to the fine two tips. Watch for scammers. Unfortunately, that's sort of self-explanatory.

WILLIS: Exactly. Well, look, here's what happens. In a typical situation like this, people come out of the woodwork to fix your house, contractors. They may be scammers. You want to be careful about people who go door to door. Check them out completely. Check them out with the state if you can before you hire them. Some of these people just want to take your money and run.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: How about the folks who have already been dealing with a hurricane, Hurricane Ivan, and they still haven't really repaired from that and now they're dealing with more damage today? WILLIS: This is just the doubly unlucky in the situation who are still making repairs to their house from last year. You can ask for an extension of the fees that you're getting for living outside your home, of course. You also want to contact FEMA, that's the Federal Emergency Management Association, for help for a loan or money if you are not getting enough from your insurer and you can't cover costs yourself. Remember, these are now emergency areas the president has declared them, so you can get federal help if you don't have the money to cover yourself.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Gerri Willis with some tips this morning.

Gerri, thanks.

WILLIS: You're welcome.


MILES O'BRIEN: We're going to take a break. When we come back, we're going to give you an update on the war on terror from two distinct fronts. First of all, parliament, the House of Commons. Prime Minister Tony Blair will be there very shortly and he will be talking to members of his party, and other parties as well. You know how that goes. With the discussion today, though, I'm sure there will be a lot more support for the prime minister in the House of Commons today on the subject of those bombings last Thursday, giving folks an update on that.

Then, Quantico, Virginia, is where we expect to see the president of the United States in just a little bit. He is going to talk about the war on terror there at the FBI Academy. As you can see, those two events are on the horizon. And, of course, you will see them live as long as you stay tuned to AMERICAN MORNING.



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