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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Dennis Strikes the U.S.

Aired July 11, 2005 - 01:00   ET

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


CAROL LIN, CO-HOST: More than 250,000 people now are without power in the Panhandle and southern Alabama. More than 200,000 people in Alabama don't have electricity at this hour. Flood waters have taken hold of low lying communities in places like Florida's Wakulla County, south of Tallahassee.
And storm surges over 10 feet have caused severe flooding that has completely cut off the Florida towns of St. Mark's, Shell Point, Oyster Bay and Panacea.

BETTY NGUYEN, CO-HOST: Only light storm damage is being reported in places like Baldwin County, Alabama. So where is Dennis now and what is it doing? Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider is tracking Dennis, and she joins us now with the latest.

Morning, Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, good morning, Betty. You know, this hurricane made landfall as a Category 3. It was a Category 4 before it actually made landfall but then downgraded to a Category 3. Certainly a powerful storm.

Landfall was around 2:25 Central Time as a Category 3. And you can see it's just to the east of Pensacola and to the west of Navarre Beach. And really, even though that's where it made landfall, we saw a tremendous amount of flooding and rain well to the east of that and to the west, as well.

Just want to show you what area that was hard hit, especially in the area of St. Mark's, which is, I'd say, south of Tallahassee. You can see Tallahassee on the map. And that's where we're still getting some light rain in the vicinity. Still raining in Tallahassee after all the heavy rain that we saw there already. So still not out of the woods yet for seeing downpours there.

The center circulation, about 100 miles to the west of Montgomery, Alabama, but cities like Birmingham and well into Atlanta, Georgia further to the northeast seeing lots of rain associated with this storm. We're expecting quite a bit. So that's important to note if you're going to be doing any traveling anywhere from Nashville, further to the west of St. Louis. We're likely to see rain. And you have to really be careful, because we're likely to see some travel delays, as well.

As we put this map into motion, this is a forecast of how much rain we're expecting on the ground. This is 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. So if you see your city here on the map, I would call ahead if you're flying out, traveling anywhere. With wind and rain expected, the storm should be downgraded to a depression by then. Remember, a depression means winds less than 39 miles per hour. But still strong enough winds that we may see some travel problems.

Also, of course, we want to mention for anyone that's planning to get out on the roadway, especially towards the Gulf Coast, be careful. Watch out for anything that looks dangerous, like a power line on the road or water covering the roadway. You do not want to attempt to drive on any water covered roadway, because you really don't know how deep it is. And it really could lead to danger and trouble. And we're going to see water covering the roadways for many locations, but really, this is the region where we're seeing most of the power outages, so pay attention to that.

Now in the meantime, we're also tracking another system, another storm. Just when we're almost through with Dennis, still talking about flooding from Dennis, we're getting ready for our next named storm. And her name will be Emily.

Now Emily hasn't really formed yet. It's still considered what we call Tropical Depression No. 5, but as you can see by this forecast track, it's likely to become a tropical storm pretty soon and work its way further to the west.

Now, not to alarm anyone, these storms are days away. And even in the early stages, it's difficult to say whether or not they'll landfall and whether or not they'll make landfall with the United States. You can see the distance here from the U.S. mainland, and this is already into Wednesday.

But as promised, this has been a very active tropical season, with four named storms by July 15, making history. Powerful storm Dennis, and it's likely to set records, as well. We have rainfall totals that are still coming in right now, Carol and Betty. And it looks like some of these are as high as 10 to 12 inches in some areas.

NGUYEN: My goodness. And just the thought of another tropical storm making its way, although it's not there just yet, is something a lot of people just don't want to hear right now. But we'll be checking in with you, Bonnie. Thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

LIN: The region just needs to dry out a little bit.

NGUYEN: Yes. Give it a little time.

LIN: Give it a chance to do a little breather.

All right, it is the pictures that best tell a story like this, and these from Navarre Beach, Florida, saw so much about just how intense Hurricane Dennis was. Now as you can see, the 120 mile an hour winds that came ashore Sunday bent trees and tossed boats around like toys. The storm brought severe flooding to Gulf County. A curfew is in place until 8 a.m. Monday morning, and residents who evacuated will have to wait awhile until they are allowed to return home.

Now places like St. Mark's, Florida, are experiencing the worst flooding in more than 80 years. The Wakulla County town was among four that were completely cut off by storm surges over 10 feet.

NGUYEN: Hurricane Dennis came ashore on Santa Rosa Island, east of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. There are many small towns along the Gulf Coast. One is Mary Esther, and that is where we find CNN's Alina Cho.

Alina, what kind of damage have you seen so far?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, luckily, Betty, Mary Esther seems to have been spared the worst damage. I can tell you, other than some light winds that we're experiencing right now, all is quiet here in this area. That is in part because there is a curfew in place until 6 a.m. in the morning.

But while residents are sleeping, county assessment teams are out and about, and they are doing a detailed site survey of the damage. We can tell you that the worst of it seems, at this point, to be centered about $15 east of here. That's in Destin, Florida. There is a report of an entire home being washed away in the Gulf and significant structural damage to homes.

Now much of the same 15 miles west of here. You made mention of it just a few moments ago. Navarre, Florida, coastal flooding there. Officials call it some of the hardest hit areas. They will be assessing the damage there tomorrow morning. And a curfew in that area is in place until noon tomorrow.

Earlier today, we spoke to a couple from Navarre who came to our hotel and decided to ride out the storm here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL HARRIS, NAVARRE, FLORIDA, RESIDENT: It's the anticipation of waiting for it, the tenseness. You don't know whether you're going to have a home or not when you get there. That's the bad part, you know? And you're watching all the bad news. And it seemed like they had Navarre pinpointed, the hurricane did. And that's three in 10 years. And the odds against that are something terrific. Horrendous it's actually happening.

HARRIET HARRIS, NAVARRE, FLORIDA, RESIDENT: We're going to go back tomorrow with no electricity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So that's OK.

H. HARRIS: I hope I have water. That's what I missed last time, last year. The water was the main thing. Electricity I could do without for awhile. But I have to have my water.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: I can tell you from covering this storm that water and electricity is very important. When you are here and you don't have it, you certainly miss it. We are happy to report that the power is back on at our hotel, and though there are sporadic power outages throughout the county, of course, officials are working very hard to restore that power.

Also, some good news to report, is that there are no reports of any injuries or fatalities in the county, and that is largely, Betty, because there is a mandatory evacuation order in place. And these residents, having lived through Hurricane Ivan just 10 months ago, decided to heed these warnings and flee their homes this time around. And certainly, a lot of people are thankful they did that -- Betty.

NGUYEN: That was a very smart decision. Alina Cho, thank you.

Well, both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are accepting donations to help victims of Hurricane Dennis. If you would like to help, you can call the Red Cross. Their number is right there on your screen: 1-800-435-7669. Or you can visit their web site, RedCross.org.

For the Salvation Army, call 1-800-725-2769. They web site is Sal-Army.org.

LIN: Well, most of the country is experiencing this storm by watching the news safely in their homes, but there is a select group of thrill seekers who dare venture out and actually track the storm, literally chasing it. That is where we bring in storm chaser Mark Sudduth. He joins me now on the telephone near Mobile, Alabama.

Mark, are you OK?

MARK SUDDUTH, STORM CHASER: Very much. A little tired, a little weary but we're OK. We know what we're doing, just like firefighters and police officers in the military know what they're doing. But think about it. Their jobs are pretty much every day of the year. We only have a few hours out of each year to study hurricanes. We'd better get it right.

LIN: And that is the purpose, to study the hurricanes, the wind speed. What else? What did you learn about Hurricane Dennis?

SUDDUTH: The track forecast error for Dennis is not very large, but it made a big difference. The center was forecast as late as last night to go right up Mobile Bay. And I was stationed in Gulf Shores with a good friend of all of ours, Jeff Lott (ph), to cover the hurricane for the Internet, for news organizations and for research purposes.

LIN: Right.

SUDDUTH: But it made landfall near Santa Rosa Island. That's a huge difference in terms of logistics. To get over there and reset up all of your equipment...

LIN: Right.

SUDDUTH: ... even for small groups of reporters and researchers like us, it was tough, because of the geography there.

LIN: How do you gather -- Mark, how do you gather the data on the run like that when you're in the midst of winds blowing at 120 miles an hour?

SUDDUTH: We have a specially built wind tower made out of steel, made by a company that makes cranes. And we set this up, and using technology from Sprint, we're able to broadcast that information back to our web site at HurricaneTrack.com. And that includes streaming video for the first time ever.

And folks all around the world -- I have people from Scotland, Las Vegas, the Pacific Northwest, everywhere, watching this hurricane virtually...

LIN: In real time.

SUDDUTH: ... in real team. Not only the -- not only the, you know, the "oohs" and "ahs" of what's going on with the wind and any breaking waves and the images.

LIN: Right.

SUDDUTH: But the data. They were actually able to see in real time what the wind speeds were. The air pressure as it dropped. A very small step towards a grander, more robust way of recording hurricanes using remote technology. Because I -- eventually, you know, like what we saw (ph) last year, a very lethal hurricane. There are some that you cannot be out in.

LIN: Right.

SUDDUTH: So we want to make sure that this remote equipment is going to work...

LIN: Right.

SUDDUTH: ... when we abandon it. And Dennis gave us a good chance to do that.

LIN: Mark, what did you see when you were out there?

SUDDUTH: I'm sorry. Say it again?

LIN: What did you see?

SUDDUTH: Oh, sure.

LIN: I mean, what was it like to be out there?

SUDDUTH: You know, it's -- as the storm progresses, the rain really starts to pick up. And you see and you hear and you smell things. There's the smell of salt in the air. The wind is blowing through power lines. And it creates a very eerie sort of hum.

And then the hurricane force winds above you in the clouds, the sand that blows around, the trees that are just constantly being bent, signs, metal signs that are flapping, making a very strange sound. Just a lot of different noises and interesting things going on around you that, really, it's why people that are told to evacuate should.

LIN: Right.

SUDDUTH: Not only from the hazards of the hurricanes, but just imagine how terrifying it can be to somebody who's never experienced it before.

LIN: Right.

SUDDUTH: And hopefully, through some of our work, we can teach them what they need to know to get ready for the next big hurricane.

LIN: You bet. Interestingly, though, the talk about the -- for the sake of the storm tracking. I mean, so much was allegedly learned from the four hurricanes of last year. And yet, what you're saying is more work needs to be done. Mark, we're going to count on the information that you're going to be bringing in, and exciting to finally be able to watch it real time on the Internet. Thank you very much.

NGUYEN: Well, if you are in the path of a storm, you are seeing something others, frankly, want to see. Here is your chance to share some of your pictures of Hurricane Dennis. Just CNN.com/Hurricane. We want to share your point of view as a citizen journalist with the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: It's 15 minutes past the hour. Let's go straight to the CNN Hurricane Center, as we have every 15 minutes, checking in with meteorologist Bonnie Schneider.

Bonnie, you know, we -- it's been -- Hurricane Dennis has been downgraded now to a tropical storm, and people might think that the coast is clear. Maybe a little wet outside, but at least the wind's not blowing.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. And you know, it's not even a weak tropical storm. It's still a very strong one, with maximum sustained winds at 50 miles per hour, Dennis is still very much going to cause a problem, and flooding, especially if you live in a low lying area. We're seeing teaming rain right now across the state of Alabama, from north to south but especially right in the center for Birmingham, Montgomery.

Back out towards Mississippi, near Meridian, actually right in this vicinity is where the storm center is located. And if you're traveling anywhere along the northern half of Alabama, boy, you want to stay inside tonight, because it's that type of rain where it's blinding and you really can't see, especially at night. That will hold true for Nashville and for Memphis, especially into the early hours of tomorrow. So if you're doing traveling and you have to get on the road, definitely allow extra time. But if you can avoid it, that's my best advice. Because we're going to see the type of water where it ponds on the roadways.

Also here in Atlanta, we're seeing plenty of rain. And there's more to come tonight if you're planning to do some traveling in Georgia, as well. So Dennis not at all over yet. Might not be a hurricane, but a tropical storm certainly can bring in the rain.

And we also have the potential for tornadoes. When the storms come on shore, they immediately burst into thunderstorms, rotating thunderstorms, beater bends (ph). And as they rotate, we could start to see some circulation develop into what we call spin in the atmosphere. And that could create an outbreak of tornadoes.

So the National Weather Service has issued this tornado watch, posted right now for much of Alabama, especially for the Birmingham area. We're seeing some of the worst weather right now. But also back out towards Georgia and then further south for the Panhandle of Florida.

Still interesting to note, we look further to the west towards Louisiana and Texas, nice and dry. Not too bad at all. This was really more of the eastern section of the Gulf Coast that got the hardest hit from Dennis, especially further along the south here. We saw a tremendous amount of flooding in Pensacola and areas east.

Now, as we take a look into the future for Dennis, we're expecting this to continue to be a problem for flooding. But looking into the future for the tropics, just want to point out we have a potential for another storm that may be a trouble maker for next weekend, not necessarily making U.S. landfall but just to let you know that it's out there.

This is Tropical Depression No. 5, well out into the Atlantic, far away from the U.S. mainland, far away from the western Caribbean. But just close enough that we want to let you know this storm is strengthening, and it is likely to become a tropical storm named Emily, the fifth one of the season already. And we're expecting that name to come as early as Tuesday into Monday.

So not out of the woods yet. This is just the beginning. Tropical season runs through November 30, and already, at this early stage, we are active and busy, unfortunately -- Carol, Betty.

NGUYEN: We're got a long way to go.

SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes.

NGUYEN: All right, Bonnie. Thank you.

So we want to know, how is Hurricane Dennis affecting your area? Send us your photos and video to CNN.com/Hurricane. But we do want to give you a word of caution, please. Don't do anything risky to shoot these shots, especially with flooding and downed power lines in many areas. Your safety, of course, is the most important.

But here are some of the photos we've already received. This is from Charly in Carrabelle, Florida. This photo shows the flooding that has hit that area. Look at that. Now this flooding is from the storm surge from Hurricane Dennis.

The area is under curfew, which is good. It means a lot of people aren't out on these roads. And as you can see, many of the roads are, obviously, closed because of the flooding that you're seeing right here in this picture.

LIN: Now this one, the next one up, is from Bob. No, we just saw that one. OK, Bob, Panama City Beach, Florida. This was taken at a building called the Summit. It's a popular condo vacation resort area. So if you've ever vacationed there, you might recognized this location. It's supposed to be -- there you go -- picnic tables and that orange cone in the water. So not a very enticing place to have lunch right now.

NGUYEN: No, and look at this. This is from Dino in Crestview, Florida. This is at the Econolodge there in Crestview, and you can see the roof area is just ripped off, on the ground. No indication as to, you know, if anyone was injured in that, but as far as we know, there have not been any fatalities in Dennis, thank goodness.

But as you can see, lots of damage caused by Dennis, and Dennis isn't done. Still a tropical storm at this hour.

LIN: Right. No guests at the lodge tonight.

Take a look at this picture now. This is from Brian in Panama Beach, Florida. Sent some video clips. And on this one, take a look at this. You can see the heavy waves as they come ashore there. So a lot of power outages still in that region. Two hundred thousand people still without power right there along the Florida/Alabama coastline area.

NGUYEN: It's going to be a long Monday and a long week, as they look at the damage and try to recover from all of it.

LIN: Yes.

NGUYEN: Well, although Hurricane Dennis came in as a Category 3 storm, it moved quickly ashore.

LIN: Yes. We are going to check in with one coastal town that might have avoided heavy damage, wind damage at least, but not the constant rain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Hurricane Dennis caused major flooding along the Florida tourist belt, from Destin to Fort Walton Beach. Highway 98, which runs between the two towns, is under water. And Ann Perillo, a resident of Fort Walton Beach, joins us now by telephone.

First of all, I think what is quite amazing to me, a lot of people we've spoken with this morning have said that they did, indeed, stay home during this Category 4, which we thought was going to be what Dennis would be as it came ashore. It turned out to be Category 3. But gosh, as you hear a Category 4, why would you want to stay home?

ANN PERILLO, FORT WALTON BEACH RESIDENT: Well, because this is our home and we have responsibilities here. We don't -- we have a business down in Fort Walton, and there's just -- and my family's here. My children are here. My grandchildren here. It's just a lot of responsibility that you want to take care of.

NGUYEN: But what about your safety? Were you ever worried about that?

PERILLO: Actually, no. What we've learned through the past 40- plus years is if you take all the precautions that you can, usually, things will turn out OK for you, as they did today, thank goodness.

NGUYEN: Yes, thank goodness. Well, take us back to when you started to feel the effects of Dennis where you are. What was that like?

PERILLO: This morning, that would be this morning. It -- it came -- I think it came in earlier than what we had anticipated. The winds started picking up. Really strong, strong winds. And rain. And we had boarded our windows and such. So you hear all this, like, creaking noises, and that was the worst part of it, I think.

NGUYEN: Did you ever think, "Oh, I've made the wrong decision"?

PERILLO: No. No. As long as you are cautious and you know what part of the house you're going to be in, in case something really bad happens, and you take all your precautions. If you're not on the water, per se, then I think you're fine.

NGUYEN: So what kind of damage did you see? What kind of damage did you get from Dennis?

PERILLO: In our neighborhood, we have a lot of downed trees, some, like, aluminum siding off houses, such as that. But nothing major, not like Ivan.

NGUYEN: That is some good news.

PERILLO: Very good news.

NGUYEN: And you know, Dennis came by a lot quicker than Ivan. That may have helped you out.

PERILLO: I think that's what saved us.

NGUYEN: Yes. It came through the area a lot quicker.

Now we are already talking about this other tropical depression which may turn into a tropical storm called Emily, if that happens. Does that worry you? I mean, this is supposed to be a busy hurricane season.

PERILLO: Kind of, but after Arlene kind of sizzled out earlier, we just keep saying our prayers that the same thing will happen. I'll have to tell you, Saturday before Dennis came in, people we have locally that came into the restaurant, you just can't imagine the thoughts of having to go through another Ivan or anything close to that again so soon.

NGUYEN: Exactly. Which gets me to my next question. You have -- you have been there. You have seen, you've experienced a lot of storms. Last year, four that came through during hurricane season. Do you ever consider that it's taken such a toll on you that you're considering maybe even moving out of the area? Is that something?

PERILLO: Never.

NGUYEN: Never?

PERILLO: Never. Never crossed my mind.

NGUYEN: Really? Well, what kind of a toll, though, is it taking on you, both emotionally and economically?

PERILLO: Well, emotionally, it really takes -- like I said, people were talking Saturday about can't believe. Like a lot of people I know just getting back into their homes from Ivan, they just cannot imagine having to go through that again. And luckily, we don't -- I don't see that we are going to have to go through all that stuff we went through before.

This area couldn't take another Ivan.

NGUYEN: Well, hopefully, it won't take another Ivan.

PERILLO: Right.

NGUYEN: Ann Perillo in Fort Walton Beach, we appreciate your time.

PERILLO: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Thank you -- Carol

LIN: Wow. Brave woman.

NGUYEN: Yes, she is.

LIN: And loves her home, clearly.

We are keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Dennis and damage its causing in the southeast. We're going to check with our meteorologist, Bonnie Schneider, when we come back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: September 22, 1989, Hurricane Hugo slammed into South Carolina after doing heavy damage to Puerto Rico and the Virgin and Hubert (ph) islands. A record-setting 20-foot tidal surge destroyed homes along the southern Atlantic coast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's total devastation here. Look at this.

ANNOUNCER: Large portions of downtown Charleston were destroyed, and bridges to nearby islands were demolished. Hurricane Hugo was one of the most extensive hurricanes in U.S. history, causing an estimated $7 billion in damage, along with 82 deaths.

CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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