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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Dennis Downgraded to Tropical Storm

Aired July 11, 2005 - 01:30   ET

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


CAROL LIN, CO-HOST: Hurricane Dennis dwindles to a tropical storm. Now it is time to assess the damage.
Good morning, I'm Carol Lin.

BETTY NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen. We take a closer look at Dennis in just a moment. But first, here are some of the other headlines making news this morning.

In central Canada, a horrific site as two small biplanes collide at an air show. The planes were simulating a World War I dog fight when they hit and burst into flames. No spectators were hurt, but both pilots were killed.

The Pentagon says the body of a Navy SEAL has been found and recovered in Afghanistan. This would account for the fourth member of a team that disappeared two weeks ago. Two other bodies have also been found. Only one member of the team survived.

And the FBI says remains found in Montana have been positively identified as missing 9-year-old Dylan Groene, seen here. Dylan and his 8-year-old sister, Shasta, disappeared from their home on May 16 after the beating deaths of other family members. Shasta was found alive last week after witnesses spotted her in an Idaho restaurant with a man who's now in custody.

Prices at the pump, they are higher than they've ever been. The cost of regular gasoline, self-serve gas, surged over the past two weeks, jumping nearly a dime to an all-time high of $2.31 a gallon.

LIN: It is now the hurricane that was, but what is now Tropical Storm Dennis is by no means done. Here's where we are right now.

Authorities in Florida and Alabama say there are no reports of deaths or injuries. Still, more than 250,000 people 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. Only light storm damage is being reported in places like Baldwin County, Alabama.

NGUYEN: What is now Tropical Storm Dennis is moving across the Mississippi and Tennessee valleys as huge thunderstorms. Now meteorologist Bonnie Schneider is at the CNN Hurricane Center, and she joins us with an update on Dennis, which is still a menace, apparently.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. That's the sign for true (ph). Still a menace, indeed, a tropical storm with maximum winds at 50 miles per, so a powerful tropical storm.

And we're seeing Dennis right now, the center of circulation over Alabama, just towards the Montgomery area, but that doesn't mean that many areas in and around Alabama, like the state of Georgia, aren't being affected by Dennis. We're seeing lots of rain, and all that's heading into Tennessee right now, Nashville getting pounded with rain.

But another area that got pounded with rain and flooding, as was mentioned earlier, in the low-lying areas, St. Marks, Florida. You're probably wondering why St. Marks, Florida? It's so far away from where the storm made landfall near the Tallahassee area, where St. Marks is. But when you travel further, all the way out to the west, near Pensacola, we were talking about where the landfall was, near Navarre Beach.

But this area here is where we saw a tremendous amount of flooding. We still have lots of water out there in St. Marks, Florida. Boy, look at that. Houses completely submerged by water. Waist-deep, chest-high, lots of water. And I don't think it's going to subside so quickly. And I'll show you the reason why.

I mentioned the storm surge and the feeder band of the hurricane. They can extend outward hundreds of miles away from where the storm makes landfall, and when you look at St. Marks on the map, you can see there's an inlet, right here from the Apalachee Bay that almost acts as a funnel, feeding the water right into St. Marks. And that's why we saw so much flooding in that particular area.

And certainly all along the Gulf Coast we've had reports of storm surge and flooding. So a serious situation there that continues overnight.

Now another situation just want to let you all know about is travel, especially back to work tomorrow. Actually, I should say today, back to work this morning. And if you're headed to do that, anywhere in this vicinity, we're going to see the heavy rain. We still have a tornado watch posted.

So call ahead if you're flying out of an airport like Atlanta, where there may be some delays and then further towards the west, towards Memphis, Nashville. Even St. Louis may be affected, because the rain bands are still so extensive with this tropical storm. And along with that, we have strong winds, up to 50 miles per hour.

Another piece of advice: if you don't have to travel on the roadways tomorrow where the rain's coming down, like especially for western Tennessee and into Memphis, you may want to take a day and just stay inside, if you possibly can, because we're expecting a lot of water on the roadway. Some of the rainfall estimates are up to five inches in some locations, three in others. That's enough of a troublesome problem that will definitely cause travel delays on the ground and in the air tomorrow.

NGUYEN: That's not good for a Monday morning.

SCHNEIDER: No.

NGUYEN: But we'll take it. That's all we have. Thank you, Bonnie. We'll check in with you later.

LIN: Well, Betty, Bonnie was just talking about it, Dennis has now weakened to a tropical storm but not before it knocked out power to hundreds of thousands and caused major flooding. Many people remain in shelters right now.

Anita Foster, national spokesperson for the Red Cross, joins us now with the very latest on recovery operations. So how many folks are you sheltering at this point?

ANITA FOSTER, NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, RED CROSS: Well, tonight, we do have several hundred people left in shelters in the Pensacola area. Last night, though, we sheltered over 4,500 people in one county in the state of Florida, in the Pensacola area. And so we have seen quite a few people as the result of Hurricane Dennis.

LIN: And all of those people, at this point, probably don't have any idea what the situation is with their homes. So what sorts of resources can you offer them?

FOSTER: Well, what the Red Cross does with our shelters is first of all, just provide people a safe place to stay. And then, as information becomes available about what neighborhoods are impacted, we can provide that information to the families. And so being in a shelter is, of course, first and foremost for your safety, but it's also a way that the Red Cross can get information to people.

We've been out on the roads quite a bit tonight, just beginning to get a feel for what types of damage we're looking at and things like that. We don't encourage the residents to be driving around right now.

LIN: Right.

FOSTER: But as you said...

LIN: But you can tell them that, Anita, right? I mean, the Red Cross, if you're driving around, you can give people an idea of what -- what's going on in their neighborhoods.

FOSTER: Exactly. And so, in the morning as soon as the sun comes up, we'll start what's called the damage assessment. We'll be going through the streets and just trying to determine who has damage and what the Red Cross can do to help that family begin to recover.

LIN: Oh, gosh. This has got to be such a tense and emotional time, right now, as people wait for the sunrise, to see whether they can go home or that you have anything to tell them.

FOSTER: It's very difficult. So many of the families that took shelter with us we saw 10 months ago.

LIN: Yes.

FOSTER: Result of Hurricane Ivan. I can't tell you how many times we heard that story. And so yes, it's definitely challenging for the families, but as always, there's just a sense of resiliency. People are together, and they're going through this together. And they'll help each other all along the way.

LIN: So what can you tell, though, people who, perhaps, had their home destroyed by Hurricane Ivan last September, only to try to recover and once again find themselves in your shelter, Anita?

FOSTER: Well, what we tell them is that they will make it through it. The Red Cross is here. We provide so many services. We provide them all free of charge. And so anybody who meets with the Red Cross knows that we're here to help.

We just tell them, in all honesty, you know, it's a long process, recovering from a hurricane. In fact, I was talking with the folks at the Pensacola Red Cross earlier today. They still have over 1,000 cases open from Hurricane Ivan.

LIN: Oh, my goodness.

FOSTER: There are families that are still getting help.

LIN: All right. One thousand cases, that could be a family of five, times 1,000. All right, Anita, thank you very much. Those folks need you out there. Anita Foster with the Red Cross.

Now, both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are accepting donations to help victims of Hurricane Dennis. So if you'd like to help, please give them a call. The Red Cross at 1-800-435-7669. Or you can visit their web site, RedCross.org.

For the Salvation Army, call 1-800-725-7269. Their web site is Sal-Army.org.

NGUYEN: Well, heavy winds left hundreds of thousands of people without power in Alabama and Florida. So how will the many cities and towns recover? We'll get the latest from the mayor of Panama City, Florida, when we come back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Before Ivan, Gilbert was one of the strongest hurricanes ever seen in the Western Hemisphere. The 1988 storm devastated Jamaica, with winds clocked at 184 miles per hour, leaving 20 percent of all Jamaicans homeless. Property damages on the island totaled more than $1 billion.

Days later, Gilbert was downgraded to Category 3 but struck the Mexican coast, south of Brownsville, Texas, with a ferocious one-two punch. Heavy rains and more than 29 tornadoes were reported.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Florida Governor Jeb Bush will visit the hardest hit areas of his state later this morning. Now, Hurricane Dennis follows four hurricanes that hit Florida last year, including Ivan, which caused considerable damage in the same area as Dennis did on Sunday.

Bush says there was a silver lining, though, to last year's devastation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: The state of Florida is poised and ready to respond to this hurricane. We've learned a lot in this last year, and all of the lessons learned and all of the training is now going to be brought to bear to provide support for hundreds of thousands of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: Both of Florida's U.S. senators, one congressman and several state officials will tour the affected area with Governor Bush, starting at around 11 a.m. Eastern.

Well, Panama City on the Florida Panhandle was in Dennis' crosshairs before the Category 3 hurricane made landfall. The resort town managed to avoid major damage but was hit by tidal surges, causing flooding and power outages.

Joining us now is Panama City Beach mayor, Lee Sullivan. We appreciate your time.

I guess to understand the damage, we have to understand where you sit, according to sea level. Panama City is in Bay County, which is about 13 feet above sea level. Now, when Dennis came ashore, it was expected to have 19 feet of storm surges, so that gives an idea of the damage there. But we need you to tell us. What kind of damage have you seen so far?

LEE SULLIVAN, MAYOR, PANAMA CITY: The best we can figure (ph) the damage that we have experienced is going to be from the storm surge, erosion along the beach. What with the surge in the bays and estuaries and it caused some significant, I believe, significant damage.

But as you said, we are still very fortunate to have escaped with what will be -- what we wound up with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 16 years of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that I...

NGUYEN: We're having a little problem with your audio there, but you talked about the erosion on the beach. Is your beach still there, or is it pretty much washed out? How much erosion?

SULLIVAN: Well, where I come from, I say that there will always be a beach. That will be between the water and wherever you are. But we have lost a lot of it. We -- it will take a couple of days for the water to back up and for us to see just exactly how (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it is. The Gulf is up now. The water is up. It will take a couple of days to be able to understand just how badly we've been hurt.

NGUYEN: And speaking of some of the other damage, when it comes to power outages and flooding, what have you seen so far?

SULLIVAN: At my house, we have no power. We have -- have experienced (UNINTELLIGIBLE) power outages. The power company has been unable to deal with that as of yet. Maybe morning (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to safely determine what the damages are. We're going to get that corrected.

So that's -- the outages are not significant, unless you are one of the people that have no power.

NGUYEN: One last thing, Mayor. You are dealing with a lot different situation, difficult situations on your hand. But what is your biggest challenge right now?

SULLIVAN: We -- it is difficult to talk with you and to try to explain where we are without saying how much we appreciate not being any worse off than we are. But first of all, our season has been (UNINTELLIGIBLE) devastated. The economic impact (UNINTELLIGIBLE) beach (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Second to that, the storm has come and created the physical damage that it has done. We will never recover from the loss of the seasonality. You probably (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Will take us awhile to determine (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

NGUYEN: Mayor Lee Sullivan of Panama City Beach, got a lot of work ahead of you. We wish you the best of luck -- Carol.

LIN: Trying to reach us on the satellite phone without -- you know, with all the power outages.

NGUYEN: The power outages, right.

LIN: Right. Hard to understand, but definitely a serious situation there. But he said it could have been worse.

NGUYEN: It sure could have.

LIN: In the meantime, Tropical Storm Dennis now causing problems for Monday morning travelers. Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider has the latest from the CNN Hurricane Center.

Bonnie, a lot of people trying to hit the road or trying the skies tomorrow, or actually, this coming morning.

NGUYEN: Yes. It's Monday morning.

LIN: Two in the morning Monday, here on the East Coast.

SCHNEIDER: Sure. And in just a few hours, people will be heading to the airport for their morning flights. And what's unfortunate about the track of Dennis, which is now a tropical storm with maximum winds at 50 miles per hour, the center of circulation in Alabama right now, further to the west of Birmingham. What we're seeing now is that, as this storm continues to rotate and continues to work to the north and west, it's likely to slow down just a little bit. It will weaken a bit, but it will slow down.

So we're looking at a big area of the country affected, possibly, with travel trouble spots, I think. Because when you're talking about a lot of rain coming down, it certainly was -- dampened the runways, as well, for flying. But also a lot of winds. You can have thunderstorms with lightning. And you don't want to be driving, obviously, in weather like this.

I just want to point out, we have a lot of travel hubs here on the map that may be affected. So you're definitely going to want to call ahead if you're flying out of Atlanta or even to Charlotte, where we're not seeing too much in the way of bad weather right now, but overnight we're likely to see that up towards Cincinnati and then back out in the mid-south, in Memphis, Tennessee, Nashville. And then further to the north, we are likely to be affected by some not so great weather towards St. Louis tomorrow morning. So any of these areas, you should call ahead if you're flying out.

But certainly, on the roadways, some of the worst spots will be Interstate 40, 55, and certain I-10 where many of the areas are not able to be traveled on by now, because of the heavy downpours of rain and flooding that's expected.

How much rain will Dennis bring? We're expecting along the track of Dennis, as it continues to work in this direction, we can see three to five inches in the vicinity of Tennessee and then further up towards Kentucky, possibly more than that.

We have some reports on the ground in some areas, like St. Marks, Florida, well, well to the east of the storm. In this vicinity, we've had reports about 10 to 12 inches of rain, standing water up to chest high. So not a pretty situation there. And a lot of areas in the mid-South will be affected further up to the north.

Interesting, the storm isn't working its way to the north and east like we see with a lot of storms, where you have the moisture kind of riding up the coast, eventually bringing heavy rain to the Northeast.

As we put this map into motion, this is projected rainfall. So in just a few hours, saturating the ground through much of Alabama and Tennessee, put into motion even further as we start talking about tonight. We're talking about cities like St. Louis, all the way up towards Central Illinois, much through Kentucky like Louisville, Lexington areas. And then back out to the east. Not too bad for Charlotte, but again, I would call ahead. You never know. It's a little bit of -- damp conditions can cause travel delays.

So a big part of the country affected. It may be a slow commute for a lot of folks this morning -- Carol, Betty. NGUYEN: What a way to start your week out. OK, Bonnie, thank you.

LIN: Now we want to know, and we want to see, actually, how Hurricane -- or now Tropical Storm Dennis is affecting your area. And the technology allows you to do that. If you've got some pictures on your cell phone or on your computer that you want to send to us, photos, video to CNN.com/Hurricane.

But look, we don't want you to make any unnecessary risks to share these pictures. Your safety is the most important to us. So don't take those risks. But if you've been shooting some pictures like some of the ones that we're seeing, yes.

NGUYEN: This one.

LIN: This one from Audley in Keaton Beach, Florida. She says that she's from Keaton Beach, Florida, which is a very small fishing community, and they were hit pretty bad there. About 30 miles southeast of St. Marks, which is known for its oysters. And we know now that it is completely submerged underwater. Folks are getting around by boat.

NGUYEN: You can tell by that picture how the water has come up.

This next picture is from Laurel in Cape San Blas. And Laurel says what you're seeing right there is from the storm surge, thanks to Dennis, on the cape. She says it's been incredible there, that storm surge. She lost about 60 feet of heavily vegetated natural dune in the area.

So Dennis causing lots of problems along the coast.

LIN: And look at this. It's kind of an eerie sight, a forest under water, essentially. These are pictures that Robert sent from Crystal River, Florida, of Encore Park. Crystal River, it's about 90 miles northwest of Tampa, Florida. It wasn't really close. It wasn't in the direct path of the storm, but they still got hit pretty badly.

NGUYEN: A lot of people were that didn't -- that weren't in the direct path. They were just on the outskirts. They got some of the worst damage because of the flooding.

LIN: Right. So much flooding, and it's known for ecotourism, so they're worried because, you know, it's peak season right now, and the tourist dollars are very important.

NGUYEN: Another economic hit.

Well, we have seen roofs collapse, trees uprooted and towns, well, just flooded like you saw in some of those pictures. The images have been remarkable. We're going to take a look back at Hurricane Dennis when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: CNN's special coverage of Hurricane Dennis continues. And as you know, we have been following this storm all weekend long.

LIN: Yes. This has been your hurricane headquarters. Here now is a look at the storm as it's evolved, crept closer and finally made landfall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're looking at a storm surge. This is -- was Highway 98. What was a passable road that is now, essentially, under water.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The eye wall of Hurricane Dennis is now making landfall.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": The winds really have picked up. If you look over there, the trees are moving -- are getting pushed pretty good here. And as you can see, the water is just completely horizontal. The wind is just pushing this rain. And the rain has really picked up, as well. It's impossible to even look into the wind.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. You can't turn your face over here to the sand and the rain and the wind. I'd tell you we're pretty close to, you know, hurricane force winds sustained now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're experiencing here now is the storm surge coming up and coming over onto the sea wall and every once in awhile splashing over the top.

COOPER: Let me just explain where we are. We're occasionally seeking the safety of a Ramada Hotel. There's two walls behind our camera. And we are all basically kind of clustered behind these walls for safety.

And if you look just out there, that is an enormous Ramada sign, which has just been twisting in the wind. And one -- as you can see, I mean, it is moving. That is a big concern. We are very afraid that that thing could just come down.

ZARRELLA: Look out, that aluminum! Look out! Get back! Get back!

COOPER: Look over there! Look over there!

ZARRELLA: It's coming apart.

COOPER: That is aluminum. That's part of the sign.

ZARRELLA: Look at this. It's all coming apart. The trees are coming down.

COOPER: You see that tree went down?

ZARRELLA: Big trees coming down. Big trees coming down.

COOPER: Be very careful. Look at that sign. Look... ZARRELLA: Oh, here comes the sign down! It's falling apart. Get back! Get back! Get back!

COOPER: Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this.

BUSH: We have an awesome team that is mobilized, that is moving, as we speak, towards West Florida to be able to provide that first assessment of safety, to make sure that our first priority is to take care of the people that may be in danger.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LIN: It has been an extraordinary weekend here at CNN as we have tracked Hurricane Dennis.

NGUYEN: It's been quite a ride. We especially, though, want to thank you for being a part of the process with all your pictures. You can expect live updates, though, throughout the morning. So don't go away.

LIN: You bet. Right now, "LARRY KING LIVE" on Hurricane Dennis. I'm Carol Lin.

NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen. Have a good morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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