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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Hurricane Dennis Continues Rampage Of South

Aired July 10, 2005 - 17:00   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone, welcome to CNN, your hurricane headquarters. I'm Kyra Phillips.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. Our coverage of Hurricane Dennis continues.

PHILLIPS: Hurricane Dennis has roared ashore along the western Florida Panhandle.

BLITZER: The eye of the storm crossed land about 90 minutes ago near Navarre Beach with top sustained winds at 120 miles-an-hour. In Pensacola, CNN's Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella witnessed a huge aluminum sign collapse as they huddled for cover behind a hotel with a CNN crew. They also witnessed the trunks of several sizable trees snap like twigs. The extent of the damage throughout the region is not yet known as Dennis moves inland with still plenty of fury left. CNN's Jacqui Jeras warns that flooding could occur along the storm's projected path, across southern Alabama and then through Mississippi and later this week into the Ohio Valley.

PHILLIPS: Jacqui Jeras now standing by live in the weather center.

Jacqui, tell us the latest.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We, the latest is the center of this storm is about 20 miles to the north of Pensacola. We still have tornado warnings in effect for Escambia County, Alabama, and Florida, same name of the county in different states, and then also for Santa Rosa County in Florida. That's because of the eye wall of the storm still here producing tornado-like conditions, not to mention with hurricanes we typically do see tornadoes associated with them. So, tornadoes are going it be possible in that area, not to mention those hurricane-force winds that are still existent.

You mentioned the time of landfall and some of the peak winds. We just got a report in near Navarre Beach, this was 99 mile-per-hour sustained winds with gusts of 121 at the time when Dennis made landfall.

I want to show you how expansive this storm is, because this is really affecting a lot of people, not just those of you on Santa Rosa Island, at this time. You can see there are rain showers that extend from about Jackson, Mississippi, all the way over to Savannah, Georgia. Heavy showers and thunderstorms approaching the Atlanta area, right now, and we're still seeing some of these outer bands across parts of the Florida Peninsula. This is starting to slow down just a little bit in forward speed. And as it does that, that is going to start to heighten our concerns for inland flooding. This is the official forecast track, right now. And it's showing you overnight tonight into the early hours of tomorrow morning just under hurricane strength for the maximum sustained winds. So, wind will continue to be an issue. In fact, wind advisories that extend all the way up into the Boot Heel of Missouri and we also flood advisories throughout much of this region.

The further north that it gets, the more it's going to stall out, unfortunately, our upper level pattern, there is no big trough or any big system that's going to help to kick Dennis out of here very quickly. So, once it heads up towards the Tennessee River Valley into the Ohio River Valley, that's when it's really going to be slowing down and that's when we're especially concerned about some inland flooding.

Here are the flood threat areas highlighted in green. Flood watches in the light green area, and there you can see the flood warnings in the dark green area. Rainfall amounts within the path of this storm are expected to be somewhere on the range of probably five to 10 inches, as we head through tomorrow. General rainfall amounts that will be reaching you will be more like four to eight inches. You can see a lot of big cities are going to be affected, here, we've got Mobile up to Birmingham or Atlanta, Memphis will be included, up towards Evansville, Indiana, even into Cincinnati, Ohio -- Wolf and Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Quick question, Jacqui, I was reading Max Mayfield when he was talking about a category 3 to a category 4. He said, "That would be the difference between being hit by an 18-wheeler and being hit by a freight train." So, put in to perspective category 2.

JERAS: Category 2, certainly not as much catastrophic damage. This was a category 3. Category 2 has winds of 96 to 110 miles-per- hour. Your storm surge is much less with that, on the range of six to eight feet. Either way, it is a big -- the high -- as your numbers go up in categories, Kyra, the damage goes up expunengsally. So, there is a significant difference between each category in terms of the amount of damage it will do.

When we say category 3, we consider a three and higher a major hurricane and that can blow over well-built structure, but when you start talking about a two and you start talking about a one, certainly a very big difference between that.

PHILLIPS: All right, Jacqui Jeras there in our weather center, thank you so much.

And as you know, we have correspondents all along Alabama -- cities in Alabama -- areas in Alabama, all the way to Florida, of course. We've the entire area covered. But if you're just tuning in, if you've just had a chance to sort of try and catch up on what's been taking place within the past five hours or so, we just want to give you a look at some of the highlights of what this storm has done in just the past two hours. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are back on the air, John Zarrella and I. Let me just explain where we are. We're basically seeking the safety of the Ramada Hotel. There's two walls business on -- 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, 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.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's been spinning around like a top and right really what we're experiencing right now is a little bit of a lull compared to what we had. The gusts before were well above hurricane force. It had to be in the 95, 100 mile-an- hour range.

COOPER: Minutes ago -- I don't know how much -- when I called in, I don't how much of that you could get, but it has actually gone down from that point. That was really -- it was this extraordinary wall of white. It was like a solid mass.

ZARRELLA: You couldn't see a thing out there. And the trees were bent, as they're bending again now. We're starting to get another one of those...

COOPER: Yeah, and look at the tops of those trees over there. You see some of them have snapped already. But these things are moving and as these bands of the storm come...

ZARRELLA: Here it comes again. Look out here.

COOPER: You can feel it, right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out for that aluminum!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get back! Get back!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming apart!

ZARRELLA: It's coming apart.

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

ZARRELLA: Look at this, it's all coming apart.

COOPER: Look at this.

ZARRELLA: The trees are coming down! Big trees coming down. Big trees coming down.

COOPER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ZARRELLA: Oh, here comes the sign, it's down! It's falling apart! Get back! Get back! Get back! COOPER: Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this, John, this incredible. Have you ever seen anything like this?

ZARRELLA: Never seen anything like this. I've never experienced anything like this before.

COOPER: This, of course, is the most dangerous time, when the winds are this strong...

ZARRELLA: Tree limbs are flying down. These pine trees, you see them out there, they keep -- big branches coming down, huge limbs.

COOPER: And it's incredible when you think, I mean, these are strong pieces of metal. This is not, you know, a little tin, this is a huge metal sign that survived hurricane Ivan, it has not survived Hurricane Dennis.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: People on the other side of the eye, the eye that actually was moving forward, they got it a lot worse, obviously, we don't have pictures from there yet, but we will. What we're experiencing here now is the storm surge coming up and coming over to the sea wall and every once in a while splashing over the top.

Now I can talk because I'm in the shadow of a big building. It's so different from one side of the building to the next and that's what we're seeing here. In fact, the winds coming different directions, as you say, as well. They're now coming more onshore. As they come onshore we're losing some roofs across the street and as that happens, those pieces now, they become projectiles, they get into the 85 mile- per-hour. Our last gust was 84 miles-per-hour. And we're 40 to 60 miles from the eastern side of the eye wall. So, everyone from here, right on through and up to Design and Fort Walton Beach all being affected like we are and in many places, a lot more than we are. The problem with a lot of the spots here, those buildings are 12 to 15 stories high. The higher you go, the higher the wind speeds. If we had 84 down here, they had 100 up there, 150 feet off the ground.

The big difference about what you're seeing and what I'm seeing, I'm getting a wind storm. I will concur that this is very dry. Now, as I'm as wet inside as I am outside, but that's because I've been out here for six to eight hours. The difference is, what we're seeing here is the wind. What the wind is doing to the trees, knocking them down. We had over 15 inches of excess rainfall, here, in the past month. The ground is absolutely saturated. That was some sea foam, let me get that off of there for you. The ground is absolutely saturated, as that happens the wind is just taking these trees and pushing them into the power lines and power lines are sparking everywhere now across the city.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: That was our meteorologist Chad Myers there, as you saw on tape reporting for us earlier. Now, we've got him live in Panama City, Florida.

Chad, bring us up to date. What are the conditions like now? Has it changed much?

MYERS: You know, Kyra, it comes and it goes. All of a sudden we had a little lull to about 50 miles-per-hour and then not even three minutes ago we're back up to 75 again. And so, I think we're seeing some of those squall bands moving through here and what I'm -- what we're concerned about now are water spouts and tornadoes because that's what we're -- that's the part of the storm that we're in.

That's a lot better. I forget how loud a hurricane can be. Because when you're in the wind and everything is flapping you can't here, basically we can't even hear you guys in Atlanta, but I do the best that I can. What we have been seeing, is actually the water going down a little bit. Because we had a 1250 high tide, but that high did not coincide and match up with our storm surge. That is the best news I can give you. When the high tide and the storm surge happen at the same time, the water levels go up dramatically because they're both acting in tandem. When one's going up and one's going down we have a flattening and that's what we're having here, although you can just see how -- just how foamy the water is and I know we've had a lot of damage to our east because things have been floating in across this area from east to west all afternoon. I'm talking docks, I'm talking fences. Literally, full trees that are in the ocean, floating back and forth and because of the long shore current, the long shore current is actually traveling across from east to west. It picks up these things and it actually just throws it on down, basically, to our Destin and Fort Walton Beach, eventually it's going to wash up somewhere down there.

We have not had any overwash here, but as you go up and down the beach, high tide is different depending if you're east or west of me. So, in place wheres the high tide did coincide with the storm surge, there will be overwash, there will be damage and that's the worst, that storm surge damage. If you get hit by a two-foot wave when you're in the ocean, imagine getting hit with a six or eight-foot wave that's coming, there's just so much force and water compared to even the force that we're seeing here in the wind.

PHILLIPS: Well Chad, let's exercise your expertise, here. You talk about -- Jacqui mentioned now, there's still, of course, even though it's been downgraded to a category 2, there are a number of threats out there. A lot rainfall scores, a lot of flooding, but you just mentioned water spouts and also tornadoes. Let's sort of give a 101 of water spouts here. Tell us how that happens, tell us the threat.

MYERS: There is so much twist to these little cells that are on the northwest side of a hurricane. They're already spinning by the time they get here and they -- we call them, actually, mini super cells. They're not like the F-4 or F5 tornado that you're going to see in Oklahoma and Texas, once in a while. These are little F0, F1's and even over the last couple of storms,. Panama City had more damage from the tornado damage then from the storm serge or from the wind damage. And when you're on the wrong side, like we are, on the northeast quadrant, when these things come spinning in, the land actually has friction. That friction helps spin the storm even more and that spin, obviously, can come down like a tornado. When a large storm, let's say it's three miles across, Kyra, is spinning only three or four miles per hour, the very middle of that storm, if it decides to, if it decides to be a tornado, some will, some won't, when that storm brings its arms in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) called angular momentum, in one little spot that it will spin down a tornado that could be 120 or 140 miles-per-hour when the whole storm is spinning five, because the storm's so big (UNINTELLIGIBLE) small.

PHILLIPS: Chad Myers, love the technicalities. Thank you so much. Live in Panama City, there, we'll continue, of course, to check in with you for the next number of hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's not only an excellent reporter on the scene for us, but he's also a meteorologist. He understands this kind of weather better than most, obviously.

Kyra, we have, joining us now, the lieutenant governor of Florida, Toni Jennings from Tallahassee. Lieutenant Governor, thanks very much for join us. Give us the preliminary assessment to your beautiful state.

LT. GOV. TONI JENNINGS, FLORIDA: Well, obviously, you saw from your live shots just a few minutes ago that the storm is still working its way through the state of Florida. We're going to have damage. We have not been able to ascertain exactly how much at this point, it hit around the Santa Rosa County area, which is an area that was hit before, obviously, when Ivan came through and it is working its way out. It came in as a category 3 and it's now a two, but, even so, as you heard, those are very dangerous storms. So, we are getting prepared. We have had all the mobilization that we could possibly do. Now, we're just waiting for things to move on through so we can get all the help that we need to people.

As you saw in our message to people out there, please, it is very dangerous to be out. Stay safe, stay wherever you are, stay in, and do not hurry back to your home, if you have evacuated, because obviously, it's going to take us a little while. Chances are you don't have power and without power and without power other things don't operate. So, we're encouraging people to, please, stay where they are and wait until tomorrow and wait until you have an all clear from your local emergency people.

BLITZER: The area of the eye, where it touched land, the mainland part of the United States, near Pensacola, is that the area that you're getting reports was the most severely affected? The most severely damaged?

JENNINGS: Well, at the moment, yes. But, of course, just as we all know, the surrounding areas can be equally as affected. We've got flooding in parts of the Panhandle area. We had a good bit of storm surge as the storm moved its way up. So, in areas that we didn't anticipate, the kind of damage that we may have, we may well have damage. So, again, it is very early. Here it is just 5:00 Eastern Standard time and the storm came ashore around 2:30 or so. So, we are in the preliminary stages of finding out exactly what has happened. But, first and foremost, we are ready. The National Guard is here, we have 2,600 troops on ready to dispatch them over to the Panhandle. We've had trucks, tractor trailer trucks with water and ice and roofing materials that have been staged here since last Thursday. We've also got them in Mobile so that they can come from the east going west and from the west coming east depending on where the road damage is so that we can get to people that need the help.

BLITZER: It came ashore at 2:25 Central time, 3:25 Eastern. So, it's now at almost two hours since it's come ashore. It's moving slowly through the Panhandle, through the state of Florida. But you're saying, based on all the indications you're getting from you monitors across the state, it's by no means over?

JENNINGS: Oh, heavens, no. And that's why we're encouraging people, please, if you can hear us, stay where you are, stay where you are until tomorrow and then watch your local emergency management people. The individual counties will tell you when the evacuation orders are over and when it is really safe to return, because, as we know, tonight, coming back through the dark will be a very difficult time. Our emergency management people are leaving now, dispatched to the Panhandle area, those that weren't already there. And we're concerned about them. But we sure don't need people on the road, in the dark when utilities go out, of course, we know we lose signalization and it gets to be a whole different state of affairs.

And again, we encourage people, you don't know about local flooding. You don't know where the bottom is sometimes when you drive into water. You don't know if there are power lines down that are still live. Last year, during our storms, the real fatalities and injuries came after the storm. It is the most dangerous time and that's why we encourage everyone to please stay safe.

BLITZER: Very briefly, speaking about fatalities and injuries, in these past couple hours, do you have any reports of any?

JENNINGS: No, we do not. We had had an early report of an incident with a fatality of a family that was getting ready to evacuate and it was an automobile situation, but nothing directly that had anything to do with the storm.

BLITZER: Let's hope it stays like that.

JENNINGS: You betcha.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings of Florida, joining us from Tallahassee, thank you very much.

JENNINGS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, as you heard the lieutenant governor said to you to pay attention to all the emergency folks in your area. We are definitely doing that because with the storms we've got to talk about the response and maintaining safety. Also, we're talking about the shelters and that's where the American Red Cross comes in addition to a number of those other points that we made. Marsha Evans, president and CEO of the American Red Cross joins us now live from our Washington bureau.

Pleasure to have you, Marsha. I guess the good news is, it is, um, I guess, the storm is weakening, but that doesn't mean your efforts are weakening, that's for sure. Give us a status report of where you are up and running and where your sheltering operations and is everything is going smoothly?

MARSHA EVANS, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Kyra, we opened about 150 shelters. We're sheltering tens of thousands of people in a four- state area from Louisiana over to Florida, Mississippi and Alabama. We're also prepared to open additional shelters as the storm moves northward and people are affected in the adjoining states. We were able to preposition extensive supplies, so we were ready when the storm hit. The shelters opened several days ago and, so the response has gone extremely smoothly and we've propositioned additional supplies, about 23 trailer-loads out of the storm's path, but ready to move in just as soon as we get the all-clear signal from the emergency authorities in the affected areas. We'll be moving in additional food, clean-up supplies, hygiene supplies. The American Red Cross is ready to take people who will need it, who will come back in the area and find that their homes have been affected and they can't be in their homes or have extensive damage. So, we're ready and will be through the duration.

PHILLIPS: Marsha, how do you prioritize your response? Obviously, you'll have a number of people contacting you, already contacting you. How do you keep this organized and how do you get to the people that desperately need you immediately?

EVANS: Well Kyra, we respond to about 70,000 disasters a year, so, we have pretty significant experience and, certainly from last year's hurricane season, we built on the lessens learned. What we did learn was that it was extremely important for people to be prepared, so we stepped up our preparedness efforts and, quite frankly, the fact that so many people have evacuated and come into shelters is really a good sign.

The second thing is we learned how important it was to step up to an even greater degree, our preparation, our supply -- supply chain. And thirdly, we also knew that it was important to let the rest of the American public outside the affected area know that the American Red Cross can only do its job as a non-profit organization with a financial resources that we're given. And so, we have to fuel this response, this extensive response by contributions from the public. And we're asking the public to make a contribution at redcross.org or 1-800-help-now.

PHILLIPS: Of course a lot of people want to get in and help at a time like this. So, you're asking -- you're able to man the phones and also e-mail. What exactly are you looking for? Is it financial help? What about if individuals, restaurants, or any kind of companies want to help donate supplies? EVANS: Well, that's wonderful when people step up to the plate. We certainly need the financial resources because that will give us a little more flexibility, but local establishments can contact their local Red Cross chapters, all of our chapters in the affected area are up and running and they can make an in-kind contribution through that local chapter or they can call 1-800-help-now and make an in-kind contribution that way.

I should also mention that across the nation and particularly in the areas affected by the hurricanes we're dangraserously low in our blood supply and so, we're also asking people who can get to a blood donation center to make an appointment 1-800-give-life or go on givelife.org, make an appointment to make a donation of unit of blood which can save up to three lives, so a lot of different ways people can help.

PHILLIPS: One-hundred-and-fifty shelters set up over a four- state area, a lot of pre-positioned supplies. Marsha Evans, president and CEO of American red cross, live out of our D.C. bureau. Thanks, Marsha.

EVANS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Kyra, we're going to cover -- we have a lot more to cover as far as our special Hurricane Dennis coverage in concerned. Coming up shortly, we'll speak with Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, we'll get the latest information on the path of Hurricane Dennis. It's a category 2, right now, came ashore as a category 3. We'll also go to Mobile, Alabama, Dan Lothian's standing by live.

Much more of our special coverage right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Hurricane Dennis slammed into the Gulf Coast about two hours ago and shooting wind and water inland. Dennis dropped to a category 3 storm. It's still one of the strongest storms on record to hit Florida's Panhandle and the Alabama Coast. That eye wall made landfall 20 miles east of Pensacola, following almost the same path that Ivan did just 10 months ago.

BLITZER: And Kyra, Hurricane Dennis is churning inland from the Gulf Coast. Right now, let's check in with CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras for the very latest -- Jacqui.

JERAS: Well Wolf, even though it's inland and it's been downgraded to a category 2, it's still a very dangerous situation going on right along the state line, here, of the Florida Panhandle and Alabama. There are still tornado warnings in effect for Escambia County, Alabama, Escambia County, Florida, and for Santa Rosa County, Florida.

This is the eye wall of the hurricane and this is where we're going to still be seeing those hurricane-force wind very, very strong. The peak report that we had was near Navarre Beach and that is when it made landfall two hours ago, 99 mile-per-hour sustained wind with gusts up to 121 miles-per-hour. We'll watch this continue to weaken. There is the warning in effect and this, by the way, is in effect not because there's actually been a tornado sighted, but because they want to treat this hurricane as if it were one large tornado spinning on top of you because it does that kind of damage. Now, the outer bands also can produce tornadoes and we have a tornado warning in effect for northern Florida, and this is for Suwannee County, a Doppler radar indicated tornado near Live Oak, that's pushing on up to the north.

Keep in mind that just because you can't see the tornado doesn't mean that one's there. Very often, in hurricanes, there's so much rain associated with them they could be wrapped in rain that you won't see it. Rainfall all across the southeast at this hour, you can see extending up into Tennessee River Valley at this time. Flooding, then, will be our next concern as Dennis continues to push inland, then, and we will see that push up to the north, into the west. It's basically moving almost due north now, but we'll see a little bit of a curve as it moves inland. Category 2 now, but should be downgraded to a tropical storm, we think, overnight tonight. But, that's still some pretty strong gusty winds, still 70 miles-per-hour as it gets right here across the central state border of Mississippi and Alabama. Then we'll watch it move up into the Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys.

We'll have another update coming up shortly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacqui, as it heads up into the Ohio River Valley, all the way up there, a big chunk of the southeastern portion of the United States is certainly going to feel some of the pain from Hurricane Dennis.

JERAS: Absolutely. You can see right behind me this map is where we have the flood watches which are in effect. We have almost in almost the exact same areas, wind advisories that go all the up into the southern parts of Illinois and into southwestern Indiana and even into the Boot Heel of Missouri.

BLITZER: Any indication, Jacqui, that people who are planning on flying tomorrow morning, out of Atlanta or any place else in the southeast part of the country, should be worried?

JERAS: Yeah, I think people defiantly need to call ahead and check your flights tomorrow. If you're going to be out of Jackson, if you're going to be out of Birmingham, out of Memphis, Tennessee, probably even out of Nashville, maybe even into Cincinnati by late in the day tomorrow, could have some trouble.

BLITZER: All right, Jacqui Jeras reporting for us, our meteorologist. Thanks Jacqui, very much.

Let's head over to Mobile, Alabama. CNN's Dan Lothian has been there, still is there. What's it like now, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it is much quieter now than it was about an hour and a half ago. Although, just about the time that you feel like it's almost over, there is this burst of wind and rain, but none of that constant pounding we saw earlier this afternoon.

I just want to give you a quick sense of where we are. We are on Government Street, which runs right through downtown Mobile, Alabama. It has been pretty much like this much of the day, a ghost town, essentially. No one out on the road, although a few minutes ago we did see some cars come by here. I took a drive around to see if I could find any damage. All you really saw, as you can see here, a couple branches out on the street. We swing around; over here you'll see some more branches, larger branches off to the side of the road.

That's the extent of the damage that I've been able to see that doesn't mean that we didn't have greater damage than that, perhaps in some of the other areas. But, as I drove around, I did see a large tree that had toppled over. There was one street that had been flooded out but, by and large, it appeared it was minor damage here in Mobile, Alabama. There was a lot of concern that we could have gotten those 10 to 12-foot storm surges. That, if it happened, there was a lot of flooding that expected from it, that apparently, did not materialize. There was also a lot of concern that there would be a lot of debris on the street and that there could be some medical emergencies for folks who got injured when their homes were damaged by the storm, for that reason, officials had medical teams on standby. They also had urban rescue teams on standby to respond, if need. But, as far as we know, it was not necessary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So Mobile, basically what I hear you saying, Dan believes, it could have been a lot worse for Mobile, it wasn't as bad as many were fearing.

LOTHIAN: That's true. To quote a local reporter, here, I was listing to earlier, he said that Mobile was staring down a shotgun, but in this case, they dodged a bullet.

BLITZER: All right, Dan Lothian in Mobile for us. Dan, thank you very much -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hurricane Dennis has roared ashore along the western Florida Panhandle.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: The eye of the storm crossed land about 90 minutes ago near Navarre Beach with top sustained winds of 120 miles an hour.

In Pensacola, CNN's Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella witnessed a huge aluminum sign collapse as they huddled for cover behind a hotel with the CNN crew.

We also witnessed the trunks of several sizeable trees snap like twigs. The extent of the damage throughout the region is not yet known as Dennis moves inland, with still plenty of fury left.

CNN's Jacqui Jeras warns that flooding could occur along the storm's projected path, across southern Alabama, then through Mississippi, and later this week into the Ohio Valley.

PHILLIPS: Jacqui Jeras now standing by live in the weather center. Jacqui, tell us the latest.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the latest is, the center of the storm now is about 20 miles to the north of Pensacola.

We still have tornado warnings in effect for Escambia County, Alabama, and Florida - same name of the county in different states - and then also for Santa Rosa County in Florida. That's because of the eye wall of the storm still here producing tornado-like conditions, not to mention, with hurricanes we typically do see tornadoes associated with them.

So, tornadoes are going to be possible in that area, not to mention those hurricane force winds are still existent.

You mentioned the time of landfall and some of the peak winds. We just got a report in near Navarre Beach. This was 99 mile per hour sustained winds with gusts of 121 at the time when Dennis made landfall.

I want to show you how expansive this storm is, because this is really affecting a lot of people, not just those of you on Santa Rosa Island at this time.

You can see there are rain showers that extend from about Jackson, Mississippi, all the way over to Savannah, Georgia. Heavy showers and thunderstorms approaching the Atlanta area right now. And we're still seeing some of these outer bands across parts of the Florida Peninsula.

This is starting to slow down just a little bit in forward speed. And as it does that, that is going to start to heighten our concerns for inland flooding.

This is the official forecast track right now, and it's showing you overnight tonight into the early hours of tomorrow morning just under hurricane strength for the maximum sustained wind.

So, wind will continue to be an issue. In fact, we have wind advisories that extend all the way up into the boot heel of Missouri. And we also have flood advisories throughout much of this region.

The farther north that it gets, the more it's going to stall out. Unfortunately, our upper level pattern, there's no big trough or any big system that's going to help to kick Dennis out of here very quickly.

So once it heads up towards the Tennessee River Valley into the Ohio River Valley, that's when it's really going to be slowing down. And that's when we'll be especially concerned about some inland flooding.

Here are the flood threat areas, highlighted in green, flood watches in the light green area. And there you can see the flood warnings in the dark green area.

Rainfall amounts within the path of this storm are expected to be somewhere around the range of probably five to 10 inches as we head through tomorrow. General rainfall amounts that will be reaching you will be more like four to eight inches.

You see a lot of big cities are going to be affected here. We've got Mobile up to Birmingham, over to Atlanta. Memphis will be included. Up towards Evansville, Indiana, even into Cincinnati, Ohio - Wolf, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Quick question. Jacqui, I was reading Max Mayfield. When he was talking about a Category 3 to a Category 4, he said that would be the difference between hit by an 18-wheeler and being hit by a freight train.

JERAS: Right.

PHILLIPS: So, put into perspective Category 2.

JERAS: Category 2 - certainly not as much catastrophic damage. This was a Category 3. Category 2 has winds of 96 to 110 miles per hour. Your storm surge is much less with that, on the range of about six to eight feet.

Either way, it is a big - the high - as your numbers go up in categories, Kyra, the damage goes up exponentially. So there is a significant difference between each category in terms of the amount of damage it will do.

When we say Category 3, we consider three and higher a major hurricane. And that can blow over some pretty well built structures. But when you start about a two, you start talking about a one, certainly a very big difference between that.

PHILLIPS: All right, Jacqui Jeras there in our weather center, thank you so much.

And as you know, we have correspondents all along Alabama, cities in Alabama, areas in Alabama, all the way to Florida, of course. We've got the entire area covered.

But if you're just tuning in, if you've just had a chance to sort of try and catch up on what's been taking place within the past five hours or so, we just want to give you a look at some of the highlights of what this storm has done in just the past two hours.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN NEWS, PENSACOLA, FLORIDA: We are back on the air, John Zarrella and I. Let me just explain where we are.

We're basically 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. As you can see, I mean, it is moving. That is a big concern. We are very afraid that thing could just come down.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN NEWS, PENSACOLA, FLORIDA: Yes, it's been spinning around like a top.

And really, what we're experiencing right now is a little bit of a lull compared to what we had. The gusts before were well above hurricane force. It had to be in the 95, 100 mile-an-hour range.

COOPER: Five (ph) minutes (ph) ago (ph), I don't know how much - when I called in - I don't know how much of that you could get. But it has actually gone down from dead point.

I mean, that was really - there was this extraordinary wall of white. It was like a solid mass.

ZARRELLA: You couldn't see a thing out there. And the trees were bent, as they're bending again now. We're starting to get another one of those (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COOPER: Yes. I mean, look at the tops of those trees over there. You see some of them have snapped already. But these things are moving. And it's - as these bands of the storm come ...

ZARRELLA: Here it comes again! Look out here!

COOPER: ... you can feel it right now.

ZARRELLA: Jeff (ph), that woman! Watch out! Get back! Get back!

COOPER: Whoa! Look at that!

ZARRELLA: Get back! It's coming apart!

COOPER: Look at that! 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: Look at that tree! Did you see that tree that went down?

ZARRELLA: Big trees coming down.

COOPER: Wow!

ZARRELLA: Big trees coming down.

COOPER: Be very careful! Look at that sign! Look (UNINTELLIGIBLE)!

ZARRELLA: All right. Here comes the sign. It's down! It's falling apart! Get back! Get back! Get back!

COOPER: Unbelievable. I have never seen anything like this. John, this is incredible. Have you seen anything like this?

ZARRELLA: Never seen anything like this. I have never experienced anything like this before.

COOPER: This, of course, is the most dangerous time, when the winds are this strong.

ZARRELLA: Tree limbs are flying down. These pine trees, you see them out there. They keep - big branches coming down, huge limbs.

COOPER: And it's incredible when you think, I mean, these are strong pieces of metal. This is not, you know, little tin. This is a huge metal sign that survived Hurricane Ivan. It has not survived Hurricane Dennis.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST, PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA: Meanwhile, on the other side of the eye, the eye that actually was moving forward, they got it a lot worse. Obviously, we don't have pictures from there yet, but we will.

What we're experiencing here now is the storm surge coming up and coming over onto the seawall, and every once in a while splashing over the top.

Ah! Now I can talk, because I'm in the shadow of a big building. It's so different from one side of a building to the next. And that's what we're seeing here.

In fact, the winds are coming different directions, as you say, as well. They're now coming more on shore. As they come on shore, we're losing some roofs across the street. And as that happens, those pieces now, they become projectiles.

They get into the 85 mile-per-hour winds. Our last gust was 84 miles per hour, and we're 40 to 60 miles from the eastern side of the eye wall.

So, everyone from here, right on through and on up to Destin and Fort Walton Beach, all being affected like we are, and in many places a lot more than we are.

The problem with a lot of the spots here, those buildings are 12 to 15 stories high. The higher you go, the higher the wind speeds. If we had 84 down here, they had 100 up there, 150 feet off the ground.

The big difference about what you're seeing and what I'm seeing, I'm getting a wind storm. I will concur that this is very dry. Now, I'm as wet inside as I am outside, but that's because I've been out here for six to eight hours.

The difference is - what we're seeing here is the wind. What the wind is doing to the trees - knocking them down.

We have had over 15 inches of excess rainfall here in the past month. The ground is absolutely saturated - that was some sea foam, better get that off there for you - the ground is absolutely saturated.

As that happens, the wind is just taking these trees and pushing them into the power lines. And power lines are sparking everywhere now across the city.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

PHILLIPS: That was our meteorologist, Chad Myers, there, as you saw on tape, reporting for us earlier. Now we've got him live in Panama City, Florida.

Chad, bring us up to date. What are the conditions like now? Has it changed much?

MYERS: You know, Kyra, it comes and it goes. All of a sudden we had a little lull to about 50 miles per hour. And then not even three minutes ago, we were back up to about 75 again.

And so, I think we're seeing some of those squall bands moving through here. And what we're concerned about now are waterspouts and tornadoes, because that's what we're - that's the part of the storm that we're in.

Oh, that's a lot better. I forget how loud a hurricane can be, because when you're in the wind, everything's flapping. You can't hear. Basically, you can't even hear you guys in Atlanta, but I do the best that I can.

What we have been seeing is actually the water going down a little bit. Because we had a 12:50 high tide. But that high tide did not coincide, it did not match up with our storm surge. That's the best news that I can give you.

When the high tide and the storm surge happen at the same time, the water levels go up dramatically, because they're both acting in tandem.

When one's going down and one's going up, then you kind of have a flattening. And that's what we've been having here, although you can just see how just foamy the water is.

And I know we've had a lot of damage to our east, because things have been floating in across this area from east to west all afternoon. I'm talking docks. I'm talking fences.

Literally full trees that are in the ocean floating back and forth. And because of the long shore current, the long shore current is actually traveling across from east to west. It picks up these things and it actually just throws it on down, basically toward Destin and Fort Walton Beach. Eventually, it's going to wash up somewhere down there.

We have not had any overwash here. But as you go up and down the beach, high tide is different, depending on if you're east or west of me. So, in places where that high tide did coincide with the storm surge, there will be overwash, there will be damage.

And that's the worst, that storm surge damage. If you get hit by a two-foot wave when you're in the ocean, imagine getting hit with a six- or eight-foot wave that's coming. There's just so much force in water compared to even the force that we're seeing here in the wind - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, Chad, let's exercise your expertise here. You talk about - Jacqui mentioned now there's still, of course, even though it's been downgraded to a Category 2, there are a number of threats out there. A lot of rainfall, of course, a lot of flooding.

MYERS: Absolutely.

PHILLIPS: But you just mentioned waterspouts and also tornadoes.

Let's sort of give a 101 of waterspouts here. Tell us how that happens. Tell us the threat.

MYERS: There is so much twist to these little cells that are on a northeast side of a hurricane. They're already spinning by the time they get here.

And we call them, actually, mini super cells. They're not like the F4 or F5 tornado that you're going to see in Oklahoma or Texas once in a while.

These are little F0, F1s. And even the last couple of storms, Panama City had more damage from tornado damage than from the storm surge or from the wind damage.

And when you're on the wrong side - like we are, on the northeast quadrant - when these things come spinning in, the land actually has friction. That friction helps spin the storm even more, and that spin, obviously, can come down like a tornado.

When a large storm - let's say it's three miles across, Kyra - is spinning only three or four miles per hour, the very middle of that storm, if it decides to, if it decides to be a tornado - some will, some won't - when that storm brings its arms in, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) called angular momentum in one little spot, that it will spin down a tornado that could be 120 or 140 miles per hour, when the whole storm is only spinning five, because the storm is so big (UNINTELLIGIBLE) small. PHILLIPS: Chad Myers. Love the technicality. Thank you so much. Live in Panama City there.

We'll continue, of course, to check in with you for the next number of hours - Wolf.

BLITZER: He's not only an excellent reporter on the scene for us, but he's also a meteorologist. He understands this kind of weather better than most, obviously.

Kyra, we have joining us now the lieutenant governor of Florida, Toni Jennings, from Tallahassee.

Lieutenant governor, thanks very much for joining us. Give us the preliminary assessment to your beautiful state.

TONI JENNINGS, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA, TALLAHASSEE: Well, obviously, you saw from your live shots just a few minutes ago, that the storm is still working its way through the state of Florida.

We're going to have damage. We have not been able to ascertain exactly how much at this point.

It hit around the Santa Rosa County area, which is an area that was hit before, obviously, when Ivan came through. And it is working its way out. It came in as a Category 3, and it's now a two. But even so, as you heard, those are very dangerous storms.

So, we are getting prepared. We have had all the mobilization that we could possibly do. Now we're just waiting for things to move on through so we can get all the help that we need to people.

As you saw, and our message, of course, to people out there, please, it is very dangerous to be out. Stay safe. Stay wherever you are. Stay in.

And do not hurry back to your home if you have evacuated, because, obviously, it's going to take us a little while. Chances are you don't have power. And without power, other things don't operate.

So, we're encouraging people to please stay where they are and wait until tomorrow, and wait until you have an all-clear from your local emergency people.

BLITZER: The area of the eye where it touched land - the mainland part of the United States near Pensacola - is that the area that you're getting reports was the most severely affected, the most severely damaged?

JENNINGS: Well, at the moment, yes. But, of course, just as we all know, the surrounding areas can be equally as affected.

We've got flooding in parts of the Panhandle area. We had a good bit of storm surge as the storm moved its way up. So in areas that we didn't anticipate the kind of damage that we may have, we may well have damage. So, again, it is very early. Here it is just five o'clock Eastern Standard time. The storm came ashore around 2:30 or so. So, we are in the preliminary stages of finding out exactly what has happened.

But first and foremost, we are ready. The National Guard is here. We have 2,600 troops on ready to dispatch them over to the Panhandle. We have had trucks - tractor trailer trucks - with water and ice and roofing materials that have been staged here since last Thursday.

We've also got them in Mobile, so that they can come from the east going west and from the west coming east, depending on where the road damage is, so that we can get to people that need the help.

BLITZER: It came ashore at 2:25 Central time, 3:25 Eastern. So, it's now almost two hours since it's come ashore.

It's moving slowly through the Panhandle, through the state of Florida.

But you're saying, based on all the indications you're getting from your monitors across the state, it's by no means over.

JENNINGS: Oh, heavens, no. And that's why we're encouraging people, please. If you can here us, stay where you are. Stay where you are until tomorrow.

And then watch your local emergency management people. The individual counties will tell you when the evacuation orders are over and when it is really safe to return, because as we know, tonight, coming back through the dark will be a very difficult time.

Our emergency management people are leaving now, dispatched to the Panhandle area, those that weren't already there. And we're concerned about them. But we sure don't need people on the road, in the dark. When the utilities go out, of course, we know we lose signalization. And it gets to be a whole different state of affairs.

And again, we encourage people, you don't know about local flooding. You don't know where the bottom is sometimes when you drive into water. You don't know if there are power lines down that are still live.

Last year during our storms, the real fatalities and injuries came after the storm. It is the most dangerous time. And that's why we encourage everyone to please stay safe.

BLITZER: Very briefly, speaking about fatalities and injuries in these past couple hours, do you have any reports of any?

JENNINGS: No, we do not. We had had an early report of an incident with a fatality, of a family that was getting ready to evacuate, and it was an automobile situation. But nothing that directly had anything to do with the storm.

BLITZER: Let's hope it stays like that. Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings of Florida ...

JENNINGS: You bet.

BLITZER: ... joining us from Tallahassee. Thank you very much.

JENNINGS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, as you heard, the lieutenant governor said to you to pay attention to all the emergency folks in your area. We are definitely doing that, because with the storms we've got to talk about the response and maintaining safety.

Also we're talking about the shelters, and that's where the American Red Cross comes in, in addition to a number of those other points that we made.

Marsha Evans, president and CEO of the American Red Cross joins us now, live from our Washington bureau. A pleasure to have you, Marsha.

I guess the good news is, it is - I guess the storm is weakening, but that doesn't mean that your efforts are weakening, that's for sure.

Give us a status report of where you are up and running, and where your sheltering operations are. And is everything going smoothly?

MARSHA EVANS, PRESIDENT & CEO, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Kyra, we opened about 150 shelters. We're sheltering tens of thousands of people in the four-state area from Louisiana over to Florida, Mississippi and Alabama.

We're also prepared to open additional shelters as the storm moves northward and people are affected in the adjoining states.

We were able to preposition extensive supplies, so we were ready when the storm hit. The shelters opened several days ago. And so, the response has gone extremely smoothly.

And we've prepositioned additional supplies, about 23 trailer loads, out of the storm's path, but ready to move in just as soon as we get the all-clear signal from the emergency authorities in the affected areas. We'll be moving in additional food, cleanup supplies, hygiene supplies.

The American Red Cross is ready to take care of people who need it, who will come back into the area and find that their homes have been affected and they can't be in their homes, or they have extensive damage.

So, we're ready, and we'll be there through the duration.

PHILLIPS: Marsha, how do you prioritize your response? Obviously, you'll have a number of people contacting you, already contacting you.

How do you keep this organized? And how do you get to the people that desperately need you immediately?

EVANS: Well, Kyra, we respond to about 70,000 disasters a year. So, we have pretty significant experience. And certainly from last year's hurricane season, we built on the lessons learned.

What we did learn was that it was extremely important for people to be prepared. So we stepped up our preparedness efforts. And quite frankly, the fact that so many people have evacuated and come into shelters is really a good sign.

The second thing is that we learned how important it was to step up to an even greater degree our preparation, our supply chain.

And thirdly, we also knew that it was important to let the rest of the American public outside the affected area know that the American Red Cross can only do its job as a nonprofit organization with the financial resources that we're given.

And so, we have to fuel this response with extensive response by contributions from the public. And we're asking the public to make a contribution at RedCross.org or 1-800-HELP-NOW.

PHILLIPS: Of course, a lot of people want to get in and help in a time like this. So you're asking - you're able to man the phones and also e-mail.

What exactly are you looking for? Is it financial help? What about if individuals, restaurants or any kind of companies want to help donate supplies?

EVANS: Well, that's wonderful when people step up to the plate. We certainly need the financial resources, because that will give us a little more flexibility.

But local establishments can contact their local Red Cross chapters. All of our chapters in the affected area are up and running. And they can make an in-kind contribution through that local chapter. Or they can call 1-800-HELP-NOW and make an in-kind contribution that way.

I should also mention that across the nation, and particularly in the areas affected by the hurricane, we're dangerously low in our blood supply.

And so, we're also asking people who can get to a blood donation center to make an appointment, 1-800-GIVE-LIFE, or go on GiveLife.org. Make an appointment to make a donation of a unit of blood, which can save up to three lives.

So, a lot of different ways people can help.

PHILLIPS: One hundred and fifty shelters set up over a four- state area. A lot of prepositioned supplies. Marsha Evans, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, live out of our D.C. bureau. Thanks, Marsha.

EVANS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Kyra, we're going to cover - we have a lot more to cover as far as our special Hurricane Dennis coverage is concerned.

Coming up shortly we'll speak with Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. We'll get the latest information on the path of Hurricane Dennis. It's a Category 2 right now. Came ashore as a Category 3.

We'll also go to Mobile, Alabama. Dan Lothian standing by live. Much more of our special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Hurricane Dennis slammed into the Gulf Coast about two hours ago and is shooting wind and water inland.

Dennis dropped to a Category 3 storm. It's still one of the strongest storms on record to hit Florida's Panhandle and the Alabama coast.

That eye wall made landfall 20 miles east of Pensacola, following almost the same path that Ivan did just 10 months ago.

BLITZER: And, Kyra, Hurricane Dennis is churning inland from the Gulf Coast right now.

Let's check in with CNN meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, for the very latest - Jacqui.

JERAS: Well, Wolf, even though it's inland and has been downgraded to a Category 2, it's still a very dangerous situation going on right along the state line here of the Florida Panhandle and Alabama.

There are still tornado warnings in effect for Escambia County, Alabama, Escambia County, Florida, and for Santa Rosa County, Florida.

This is the eye wall of the hurricane, and this is where we are going to be still seeing those hurricane force winds - very, very strong.

The peak report that we had was near Navarre Beach, and that was when it made landfall two hours ago - 99 mile-per-hour sustained winds with gusts up to 121 miles per hour.

We'll watch this continue to weaken. There's the warning in effect.

And this, by the way, is in effect, not because there's actually been a tornado sighted, but because they want you to treat this hurricane as if it were one large tornado spinning on top of you, because it does that kind of damage.

Now, the outer bands also can produce tornadoes. And we have a tornado warning in effect for northern Florida. And this is for Suwannee County, a Doppler radar-indicated tornado near Live Oak. That's pushing on up to the north.

Keep in mind that just because you can't see the tornado doesn't mean that one's there. Very often, hurricanes - there's so much rain associated with them, they could be wrapped in rain, that you won't see it.

Rainfall all across the southeast at this hour. You can see it extending up into the Tennessee River Valley at this time.

Flooding, then, will be our next concern as Dennis continues to push inland then. And we will see that push up to the north and to the west.

It's basically moving almost due north now, but we'll see a little bit of a curve as it moves inland.

Category 2 now, but it should be downgraded to a tropical storm, we think, overnight tonight. But that's still some pretty strong, gusty winds. Still 70 miles per hour as it goes right here across the central state border of Mississippi and Alabama.

Then we'll watch it move up into the Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys.

We'll have another update coming up shortly - Wolf.

BLITZER: And Jacqui, as it heads up into the Ohio River Valley, all the up there, a big chunk of the southeastern portion of the United States is certainly going to feel some of the pain from Hurricane Dennis.

JERAS: Absolutely. You can see right behind me, this map is where we have all the flood watches which are in effect.

We also have, in almost the exact same areas, wind advisories that go all the way up into southern parts of Illinois, into southwestern Indiana, and even into the boot heel of Missouri.

BLITZER: Any indication, Jacqui, that people who are planning on flying tomorrow morning out of Atlanta or anyplace else in the southeast part of the country should be worried?

JERAS: Yes. I think people definitely need to call ahead and check your flights tomorrow. If you're going to be out of Jackson, if you're going to be out of Birmingham, out of Memphis, Tennessee - probably even out of Nashville, maybe even into Cincinnati - by late in the day tomorrow could have some trouble.

BLITZER: All right. Jacqui Jeras reporting for us, our meteorologist. Thanks, Jacqui, very much.

Let's head over to Mobile, Alabama. CNN's Dan Lothian has been there, still is there. What's it like now, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN NEWS, MOBILE, ALABAMA: Well, Wolf, it is much quieter now than it was about an hour and a half ago. Although just about the time that you feel like it's almost over, there's this burst of wind and rain, but none of that constant pounding that we saw earlier this afternoon.

I just want to give you a quick sense of where we are. We are on Government Street, which runs right down through downtown Mobile, Alabama.

It has been pretty much like this much of the day - a ghost town, essentially. No one out on the road, although a few minutes ago we did see some cars come by here.

I took a drive around to see if I could find any damage. All you really saw, as you can see here, a couple of branches out on the street.

We swing around over here, you'll see some more branches, larger branches off to the side of the road. That's the extent of the damage that I've been able to see.

That doesn't mean that we didn't have greater damage than that perhaps in some of the other areas. But as I drove around, I did see a large tree that had toppled over. There was one street that had been flooded out. But by and large, it appeared that it was minor damage here in Mobile, Alabama.

There was a lot of concern that we could have gotten those 10- to 12-foot storm surges. That, if it had happened.

There was a lot of flooding that was expected from it. That apparently did not materialize.

There was also a lot of concern that there would be a lot of debris out on the street, and that there could be some medical emergencies for folks who got injured when their homes were damaged by the storm. For that reason, officials had medical teams on standby.

They also had urban rescue teams on standby to respond, if needed. But as far as we know, it was not necessary - Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Mobile - basically, what I hear you saying, Dan - believes it could have been a lot worse for Mobile. It wasn't as bad as many were fearing.

LOTHIAN: That's true. To quote a local reporter here I was listening to earlier, he said that Mobile was staring down a shotgun, but in this case they dodged the bullet.

BLITZER: All right. Dan Lothian in Mobile for us. Dan, thank you very much - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, of course, has been with us all morning, moving into the afternoon. Probably the busiest individual right now when it comes to tracking all these storms.

Max, bring us up to date. We know it's been downgraded to a Category 2, but that definitely does not mean that people can relax and not worry.

MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes, we're nowhere near done with this hurricane yet. And I heard a little bit of the programming right before I came on here.

This was indeed good news for Mobile Bay. But that storm surge will be highest near and east of where the center crossed the coast.

So, in Santa Rosa Island, around Navarre Beach, that's where I would expect the highest storm surge (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But we'll have very significant storm surge flooding all the way along the Florida Panhandle, through Apalachicola into Apalachee Bay.

Right now, the eye wall is still very well defined here, moving over the northern portion (ph) of Escambia County, the northern portion of Santa Rosa County in Florida, and then to the northern portion of Baldwin County and much of Escambia County, Alabama.

We still about 100 to 105 mile-per-hour winds in that limited area there. So, people really need to know that this hurricane is not done by any means.

You need to do the same thing for this hurricane that you would do if you were in a tornado. Get into that inner room with no windows. If you need to put a mattress over your head, you need to do that, along this path right here.

PHILLIPS: All right, as we - let's take a look at that path again, Max. Let's talk specifically about areas, because we go to someone like Dan Lothian in Mobile, and he says it looks pretty good. We go to Pensacola with John and Anderson, and they say it looks pretty good.

But can we get specific and say, talk specific cities right now, as you look at that path there?

MAYFIELD: I think we can. At landfall - in fact, let me see if I can find the loop here.

This is landfall. This is Pensacola Bay right here. So, near and to the east of where that made landfall will be the highest storm surge. That's going to be, I'm pretty sure, Navarre Beach, in that vicinity.

But the eye wall here, this little - Avalon Beach, I believe it's called, in the middle of Pensacola Bay - should have really gotten clobbered. And now the hurricane force winds are heading to the north-northwest.

We have learned from past hurricanes, you don't have to have hurricane force winds to cause a lot of damage and even loss of life. I would expect very strong winds along this swath right here - downed trees, downed power lines. People need to be very, very careful as this moves into southwestern Alabama, and even into the eastern portions of Mississippi.

PHILLIPS: OK, so - OK. You mentioned Mississippi. Because I was reading that Mississippi - that a curfew is in place. Is that still in order?

MAYFIELD: I don't know about the curfew. But I know that later tonight the strong winds will be spreading up towards Meridian, Mississippi, and that general vicinity.

PHILLIPS: All right. Max Mayfield, director of National Hurricane Center, we'll keep checking in with you. Thanks, Max - Wolf.

MAYFIELD: OK. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, Kyra, thank you very much.

The mayor of Pensacola, John Fogg, is joining us now on the phone. Mister mayor, appreciate it very much.

Pensacola was, if not in the eye of this hurricane, very, very close. How badly were you hit?

JOHN FOGG, MAYOR, PENSACOLA, FLORIDA: Well, actually, we were very fortunate. We thought that the eye was going to pass to the west of us, putting us on the right front advancing quadrant of the storm, where the greatest swell would be and the greatest flooding would be.

And just at the last moment the storm turned to the north, and the eye went right into Pensacola Bay, really. I'm on the west edge of the bay. And we had over 100 mile-an-hour winds, so we have lots of trees that were - old grove pine trees that were twisted off about midway up and then thrown into homes.

So there's a been a lot of - we've been out of power for about the last five, six hours, I guess. And I don't know what the extent of the other damage is in town. I'm waiting for an update on that.

BLITZER: Any indication of anyone hurt, or anyone, God forbid, killed?

FOGG: I have not heard any reports of that yet.

BLITZER: Are you telling people to remain indoors at this point?

FOGG: We are for the next four or five hours, at least. And that's a precaution primarily because of downed power lines. So the winds are already falling pretty rapidly as the storm moves away.

But the real hazards are downed power lines and trees that have been compromised and that could fall on you, and you don't know that they're about to do that, of course. And so, there's a lot of hazards out there. We've got to get our first responders, police and fire out there to assess the damage and make it safe for the public.

BLITZER: We spoke to the city manager of Gulf Breeze a little while ago, who said he's got crews already outside in his town, trying to clean up from Hurricane Dennis. Do you already have crews out there?

FOGG: We have got crews that are making assessments, damage assessments, at this time. There'll be an early meeting tomorrow morning, as well as this evening.

The EOC is still in operation, of course, as we gather all that data. And then we'll develop a plan in response immediately.

BLITZER: At this early stage - and it's only been a little bit more than two hours since Hurricane Dennis hit the area where you are in right now.

How would you compare this hurricane to Ivan from last year?

FOGG: Well, Ivan was the worst natural disaster that's occurred to this community and this part of Florida for - well, in the last couple of centuries, probably.

Ivan - we were on the right front advancing quadrant of that particular storm, and it was a large storm. And it went on for a prolonged period of time.

So we suffered high winds, 130 miles an hour, for four hours or so, in some cases. And as a result of that, there was just a tremendous amount of wind damage. And there was a huge tidal dome and waves on top of that, that basically destroyed everything in low-lying properties. So - or low-lying areas.

So, this storm didn't have anywhere near that kind of impact, I don't believe. We didn't seem to have quite the same kind of winds that Ivan had, and certainly not the same kind of tidal surge that really did most of the damage here.

BLITZER: Naval air station, Pensacola. How did it fare?

FOGG: I understand that it did pretty well. In Ivan, they suffered about $800 million worth of damage.

We were fortunate that the eye went to the right. As a result of that, the winds are out of the northeast, then north, and then northwest and then west. As a result of that, there's not a lot of wind-driven water. And the air station is right on the water, on Pensacola Bay.

But my understanding is that there is really minimal damage.

BLITZER: Mayor Fogg, what's the population of Pensacola?

FOGG: The MSA is about 400,000 people.

BLITZER: And of those 400,000, how many stayed put and how many left?

FOGG: How many stayed?

BLITZER: Yes.

FOGG: You know, it's hard - we really do not have hard data on people who left and those who stayed.

We know, in the cases of like Pensacola Beach, there was a mandatory evacuation. And I don't think there was anybody that stayed on the beach. So, that was an almost near 100 percent evacuation.

In other parts of the town, where it's not in a floodplain, we do not require evacuation. That's just a personal choice.

My guess is that, based upon some data that we have, is that an awful lot of people chose to evacuate. And I think that's based upon the experience with Ivan, where 45,000 dwelling units were made non- inhabitable after Ivan.

BLITZER: So, what I hear you saying is that the system worked fairly well in terms of the preparation for the arrival of this hurricane.

FOGG: I think it works extremely well. We have a very leading- edge EOC operation. All of the things that we learned from Ivan really helped us prepare for this storm.

We were ready. FEMA was prepositioned, so were state assets, urban rescue teams. The National Guard and about 600 extra law enforcement people were poised to move into the area if necessary.

So, we were ready for the worst, and we prepared for the worst. And hopefully, we will not see any loss of life in the storm.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to all the people of Pensacola in the cleanup from this hurricane. Mayor John Fogg of Pensacola, thanks very much for joining us.

Kyra, I think we're getting a little pattern now, at least from the officials that we've spoken to - the lieutenant governor of Florida, the mayor of Pensacola, the city manager of Gulf Breeze, some of the other reporters that we've had in Mobile.

The word we're getting, at least in its very earliest, it could have been a lot worse.

PHILLIPS: Max Mayfield even saying that. Not to say that worse things could happen, that's for sure, even though it's been downgraded to a Category 2.

You are watching CNN, your hurricane headquarters. We have correspondents all throughout Florida, all throughout Alabama. We're bringing you all the experts when it comes to weather, and also the American Red Cross, of course. A hundred and fifty shelters in place over a four-state area.

We're going to go back to Pensacola, Florida, bring you the latest of what's taking place there, as you're looking at pictures here of that pier in Pensacola. So far, so good when it comes to injuries. No reported deaths, no major injuries. Category 2 after landfall now.

We're following Hurricane Dennis. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing to watch Hurricane Dennis. It landed a little bit more than two hours or so ago as a Category 3, with sustained winds of about 120 miles per hour. It's now been downgraded to a Category 2 with sustained winds of about 105 miles per hour.

It's expected to go down, eventually becoming a tropical storm.

PHILLIPS: Live pictures right now from Pensacola, Florida. If you've been to this area, or, of course, you - OK.

Actually, we're going to hold off on that thought and get straight to Jacqui Jeras now in the weather center.

I understand there's some developing news coming in with Hurricane Dennis and the Category 2.

Jacqui, what can you tell us?

JERAS: That's right. Well, I want to tell you about a tornado warning, actually. And this includes part of the Atlanta metro area.

A tornado warning has just been issued for DeKalb County until 6:15 Eastern time.

Doppler radar indicated a tornado seven miles south of Lithonia. It's moving up to the north and west at 35 miles per hour. It also includes you if you live in Druid Hills, if you live in Decatur and Avondale Estates.

Again, a tornado warning. This is for DeKalb County.

A Doppler radar-indicated tornado. So those tornadoes starting to pop up possibly right now. This is radar indicated. It hasn't been sighted, but it's tough to see these tornadoes sometimes when there's so much moisture. It could be hidden in the rain.

So you need to take cover now. Get to the lowest level of your home, away from doors and windows, and cover yourself up if you can with a blanket or a mattress or something, in case there's any debris.

And we'll continue to update you on any watches or warnings that we may have for tornadoes, and let you know.

We should have an update, actually, coming up before the top of the hour on the location for Dennis.

BLITZER: Jacqui, a quick question. These tornadoes, they're a natural outgrowth, if you will, of the hurricane. Is that right?

JERAS: Yes, absolutely. There's so much (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with a hurricane, a lot of spin with it. So we naturally start to see some of these tornadoes.

In fact, you can - we tend to see more tornadoes with storms that happen to move in this location of the Gulf of Mexico than, say, on the Atlantic Coast.

So, if you remember, Ivan had a record number of tornadoes. We haven't seen nearly as many this go around. But that certainly is a threat across parts of Florida, into parts of Georgia and into eastern Alabama.

That's where our big concerns are at this hour. It's some of those outer feeder bands, as they move through, we start to get little spins, little rotations with them.

They're generally weak tornadoes, but it doesn't take a strong tornado to cause damage.

PHILLIPS: And Jacqui, you know, this is our home town, Atlanta, Georgia.

JERAS: Yes, it is.

PHILLIPS: DeKalb County not far away. We've prepared for many of these. We'll continue to check in with you.

Once again, if you are just tuning in, a tornado warning now in DeKalb County, here in Georgia. Jacqui is following all those warnings, of course, for us.

Meanwhile, we want to take you back live to Pensacola, Florida, where our Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella are stationed.

A much different picture now, gentlemen, from when we saw you about an hour ago.

COOPER: That is true. I know, I'm used to clutching onto this guy, as we have been for the last couple hours.

Kyra, it's good to talk to you and Wolf again.

Yes, it is a completely different scene here. And this - you know, what was fascinating about this storm is how fast moving it was, and how varied it was.

I mean, you know, one of those bands would hit. You'd feel like, you know, you've never seen anything as bad, and then all of a sudden it would be calm for a little while.

ZARRELLA: That's exactly what I was thinking. How quickly it got in and out of here - very much like Charley did over in Punta Gorda a year ago. It just moved in and out real fast.

We saw the state troopers here. And I guess, fortunately here, damage is pretty light. They're going to check the bridge. It's still officially closed. But check it for any structural damage. But it looks like it got off pretty well here.

COOPER: Yes. If you look at I-10 on that other shot - I-10 highway over Escambia Bay - it is - you know, there was a big concern that this bridge would go under, as it did with Hurricane Ivan. But it survived. And that black area on the bridge, that's the rebuilt area.

ZARRELLA: It's a temporary fix until they actually can rebuild the entire section at some point in time.

Obviously, not till hurricane season is over.

COOPER: We're going to have a lot more from Pensacola over the next couple of hours.

Let's go to Chad Myers, though, who is in Panama City Beach, where he rode out the storm - Chad.

MYERS: Good afternoon, Anderson.

Boy, what a different picture right here. The winds have just not settled down for us. Latest wind gust was just 69 miles per hour.

And I know we talk about it going from a four to a three to a two. But this is still a very dangerous storm, but just for different people now.

So, just because some wind speeds are coming down, in fact, other people just a little bit farther inland, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Enterprise (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) kicking up a little bit, because you're getting closer to the storm now.

I'm going to kind of walk out of the wind and get into a little bit of a wind shadow of one of the condos that we've been walking behind, kind of staying behind here most of the day, try to stay out of the problem.

The problem that we're seeing now is that there's just so much debris that has been coming out of the ocean, this has just been floating down the ocean.

I mean, I've seen docks go down the ocean. I've seen huge palm trees float down the ocean. And now it's here.

And now it's kind of piled up on the beach, and there are pieces of plywood. And those things just act like sails. So, as soon as one gets washed up, I try to pick it up and get it out of the way, because if Mother Nature picks it up and blows it, it's certainly going to be a completely different story.

So, there are still dangers out there. Clearly, even the tornado warning for DeKalb County, near Atlanta.

There are other dangers as well. Falling trees in this very saturated ground. The ground has been so wet here - 15 inches above normal in parts of western Florida, just in the past couple of months.

Now, you get all of that soaking into the red clay dirt in parts of Georgia, as well, trees are going to start to come down as your winds begin to pick up.

So, some people getting better, some people still going downhill. Back to you.

COOPER: Yes. And you hate to think of those people who are coming out now, because they think it's all over, they think it's all gone.

But, you know, flooding is still a problem. There could be downed power lines. We're seeing a lot of people now come out.

There's sort of a shell-shocked feeling in the wake of one of these things.

ZARRELLA: Yes, a lot of people coming out. But you're right. You mentioned that flooding.

It's so important to emphasize to all the viewers out there, particularly where - that are inland, about inland flooding. We talked about that earlier.

It is the number one killer now in the aftermath of hurricanes. It's inland flooding.

So, really, be careful if you're in the path of this thing.

COOPER: And we're continuing to follow this storm all evening long, because this storm is still active. It is still moving, and it's still a great danger to a lot of people. And it just, as Chad Myer said, different people than were in danger just a few hours ago.

Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer, who is following the storm for us, and we'll come back to Pensacola a little bit later - Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Anderson, thanks, John, very much.

Let's bring in the governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour. He's joining us right now. Governor, thanks very much.

This storm, this hurricane is moving toward Mississippi right now.

What's the latest information you're getting?

HALEY BARBOUR, GOVERNOR OF MISSISSIPPI: Well, I'm afraid, Wolf, that we're in that group that was just being discussed, the one whose risk is in front of them.

We were blessed that the storm went in east of us. We feel terrible about our neighbors in Alabama and Florida.

But tonight about midnight, this storm is going to come into east-central Mississippi at about Meridian, Mississippi.

Earlier in the day, the Weather Service predicted it would still have hurricane force winds at that point. We know it'll be throwing off tornadoes, torrential rains.

So, all the risks of flooding, of power outages because of trees being down, debris flying through the air - we still have in front of us. And regrettably, it's going to come in the middle of the night.

BLITZER: Is it expected to come in as a hurricane or a tropical storm? Will it be downgraded enough to ease some of the potential burden for the people of Mississippi?

BARBOUR: Well, we hope it'll come in as a slow breeze. But the fact of the matter is, earlier today, the Weather Service anticipated it would be hurricane strength winds almost to Columbus, Mississippi, which is almost 250 miles north of the Gulf.

Hopefully, the degradation of the storm has started earlier and it will be lighter winds. But we've asked our people to pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.

BLITZER: In terms of the preparation, there are some reports we're getting, governor, that you've imposed - or at least local authorities have imposed - curfews in various parts of Mississippi. What's going on?

BARBOUR: Well, I've heard those reports, too. There were locally mandated evacuations in a couple of counties down on the coast. And there is - there are a couple of local governments that I understand have imposed curfews, subject, I believe, to the amount of damage that we have.

But right now, we're really preparing for the storm to hit us, and to try to make sure everybody is ready for what could happen. Then tomorrow, we'll have some - we'll have some ideas about subsequent curfews.

We are asking people not to drive once the evening starts, because we are going to have high winds, torrential rains. And often, we find our fatalities in these storms to come from things that happen on the highway. A tree or a limb hits a car, causes a wreck.

BLITZER: So, let's be precise, governor. If someone is home right now, they should just stay in their home. They shouldn't get in their car now and try to leave. BARBOUR: That's correct. Unless they live in a mobile home. If they are in a mobile home, they should try to find something more substantial for the evening, particularly if they live over on the Alabama line.

But generally, we're asking people, unless it's an emergency, just don't drive. There's no reason to get out into the storms. It's already raining in the southern quarter of our state and raining very hard in a lot of that.

The winds haven't picked up so much yet, but they will. And so, there's no reason to drive unless it's an emergency.

BLITZER: So, and while the worst may be over for parts of the Panhandle of Florida, perhaps parts of Alabama, it's about to get a lot worse in the state of Mississippi.

The governor, Haley Barbour, joining us. Governor, thanks very much.

BARBOUR: Thank you, Wolf.

PHILLIPS: Well, we've asked you to be our citizen journalists and e-mail us your pictures of hurricane damage, and you've delivered. Take a look at these.

This comes from Clay Abney in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where the zoo was evacuated just ahead of Dennis. The keepers there aren't taking any chances this time around, that's for sure.

You'll remember after Ivan, Chuckie the Alligator disappeared for nine days. The zoo still hasn't recovered from Ivan, and that storm spewed hundreds of fish into the ground and slung eels into the limbs of trees.

Once again, Clay, thank you so much for those pictures.

And if you're anywhere in the affected area of Hurricane Dennis, e-mail us your pictures of the storm damage. Our address is cnn.com/hurricane. And for our citizen journalists, we'll tell you what we tell our camera crews - don't do anything risky. Your safety, of course, is number one.

BLITZER: It's more important to be safe than it is to get us those pictures.

PHILLIPS: That's right.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a quick break. You're watching complete coverage of Hurricane Dennis, here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: You know, we've been talking so much about evacuations throughout all this storm coverage. We've been interviewing various mayors and governors. They've been coming forward saying how proud they are that so many people evacuated.

But every now and then, you will meet somebody within a massive storm like this that wants to stay put just to help somebody else.

And here's how the manager of the Ramada Hotel in Pensacola is taking care of guests who stayed behind.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm doing wonderful, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't know, you're so busy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But welcome back. We're glad to see you back again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we're going to lose it. Why not cook it all and give it to the people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got to keep them fed, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've been living in this hotel for how long?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been here since the hurricane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For Ivan?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Since Ivan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in your house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Got it.

Good morning, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they're starting to look at it. It's starting to pick up now.

I've got to have a cup of coffee.

Where is the decaf, Melissa?

I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will. OK, honey, you need some help?

What about ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got two cans of that boned chicken.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And I've got lots of rice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I saw that. I was looking for (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This afternoon, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going back to find out what time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. We're going to make chicken soup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chicken noodle? Chicken rice?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chicken rice soup. And then we've got all kind of sandwiches, so we'll have lunch around four o'clock, something like that.

Any of our Russian people come in yet?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. OK. I need - call maintenance. I need these trash cans emptied. They're getting so full.

(END VIDEO)

PHILLIPS: We've talked to a couple of people that have stayed behind to help tourists and those that live in the area. It's pretty amazing.

BLITZER: You know, it's amazing that in these horrible situations, sometimes the best of us emerges.

PHILLIPS: Amen.

Well, we've got a lot more coverage, of course, of Hurricane Dennis. Stay tuned to CNN here, where you'll get all your Hurricane Dennis coverage.

BLITZER: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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