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AMERICAN MORNING

Hurricane Dennis Nears U.S. Mainland

Aired July 10, 2005 - 11:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You are watching our extended edition of AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien, today from Atlanta, where we're watching the approach of Hurricane Dennis, which is nearing the U.S. mainland, the Gulf. We're looking at the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, into Mississippi, as well.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, and in fact, this huge storm is just hours away from reaching the Gulf Coast. Authorities say, for those who have been procrastinating, it's actually too late to evacuate.

M. O'BRIEN: Hurricane warning area stretches all the way from Louisiana, Mississippi state line, to Florida. Officials say stay put there.

With rainfall and wind speeds already picking up, emergency workers say they are as prepared as they can be, but they expect Dennis to be extremely dangerous, destructive.

Look at live pictures. This is coming to us from Pensacola Beach, WEAR. This is their tower cam. Significant difference. Of course, they were zoomed in a little bit, so that makes those bounces seem a little worse. But...

S. O'BRIEN: Still pretty bad.

M. O'BRIEN: You do see the wind has picked up there somewhat dramatically, and that pier is getting quite a lashing. Looks like it's a well-designed pier. But Category 4 will put it to its test.

S. O'BRIEN: And Category 3 Hurricane Ivan took a good chunk out of it last year, 10 months ago. So it's kind of watch and wait, not only for the folks in Pensacola, but also, really, everybody along that Gulf Coast.

It's unclear, obviously, where it's going to hit. We keep updating the path of the storm. And we will continue to update the path of the storm. We're estimating a 2 p.m. landfall, but things can change, because, of course storm move and they can move fast somewhere slower. We're going to continue to update you on the progress of Hurricane Dennis.

Now, forecasters say, though, no matter where Dennis makes its landfall it will obviously impact a much wider area. So I guess we should begin right now with a look where the storm is right this moment.

Rob, you want to give us an update?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Sure. I know we're going to talk about what wind speeds are happening right now. We're going to narrow it down, that cone, that path, because obviously that cone of uncertainty that we've been showing for days now, well, the closer that cone gets to shore, the more narrow that path gets. And obviously, our certainty or forecast accuracy gets a little bit better, as well.

You're looking at radar right now. This is our tightened radar, which we -- you know, we tap into a number of radar sites: Slidell, Louisiana. We tap into Tallahassee; Mobile, Alabama; and Tampa, Florida. So that alone is unique.

This is a really good depiction of the eye. You see the front part of the eye wall, just look how bright those colors are. That is nasty, nasty weather.

And so, ahead of that, right now, winds, tropical storm force winds extend about 200 miles out ahead of that. And we'll see that, as we look at some of these live wind speeds, kind of scooting across the coastline, 27 there. Tough for me to see the names of the towns in some of these cases, but you get the idea.

And also, this points to where the wind is going. Obviously, it kind of follows the motion of the storm. Everything goes counterclockwise around that storm. There's Indian Pass. It's right at pretty much the tip of Apalachicola. Thirty one -- 38 mile an hour winds right now, changing live for you. Forty-seven mile an hour winds. So we're getting tropical storm force winds right now. I would suspect to see hurricane force winds within the next two hours.

As far as how far way this thing is from the coastline, at the 11 a.m. advisory, it was 80 miles from Pensacola proper. Pensacola Beach, you know, give or take, 10 miles from there.

So you know, in spots now with the latest imagery that we have, about 55 miles from the coastline, going at about 18 mile and hour. So like Soledad said, the very front part of the storm -- of the eye will be reaching the coastline at about 2 p.m. And then the center of the eye will take several hours to get through before we really start to see this thing move away.

Again, the forecast track, Miles, has shifted a little bit to the east. And you see how narrower that cone gets. It used to be this wide. Now it's like this. And really, right where Ivan went last year, a little bit different trajectory, but right where it hit, Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Perdido River outlet right there and Pensacola. That area of about 50 miles, if that, is really where it's going to come here in the next three hours. And those folks are going to get hit hard -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Like they needed to hear that.

MARCIANO: I know.

M. O'BRIEN: In almost the exact same spot. It's pretty remarkable. You know, somebody will probably figure out the odds on that. It's got to be an astronomical kind of thing.

All right. Keep us posted there. We appreciate that, Rob.

CNN reporters watching the skies, and watching their back, too, quite frankly, along the coast. Dan Lothian is in Mobile, Alabama. He's upper left of your screen. Randi Kaye is in Pensacola, Florida. She's hanging onto a light post there. Good idea, Randi. Chad Myers is -- looks like he's in the water there, but we know he's not that foolhardy, in Panama City beach.

Why don't we begin -- normally I would do ladies first, but we're going to begin with you, Chad.

You're not standing in the water. It's just a telephoto shot. Folks at home might think, what's he doing out there in the water? There you are. OK.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know what? The whole thing does kind of come and go. I've had some good days and some bad days here. The entire area, as I've moved -- take this IFB out. I'm sorry. There we go.

The rain has really kind of let up, Miles. But the entire area here has now started to push in with this storm surge. I can absolutely feel the storm surge come in now, because we were only having about one or two, maybe, waves this high about an hour ago. One or two an hour. Now there's probably one or two every five minutes. And they're starting to come up more and more and more, and that's because the low pressure and the wind now beginning to change for us.

We can tell that the wind now coming out of the east, beginning to turn to the southeast. And that's going to push the water, just like it is right here (AUDIO GAP) And it's going to push it up and over the beach even into the sound on the other side.

Now, the deal with that is that, is that when that sound begins to fill up, that water has to go somewhere else, as well. That water is going to have to try to come back. And when that water comes back, that's when you get riptides on a real day. We're not talking riptides this time. Rip currents, this. We're talking about beach erosion.

There may not be a way to get from here to Ft. Walton Beach or Pensacola later on today as that wind action and that wave action bringing that water back and forth, washes away, essentially, washes away the beach and washes away the road. Cape Hatteras was cut in half last year. And this happens all of the time in these outer islands.

So we're worried about that. We're worried about where that happens and where are the buildings that are going -- where are they going to go when that sand gets washed out from under them? So there's a lot of concern here that the turn -- the storm did turn to the right. That's why we're here, because we knew that was the potential. But they're still worried a lot more just a few miles up the beach.

Guys, I can't hear you anymore, so I'm just going to toss it back to you and you can go to those other reporters.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Sorry, Chad. We're got a million questions for you, but we'll get that worked out and we'll get back to you.

Randi Kaye, meanwhile, is a little bit to west. Pensacola is her location. And she's hanging on.

And how is it going there, Randi?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I am hanging on, Miles. That's because actually the rain is dissipating a little bit. The rain was really strong when I last spoke with you, but it's the wind that has actually really kicked up here in Pensacola. That's why I'm holding onto this street sign, actually, along Highway 10 here.

But I want to show you, just in the short time that it did rain here, if you get a shot there of my boot in the water, that's how much rain has fallen. That's here just in the front yard of our hotel, just a big giant puddle. And our hotel got about a foot of rain when Ivan came, and that was a Category 3. So who knows what could happen if Dennis comes ashore as Category 4?

The winds, as I said, are certainly picking up. They come in gusts, you know. Sometimes they're not very strong. Other times like right now, they are very strong.

But I want to also show you this. As I was saying earlier today, there's a lot of debris that's still hanging around here from Ivan, when Ivan came here in September. So ten months later, a piece of the -- a piece of the Ramada Inn sign, on our hotel's front lawn, that's still here.

So if you have something like this flying around at 100 mile an hour winds or 150 mile an hour winds -- we're not going to be out here for that, but this is really, really dangerous.

We talked with the hotel general manager, Linda Parkinson, earlier today. She actually lost her home in the Ivan hurricane. And she has been actually living here at the hotel since Ivan made landfall back in September.

So we talked a little bit about some of the damage here and what they're doing to protect all of the folks who are staying here. The folks who were here during Ivan are now back again for Hurricane Dennis. So she says that there's Category 4 windows. So that's good news. But here's a little bit more about how she's preparing for Hurricane Dennis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LINDA PARKINSON, HOTEL MANAGER: Doing wonderful, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know. You're so busy.

PARKINSON: Welcome back. Glad to see you back again.

We're going to lose it, why not cook it all, give it to the people? We got to keep them fed, right?

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

PARKINSON: I've been here since the hurricane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ivan?

PARKINSON: Yes, since Ivan.

OK. Got it. Good morning, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.

PARKINSON: And they're starting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: The hotel had actually lost its roof and its sign and the meeting rooms had collapsed, the rooftops there. So it did get some damage. And quite a bit of water was within the hotel. That's because this hotel is just off Escambia Bay, which you can see there out in the background. That's also I-10, which was closed as of last night.

It's just too dangerous to be out there. Last September during Ivan, a trucker lost his life out there on I-10 on the bridge when Ivan took a chunk out of it. So this is a pretty dangerous spot. But we're at 29 feet above sea level here, I'm told. And we're expecting about 19 foot waves or 20-foot waves. So we're hoping we'll be OK -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Randi, be careful out there. Watch out for that debris, too. That looks like it could be very dangerous in the wind there. All right.

KAYE: Absolutely. We've been -- we've been cleaning up the front lawn a little bit.

M. O'BRIEN: Good, good. In your spare time.

KAYE: Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's -- let's move it west. And let's go to Mobile Bay, and that is where we find Dan Lothian.

Dan, kind of looks like a little bit of a lull there right now. DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a little bit of a lull. And we've also moved away from Mobile Bay. It became a little bit, for us, dangerous for us or go into that direction. And so we moved about five to six miles into the downtown area of Mobile, where we are right now.

In fact, we were one of the last people to pull out of there. The hotel manager and owners, they were not staying in that hotel, because it was just too dangerous. So they shut down the motel. There was a restaurant there. They closed it down. When we pulled out, the only thing that we saw were a couple of police officers at the entrance to the hotel. And we left, came into downtown area of Mobile.

We are along Government Street. This is a main drag that comes through town. And as you can see, it's pretty much deserted. Some 500,000 people in this region, Southern Alabama, have already evacuated.

One of the reasons that officials are so concerned, as we come over to this side, here's one of the few people who we see out here on the road behind me. This gentleman, in fact, I was talking to him earlier. He was born just down street from here and has lived through a number of the big hurricanes. And he said he remembers when it was like when Frederick hit in 1979. And of course, he expects that this, perhaps, will be much worse. So even he is concerned about what could potentially happen once Dennis comes ashore here in Mobile.

Now down at then end of the street, if you can see back there, those roadblocks, right under the red lights, what that is, it's a tunnel that you can take to go out of the downtown area and come into the downtown area, one of two ways to get in and out of here. It has been closed down. There is concern that, with heavy rain coming into the downtown area, that that tunnel could be flooded. So they shut it down. They shut it down.

There's one other tunnel that we're told that that potentially could be shut down, as well, depending on how much water comes into this area.

One other thing, I talked to emergency management officials a short time ago, and they told me that they have talked to the federal government to see if they could get some assistance in getting medical teams and also urban rescue teams in place. They told me they have gotten the go on that. So they're getting teams into place to be able to move them out, when needed -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Dan Lothian, we appreciate it. We apologize for Dan's audio quality there. Obviously, a little water on the microphone there. But thank you very much. Stay safe in Mobile, Dan -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: In Alabama, in fact, the governor joins us. His name is Bob Riley. Governor Riley, thank you very much for talking with us. Sure appreciate it.

How are things looking to you at this stage?

GOV. BOB RILEY (R), ALABAMA: Well, Soledad, we're just like everyone else. We're looking at the track, trying to anticipate landfall. It's moving around. We still have five or six hours to go. So I'm not too sure if anyone knows right now where the major impact's going to be.

S. O'BRIEN: Have you been pleased with the evacuation efforts and with people who have been directed to leave the city, really specifically Mobile, actually getting up and leaving?

RILEY: We had a great day yesterday. We reversed the lanes on all the -- the northbound I-65, had all lanes running north. We got a lot of people out.

I'm still told that there are a few people who are just determined to ride it out. We've done 90,000 phone calls, 911 phone calls, encouraging them to leave. We pulled all of our rescue people back in off of the beach. So now it's just up to where it -- where it reaches landfall.

S. O'BRIEN: I guess it's -- for those who are going to stay, they're just going to stay if they want to stay.

Take us back to Frederick, back in 1979, did a ton of damage to Mobile. Give me a sense of what exactly happened there.

RILEY: Well, one of the problems that we've had down here is we've had so many hurricanes over the last 20, 30 years that people have become accustomed to them.

What I'm trying to convince people in Alabama, we've never had one like this. We've never had a Category 4. We've never had the potential for the damage that this hurricane could cause.

So we're in the process now of getting all of our commodities pre-staged, getting our rescue units pre-staged, having our National Guard ready to go in. As soon as it moves on shore, move up through Alabama, we will have all the assets necessary to go down there, do the rescue, get ice and water and MRE's to the people who live in the southern part of the state.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you feel like you learned a lot from Hurricane Ivan?

RILEY: Well, you know, you can't go through anything like that without learning something. But I've been really pleased. We've had just great cooperation throughout all of our agencies. I think we are as prepared as we could be right now. So we're like everyone else. We're waiting to see.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, we've heard lots of stories, not particularly Alabama, but just generally, whenever you have a disaster or potentially, an impending disaster about the people who want to take advantage of the people who could be impacted, for example, hiking up gas prices or charging 10 times as much for a generator. Have you seen a lot of that in your state?

RILEY: You know, we haven't. We have -- we have a hot line that people can call if it happens, but our attorney general down here has been very aggressive. He's traveled down into the south Alabama. He's taken a team with him. That's one thing we will not allow to happen in the state of Alabama.

And so far, everyone is really pulling together. Alabamians are a unique people. They're a very resilient people. And when we're faced with a crisis, they always come together. It's going to happen again this time.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, that is very good to hear. Governor Bob Riley joining us. Good luck to you. We'll check in again. And hope you ride out the storm just fine. Thanks.

RILEY: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come, we're tracking Dennis' every move. We'll check in with the National Hurricane Center to get the latest from there. There's Mr. Rappaport giving another briefing.

S. O'BRIEN: Also, we're going to check in with the American Red Cross, see how they're preparing as they try to handle the influx of evacuees who are now seek shelter from the storm.

And they said "I do" in the aftermath of Ivan. Now they're dealing with Dennis. We're going to find out how this Pensacola couple is coping today. They'll join us live, just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: CNN's coverage of Hurricane Dennis continues. In just a moment, we're going to check in with Rick Sanchez, who's with a mobile hurricane vehicle that we're going to show you. It's going to be very interesting.

But in the meantime, let's get a big picture of what the storm doing right now. Ed Rappaport is the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. I don't think he's left that seat all day.

Ed, you've been working hard, and we appreciate your efforts keeping us posted on this. Give us the latest. Any changes in which direction this storm is headed?

ED RAPPAPORT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Not many changes have occurred this morning. It is moving a little faster, however, now towards the north-northwest about 18 miles per hour.

The really intense portion of this hurricane is confined to a core of about 50 miles in diameter, so about in this area. That center is going to be moving ashore in the next three to four hours.

And for a perspective, here's Pensacola. Here's Fort Walton Beach. Here's Mobile. So this is the area that's at greatest risk from a Category 4 hurricane landfall. The winds that come down just a touch now, about five miles per hour down, but we still think the landfall at Category 4 or border line Category 3 and 4.

M. O'BRIEN: So in those cities right now what are they experiencing, roughly?

RAPPAPORT: The conditions are deteriorating. Tropical storm conditions are spreading ashore. There is still a little bit of time before those hurricane force winds arrive. And the most intense of the weather will be just on the east side of the eye, in the east and northeast side of the eye wall there.

M. O'BRIEN: And you're talking about a 40-mile radius around the eye. Is that right?

RAPPAPORT: Yes. Maybe even a little bit less than the most intense of the weather for the hurricane force winds and those highest winds Category 4, even inside of that.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. And have you gotten reports lately on how the evacuations have gone? Do you have the sense that people are pretty well hunkered down? Do you have any notion on that?

RAPPAPORT: Well, we certainly hope so. We have not gotten any new reports here. Now's the time, though, to make sure you're away from the water and in a fortified structure.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Ed Rappaport. It's getting close to the coast. Thank you very much. We'll be in close contact with you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Well, how bad is it looking? Let's get right to CNN's mobile reporter Rick Sanchez. He is traveling with the storm, and his vehicle is Hurricane One. He's reporting for us from Panama City Beach by video phone.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to open the door.

S. O'BRIEN: West on Highway 98 heading towards Pensacola.

Hey, Rick, it's Soledad. Can you hear me?

Rick Sanchez, it's Soledad O'Brien at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Do you hear me?

Obviously they're having a little trouble being able to hear us. We're going to try to fix those audio problems, because you can see from what we can see of the setup shot, it looks like it's quite a bit of a mess out there.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. I mean, I think it's -- for those who remember back in the early day of the Iraq invasion, it's the same basic technology that gave us the capability of going with those tanks as they went across the desert we're employing here. But, of course, it was dry when we did it in the desert. Anytime you try to use all of this gear in the middle of a tropical storm, as it is getting to be there at this moment, you got problems.

Is he hearing us now? Still not hearing us. All right. We're going to -- we're going to work out the bugs. Hopefully, we can dry off some cables and get back to Rick Sanchez.

S. O'BRIEN: Ye, they're definitely dealing -- we can see some of the shots there, and they're definitely dealing with lots of flooding there. So let's try to fix that problem, bring it back to you in just a few moments.

Also we'll tell you about hunkering down that's going on as the hurricane head ashore. Just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, we will talk with some of the folks who are dealing with that. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's get you right back to our mobile reporter Rick Sanchez.

SANCHEZ: Here we go.

S. O'BRIEN: He is in Hurricane One, and he is traveling with the storm. He's in Panama City Beach and gets to us from videophone.

Hey, Rick, you hear me?

His audio has been going in and out for us all morning. Rick Sanchez, let's try one more time.

Rick, can you hear me? Can you give me a sense of how it is where you are right now?

Miles, it doesn't look like Rick's audio is working right now. Let's see if we can pull that up again. And why don't you go ahead?

M. O'BRIEN: Hopefully, our viewers understand the difficulties that Rick and crew are encountering right now. You can imagine that --just the technicalities of, you know, doing a moving live shot.

Look at this WEAR shot now. This is Pensacola. This really gives you a sense. This is up in a tower. That's why you see that vibrating. Really, I thought we would have lost these cameras by now. But you really get a sense of the wind coming in there now.

And once again, as we just heard from Ed Rappaport, Ft. Walton Beach, Pensacola area particularly at risk right now as this storm gets closer and closer. They're getting the early doses of tropical storm level winds.

And then, as that 40 mile in radius disc around the eye gets closer, that's when those full fledged hurricane force winds will hit, Category 4 storm. You know, has not changed in its strength or weakness, really, all morning long. About 145 miles an hour, which is something to reckon with.

I don't know what wind speeds are there right that moment but it's nowhere near 145. So you can only imagine, as Rob Marciano would say, you can only interpolate to get a sense of what it would be like if, in fact, it was 145.

Hopefully, we'll be able to see it from that tower cam, because that's probably the safest way to see something like that.

Let's -- we've been leaning pretty heavily on our affiliates, and we appreciate all their help, as a matter of fact. WDSU is one of the affiliates that's been offering us assistance all along.

Let's listen in. It's always nice to see how the local reporters are telling the story to their local moment -- their local market, their local audience. Let's listen in to them and see what they have to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 9:52, if you're just joining us, this is -- you are watching complete coverage of tracking Hurricane Dennis, and we'll be getting to meteorologist Margaret Orr (ph) in just a moment.

But first, let's show you some pictures as we take a look at some of the areas already affected by Dennis. These pictures coming from Panama City. We spoke actually with the police officer, a sergeant actually from Panama City earlier in the morning. He says, you know what, most people in this area have decided to leave, and they heeded the advice and decided that it was not safe to stay there. Panama City, obviously being one of the areas that knows all too well the wrath of a hurricane.

Key West, also folks there concerned and heeding the advice. These picture, you'll see water coming right onto the road. Not a good idea to be on a raft right now, but as you see, people driving through even some deep waters and some very heavy winds right now.

As you see over here, an all-too-familiar scene that we've seen here, people try to take all the trees and everything that's left behind and make sure that they don't become kind of missiles as we've been talking about all morning long.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you know, throughout the morning, people have had a lot of questions and concerns about Hurricane Dennis. And that is why we've gone ahead and set up a special hot line for you. It's our 6 on your side...

M. O'BRIEN: All right. That was just a little sampling of just a just little while ago, WDSU out of New Orleans.

Take a look at this. This is that WEAR shot. I don't know if you can see that pier that we've been looking at pretty much all morning long. Getting pretty well covered over as the seas really come up here. It's getting toward high tide, too.

Now, the tidal differences aren't that huge on the Gulf side, but nevertheless, an extra foot and a half of water caused by those tides as the storm gets closer -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, Pensacola, obviously, getting hit, and we expect that Pensacola, in fact, in the wake of this category 4 storm, will indeed be hammered.

We go to a reporter Mark Douglas from our affiliate WFLA. He's in Pensacola, and he filed this report a little bit earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK DOUGLAS, WFLA CORRESPONDENT: The people of Pensacola seem well prepared for this storm, even as the weather continues to deteriorate today. We've noticed an increase in the winds as some of these spiral bands are moving closer to the shoreline. The water is actually now breaking over the seawall at Wayside Park, which is at the edge of the bay in Pensacola. Few people venturing into streets at these hours, except for a few policemen patrolling the streets and people running last-minute errands. Most homes and businesses in the Pensacola area are boarded up at this point, and we have even noticed that some of streetlights are tied actually to the base of utility poles in anticipation of those high winds that sooner or later would have knocked them off anyway.

Most of the downtown area pretty well buttoned down. The civics center now home to more than 1,000 evacuees, temporary shelter for them. When I asked what the capacity is, someone at the shelter said, we will not turn anybody away here. Anybody who shows up is welcome here. And right now, more than 1,000 have done that so far.

So as the storm continues to approach, people taking proper measures here, well aware of what storms like this can do, based on their past experience with Hurricane Ivan. Now back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: That's reporter Mark Douglas, who filed that report just a few minutes ago. Do we have a live shot we can show folks from Pensacola this morning? We've been watching this pier that throughout the morning, steadily has been getting hit harder and harder. The surf rising. The camera that's focused on this pier being jostled by the high winds. Of course, the winds continue to grow. They're in the 40 miles an hour, maybe 50 is what we heard from the reporter Randi Kaye. As we are really about two and a half hours away potentially from landfall, unclear still at this time exactly where, of course, Hurricane Dennis will make landfall -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad, did you say that that pier was heavily damaged during Ivan?

S. O'BRIEN: Now, actually, Randi was telling us that a big chunk of it was taken out during Ivan, but I don't think it was heavily damaged.

M. O'BRIEN: Because it looks pretty stout. But it will be very interesting to see, because I'm sure they built it, you know, thinking category 4, category 5 standards, right? It would be interesting to see how it does as this lashing continues. This is just the beginning.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah, I think she was saying that if a hurricane category 3 took a big old piece out of it last year, what's a category 4 going to do now?

M. O'BRIEN: Right. All right. Let's head up to Rob Marciano. And Rob is up there using his remote once again.

MARCIANO: Yes. Miles...

M. O'BRIEN: Accessing the full resources of the Weather Center for us.

And Rob, when last we checked in, you heard us talk to Ed Rappaport, I trust, just a little while ago. And he really has narrowed it down to kind of those three cities, you know, sort of Pensacola, and kind of over to Ft. Walton Beach really seemed to be the real core of the concern right now.

MARCIANO: I'll tell you, as far as where the center, I mean, if you want to pinpoint something, it's eerily close to where Ivan came ashore last year. And luckily, at least in this case, the eye is not quite as big and the wind field isn't quite as big, although it's a stronger storm.

I just want to go from low-tech to high-tech. This is a visible satellite picture, it's a satellite image that just sits up in one spot and follows the Earth as it rotates around, and uses the sun as a flashbulb.

So you know, the reason the first couple of frames of this is dark is because the sun isn't quite up yet, but it really gives you a good idea of where the eye is. I mean, we're not using anything other than really, I don't want to say film, but radio transmission from the satellite down to us.

Now we'll go from that to a little bit more high-tech. This is our tightened radar, this is the latest and greatest stuff. This the radar beam actually cutting through the storm right now, out of Mobile, Alabama. And we also have the ability to track lightning strikes as they come in, actually live.

So here's the center of this storm, the eye itself, eyewall, the front part of it where the most intense weather is right now. And that is just less than 80 miles how from Pensacola itself, less than 70 miles from the beach, moving to the north-northwest, Miles, at 18 miles an hour. And so the outer band -- or not even the outer band, the front eyewall will get to those -- that beach as Soledad's been saying right around 2:00. That's where we're really going to see some nasty weather.

Luckily for the wide majority of the people that live in this area, as Ed was saying, those core cat 4 winds are really only about, you know, 20 miles in diameter. But where that hits, it's going to be like a tornado ripping through. And the tropical storm force and hurricane-force winds do go out a little bit farther, but that core cat 4 winds, Miles, are a pretty narrow band. So that part is good news. The other thing is, if anything, it's in a bit of a weakening trend. We certainly hope that happens quickly.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm glad to hear that. It's the first I've heard that. But let's do the math here. If it's 20 miles of those strong, strong winds, that's in excess of an hour if it's moving 16 miles an hour, right?

MARCIANO: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: ... that you would be enduring those kinds of winds. So a lot of damage can be done in that period of time.

MARCIANO: Oh, certainly. Certainly.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. Another quick, interesting thing. On the bottom side of the eye there, of course...

(CROSSTALK)

MARCIANO: It's not polite for you to put your hand on me like that, but...

(LAUGHTER)

M. O'BRIEN: It's a family show. Get out of the way there, will you? This -- this portion -- I never noticed this before, is that common to have much more heavy weather in the front end of the eye?

MARCIANO: Well, you know, when the weather's really heavy, we'll get a bit of an error from the radar. And when it's raining so hard, and this happens in heavy thunderstorms, when there's hail or even sleet, the radar can't actually penetrate all the way through to catch what's going on in the back side.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, OK.

MARCIANO: So you know, we're not quite sure if it's that weak on the back side. But my guess, it's just as strong as far as the convection is concerned along the way.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. That's what I thought. Thank you very much, Rob. Back to you, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles. Well, everybody is watching Pensacola this morning, everybody, including the folks at FEMA. They are standing by to provide any kind of assistance and aid, if it's needed, once Dennis actually hits. We're going to take you live to Pensacola, and you can look at him right there, Marty Bahamonde. He's going to talk to us. He's from FEMA. That's in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Emergency response teams are on standby in the path of the storm, ready to move as soon as the danger's passed. Joining us this morning to talk about that and about how government teams are going to respond is Marty Bahamonde. He is the spokesman for FEMA in Pensacola, Florida. I don't need to tell you that you are right in the path. Can you hear me?

MARTY BAHAMONDE, FEMA: Yes, I can.

S. O'BRIEN: OK, good. I can see that the conditions are deteriorating a little bit. You're right in the path. Do you feel prepared?

BAHAMONDE: I think we're as prepared as we're going to be. We've had several days to get ready for this storm. We knew it was coming. We knew that it was going to be severe. So that's allowed us to put all of our truckloads in staging areas with all the commodities that I think we're going to need. We got urban search and rescue teams that are in the area ready to deploy. We have disaster medical assistance teams ready. So I don't think we could be any more prepared than we are for this storm.

S. O'BRIEN: How close are these staging areas?

BAHAMONDE: Well, we have staging areas in the state of Florida, in Alabama, in Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia. They're all spread out, so that if one area's being impacted by the storm as it moves through, we have other areas that can come in behind the storm.

S. O'BRIEN: And give me some specifics. You sort of listed the general areas that you're hoping to cover. But how much stuff do you have standing by?

BAHAMONDE: Well, like I said, we have 100 truckloads in commodities. That includes tarps, and generators, and food, and water. Stuff that we can move in based upon whatever the state identifies and the local area officials.

S. O'BRIEN: Have you been pleased so far with the response, the people? They seem to have learned the lesson from Hurricane Ivan?

BAHAMONDE: It is unbelievable, I think, the lessons that people learned from Ivan. You go out, everybody has really deserted Pensacola. There's nobody on the streets. And we've noticed this just in the last couple of days. So they really took the advice that all of the local officials are always telling people to evacuate, they did it early this time so we don't have a lot of traffic jams as the storm approaches. So I think a lot of people learned from Ivan, and I think they took heed and got out of the way.

S. O'BRIEN: At the same time, Ivan was a category 3. We're now looking at a category 4. You must be pretty nervous about that.

BAHAMONDE: Well, anytime you get up to category 4, you're going to get nervous. And I think we all are nervous about what's going to happen and we feel bad for the damage that is going to result from this storm. But we want everybody to know that we're standing by, we're ready to activate, and I think we're going to make a difference after the storm passes. S. O'BRIEN: What kind of changes have been made? Because there were of course, big problems, huge problems with fraud in the state of Florida. Last year, $9 million is a number that Congress threw out there. How do you fix that?

BAHAMONDE: Well, I think our first priority right now is to worry about those victims that are impacted by this disaster. And we're going to continue to do everything we've done in the past to try to get the assistance to them as quickly as possible, get the life saving, life sustaining things that are needed. That's why we have the medical teams and the urban search and rescue teams, and that's where our focus is right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah, but -- and I understand and I appreciate that -- but wasn't that part of the problem with the fraud from last year, that by coming in early and fast, with lots of aid, some people who were filing fraudulent claims, who actually didn't have any problems whatsoever, were able to walk away with lots of money?

BAHAMONDE: Well, unfortunately you're going to have people that always try to take advantage of a situation. But because of that, we can't deter from what we try do to help the people that really are in need, and that's what we're here for.

S. O'BRIEN: How much gouging have you seen in Pensacola specifically, but really in all of the state of Florida? It seems that many of the worst cases kind of come out every time there's a disaster or a potential disaster?

BAHAMONDE: Well, I think, you know, certainly in Florida, they went through four of them last year. I think people started, you know, kind of talk and understand how assistance works and, you know, talk to each other. And that's unfortunate. But that still doesn't prevent us from really helping those disaster victims that need the most help. Because we can't stop doing that. That's what our mission is and that's what we're going to do every time there's a disaster.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, well, good luck to you as the storm passes through. Marty Bahamonde, thank you. Appreciate it -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, we're going to try to raise Rick Sanchez again. He is somewhere between Panama City and Pensacola on State Route 98, in Hurricane One, our mobile satellite capability there, giving -- excuse me -- giving us a sense of what's going on as he drives on the highway. Rick, can you hear me?

SANCHEZ: I sure can, Miles. We had a delay problem in the past, now we've been able to cut our delay down to two and a half seconds. You certainly know how that works, being a correspondent for many years.

Let me try and give you a sense of what we want to do. To be able to provide CNN viewers around the world, perhaps for the very first time, of what the conditions are like as the hurricane approaches and actually when it comes on land. We're using something, it's a technology that some of our viewers might be familiar with, Miles. You yourself, I think you mentioned it earlier about Walt Rodgers using it during the war in Iraq. We have taken than specific technology, which we often refer to as a bubble. It's a satellite, essentially, that's sitting on top of a truck that we're using right now. I think you might be able to see it. We sent back some picture of it just a little while ago so our viewers can see what we are going to try to employ.

Inside that bubble, there is essentially what would amount to be like an antenna. It's an antenna that actually can move, so when we move, it moves, so it remains locked onto a satellite, something that hasn't been done under these conditions before.

You know what I want to do before we get going here, too, is I want to show you what we have set up.

Stu, turn that camera around if you possibly can, and show them. There's a camera inside here. We also have what I guess amounts to a satellite phone inside. The gentleman you're seeing there in the blue jacket is Terence (ph), our engineer. He's helped set this up.

Can you give a layman's explanation, Terence, of what it is we're attempting to do with this technology?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we have is a satellite antenna that's enclosed in the ray-dome (ph) on top of the roof. It's sitting on a platform that is motorized, which allows us to maintain tracking of the satellite while we're moving. As the viewers know, one of the major problems with a satellite antenna is it moving off the satellite.

SANCHEZ: So essentially, what people have seen in the past, when they've watched coverage is a truck with a microwave antenna or a satellite antenna, which is fixed, so you can't move, you can only show them what's going on in that particular place. With this, we can go beyond that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. Those trucks are stationary, and the major advantage of this is that we can move around and remain tracked.

SANCHEZ: Thank you, Terence, so much for that explanation.

You know what we want to do now is explain to you as well one of the problem we're going to have. This work in Iraq, Miles, we're going to have a little bit of a difficult time because of the wind conditions. This is rated to withstand winds of probably between maybe 90 miles an hour. So what we'll do is we'll try to get to locations as we start driving into the heart of the storm, and then find a shelter where we can hunker down and show you pictures.

But what we're going to be able to do with this particular technology is, throughout the next couple of hours, go to places right after something has happened and provide the very first pictures, if things work out the way we plan.

So experiment one, and here's what we're going to do right now. I'm going to get back into the vehicle, next to the driver, in the passenger seat, and we're going to attempt to show you if we can continue to have a picture rolling while we're actually moving the vehicle. So I'm going to do that right now.

Stu, hold the microphone while I switch seats.

And here we go. And we're moving. And Stu, if you could, go ahead and show them that surf from that seat there. And we're going to be driving west throughout the course of the day. You can see the picture. You can see the picture right now outside, of the surf.

You know, and we're in Panama City. And I was here less than a year ago covering this very same storm, or just outside of it, I should say. These are people who are used to this. They are expecting something similar to what they experienced last time. And they have pretty much evacuated this entire area. The area we're in right now is all but a ghost town right now.

And you can see new construction, and you can see some of the problems that are caused by new construction and all the debris that's left out here.

And you know, and you've heard this before a million times. What you're looking at there are potential missiles that will be thrown by those winds.

Now we're showing you the picture from the front windshield. And I guess the question to you, now, Miles, is, are you getting the picture? Are you seeing it?

M. O'BRIEN: We are seeing it, Rick. And it's actually -- of course it's a little bit pixilated, as you well know, but we've got -- you have a clear sense of a couple of things. First of all, I'm not seeing anybody out there, aside from you. Which is good news, because most people should be evacuating. Actually, I see a vehicle coming now. Is that another vehicle there? Is that a civilian vehicle or an emergency vehicle?

SANCHEZ: It was a red pickup truck. I'm not sure who was driving it. But you're right, it passed us. One of the few cars we've seen on the road.

M. O'BRIEN: But what is interesting is, you're now heading from kind of the outskirts right toward, as you head west, right toward where it is predicted the worst, you know, hurricane-force winds will be felt in just a little while. Do you think -- do you feel safe in that vehicle? You're in a Hummer, after all, which should give you a lot of stability and a lot of safety. Do you think -- I mean, at what point will you stop, in other words?

SANCHEZ: Well, the thing that we're most concerned about right now, aside from our own safety, of course, is trying to maintain that bubble that we call Hurricane One on top of the vehicle and having it be stabilized enough so that we can A, keep it there, and, B, continue to provide a picture. We sat last night and tried to stabilize and locking in as best we can. But it's got magnets that go around inside there. And we've got to make sure that those things are tight enough.

Like I said, it's not made for these conditions. We are going to attempt to use it in these conditions, so we have to be careful how we use it, so that we shelter ourselves from the wind, once we get into the heart of the storm.

We are not in actual maximum strength winds right now, and if this thing does come ashore as a cat 4, as they're saying it might, we're talking, Miles, winds in excess of 130 miles an hour. And at that point, we have to be careful to protect both ourselves and the equipment itself.

So that's what we're going to attempt to do. The advantage this is going to give us over perhaps other people who are going to be covering this story is, in hurricanes in the past, the most difficult thing to do is find out what is going on during the storm, and immediately after the storm.

So with this technology, we'll literally be able to be there within moments, instead of bringing it to you the follow day, as is often done. That's what we're going to attempt to do, and right now it seems to be working.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Rick Sanchez and his crew headed down the road. That's the westbound view on State Route 98 in Panama City. They're headed right into the teeth of it, folks. We're going to keep that line open and stay in close contact with Rick and company. By all means, guys, stay safe there, but we do appreciate the insights and the pictures as Hurricane Dennis now just a couple of hours from landfall here in the Gulf of Mexico. Stay with us as our coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Last September, Thomas and Jennifer Westerheim rode out Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola, along with their many wedding guests. They went ahead with the wedding, after the wedding party had to pitch in to clean up the backyard.

So how is the couple faring this morning? Thomas is still in Pensacola. He's going to stick it out there this morning -- this afternoon, rather, while Jennifer -- well, she's four and a half months pregnant. She's moved out of the eye of the storm, and she's in Jacksonville, Florida.

Good morning to both of you. Thanks for talking with us. Thomas, we're going to start with you. Why are you there? Why wouldn't you just pack up and go with your wife?

THOMAS WESTERHEIM, PENSACOLA RESIDENT: Well, I don't think it was supposed to be a category 4 when it hit as of yesterday. So we just planned on staying here. I've got four cats, and an aquarium. So I really just wanted to stay behind and watch that. And also the house, of course.

S. O'BRIEN: Jen, we mentioned you're four and a half months pregnant. I know when you're pregnant, you're supposed to avoid stress. Are you a little nervous about your husband Thomas still being there?

JENNIFER WESTERHEIM, PENSACOLA RESIDENT: Well, I'm nervous, but I have plenty of time...

S. O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. I'll tell you what, Thomas, hang on a second. I'm going to ask Jennifer a question. Go ahead, Jennifer.

J. WESTERHEIM: Well, I was just saying, of course I'm nervous, I'm sitting here watching all of this on TV. And all I have time to do is think and watch, but I know Thomas is in a safe place, and he'll make the smart decisions. And we have secure rooms. So we went through Ivan, and it was scary, but I know we were safe. I feel well, the house is secure and boarded up. So I think all will be well.

S. O'BRIEN: How did it go last year, or you know, 10 months ago, when you got married? You were supposed to get married at a country club and they canceled at the last minute. You had to move your wedding. Tell me about what happened then.

J. WESTERHEIM: Well, we were just kind of planning on, if the parents made it in town, we were going to go through with our wedding. So both of our parents were with us, and we had a lot of help. And once we realized how bad the storm was, we did what we had to do and had a lot of help cleaning up our backyard, and went from there. And miraculously, it worked out for the best. We were very fortunate. And things just worked out.

S. O'BRIEN: I heard that you in fact had all of your wedding guests before the wedding had to clean up the yard so you could get hitched. Hey, Thomas, let me ask you a question, what kind of preparations have you done to try to protect your home?

T. WESTERHEIM: Well, I've boarded up all the windows, removed all the blowable -- everything around the house, obviously. I just filled up the tubs with water, and did a last load of laundry before I came here. And that's pretty much all I've done so far. And going to hope that that will work.

S. O'BRIEN: Wow, you did the last load of laundry. What a good husband. Jennifer, you have him so well-trained, I'm very impressed.

Category 4, you know, in all seriousness now, that's going to be stronger than Ivan. Are you worried, Thomas, that this is going to hit you with a lot more force than you got from Ivan, which did a lot of damage?

T. WESTERHEIM: Yeah. I mean, it's getting a little bit more of a concern now, of course, now that it's getting closer and it's becoming more of a reality. But you know, I think -- I think we built our houses pretty well. And I'm pretty sure we'll be all right. S. O'BRIEN: All right. Good. Well, you know what? Both of you, check in again after the storm passes so we can make sure that you're OK, all right? Jennifer and Thomas Westerheim, who are newlyweds but spending the day apart today. Thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Let me get this straight, he did the load of laundry?

S. O'BRIEN: I know. I should have married that man! He's brave. He did the laundry just in case things don't work out.

M. O'BRIEN: Can you get me his number so I can call him up? I need to straighten this guy out.

S. O'BRIEN: What? You go, Jen. You have a good man. Hang on to him.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Thomas, we'll talk to you later.

CNN is your hurricane headquarters. We're tracking Dennis as it slams ashore. In just a few moments, we'll check in with the National Hurricane Center to get the latest on the storm's track. These are live pictures from Panama City. That's where we have Chad Myers.

We have reporters all along the coast, all along the affected area, including Rick Sanchez, motoring his way westbound on State Route 98, somewhere between Panama City and Pensacola, giving us live reports as he travels, right through the area most affected by Dennis. We leave you with these live tower cam pictures from Pensacola, where it's getting pretty wild. Stay with us.

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