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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Dennis; Gimme Shelter; Imposing Curfews; Hurricane Preparation Cleanup

Aired July 10, 2005 - 03:00   ET

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


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: The winds of what was a category three hurricane have now strengthened. Just over two hours ago, Dennis was reclassified as a powerful Category IV hurricane. We want to welcome you back to this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING. It is July 10th. A lot of people headed out of the areas that are in the direct line of Hurricane Dennis.
Good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen. We're going to be with you all morning long. At least up until the 6:00 hour and then, from there on, you're going to have the AMERICAN MORNING crew coming in. But you want to stay with CNN because we have so much to tell you about Dennis, where it's headed, where it is. And we want to get a grip on the evacuations because orders have been lifted, we understand.

Now this is some national news that we're going to give you right now.

Evacuation orders have been lifted in Central Birmingham, England's second city, after a terrorist scare. Police found a suspicious package at a Birmingham hotel, but they determined that it was not what they called a credible device.

North Korea has agreed to return to six party nuclear talks. That was a key goal for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who is in Beijing. U.S. and North Korean officials say the talks will begin the week of July 25th.

And the crew of the space shuttle Discovery has arrived at the launch site ahead of Wednesday's scheduled liftoff. During the mission, the crew will test the shuttle's safety improvements and make repairs to the International Space Station. It will be the first shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster back in 2003.

Listen to this, the sixth WNBA all-star game has ended in victory for the West. They defeated the East 122 to 99 in the highest scoring all-star game in WNBA history.

All right, back to Hurricane Dennis, our top story all day long. Live and on the scene, CNN is your hurricane headquarters.

Dennis has strengthened to a Category IV storm around 1:00 a.m. Eastern time. Now it is packing top sustained winds of 135 miles an hour. Dennis is heading for the Northern Gulf Coast after cutting a deadly path through the Caribbean. Thirty-two people have been killed in Haiti and Cuba combined. In the meantime, many Gulf Coast residents are heading for safety. Authorities have ordered a million people to leave the beaches and there are also fears that the hurricane's outer edges will spawn tornados. Tornado watches are up right now for the Florida Panhandle, Southeast Alabama and Southern Georgia. They are in effect until 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

And a reminder. CNN is your hurricane headquarters. You'll want to stay tuned to us all day for the latest on Hurricane Dennis.

Right now, though, let's go straight to the CNN hurricane headquarters with Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider, who has the latest on where Dennis is and how powerful Dennis is at this moment.

Bonnie.

(WEATHER REPORT)

NGUYEN: Now as we said, evacuations have been underway for thousands of people on the Gulf Coast. That includes low-lying areas of Mississippi. Let's go live now to CNN's Peter Viles in Gulfport, Mississippi, with the latest there.

Right now it doesn't look like the storm has produced any rain just yet.

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We haven't felt any here in Mississippi, Betty.

The evacuation, we're told, is going very smoothly. But just to give you an idea of how suddenly this storm gained strength yesterday, 12 hours ago officials here were telling us they did not expect hurricane winds in this part of the Mississippi. Now they are saying, there definitely will be a few hours of hurricane force winds. And this is the part that really got my attention. They are expecting a possibility of hurricane-force winds up to 150 miles north of the Mississippi coast, 150 miles inland in the state of Mississippi. So a real sense of urgency here but you still don't feel it in the weather.

Betty.

NGUYEN: Making sure that they are indeed heading to shelters and heading out of the area. Are they feeling that sense of urgency?

VILES: Well, they have until 6:00 to evacuate this area of Mississippi and it's a pretty thin strand along the Gulf Coast here. And there still are quite a few people here but there are no traffic jams. When we got gas last night, there were no lines at the gas station. There's no sense of panic. But people are packing up and we do get the sense that this area will be pretty deserted come daybreak.

NGUYEN: All right, Peter Viles, thank you for that.

I want to turn now to CNN's Bonnie Schneider in the hurricane headquarter center because I understand, Bonnie, you have some new information. BONNIE SCHNEIDER, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we do.

We have a new advisory posted. And, boy, Dennis is getting stronger and stronger. This is still a Category IV storm but now maximum sustained winds are at 145 miles per hour. This just came in off the wire from the National Hurricane Center. The latest reconnaissance aircraft that flew through the hurricane say that maximum sustained winds are now at 145 miles per hour.

Not much else has changed. The movement is still to the northwest about 14. And as far as the distance goes, it's about 275 miles to the southeast of Biloxi, Mississippi, or 195 miles south of Panama City, Florida. So we did see some movement as it gets a little closer to shoreline.

But what's also interesting is that we had said that some strengthening is likely but now the storm has strengthened even more than what we thought when it would make landfall. We originally were getting reports that the storm would make landfall at 140 mile per hour winds. Well now the winds maximum sustained are at 145. So the storm is still a ways away from making land and it has gained strength even more so than what was expected at landfall.

One other thing to note is that from the reconnaissance report is that they say that some fluctuations in the strength is likely to occur. Not a major increase in strength but some fluctuations. So this is, obviously, a situation where it's a good thing we're here 24 hours because this is something that really needs to be monitored hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute.

Hurricane Dennis now maximum winds at 145 miles per hour. A Category IV major hurricane right now in the Gulf of Mexico. Likely to make landfall later today.

Betty.

NGUYEN: OK, Bonnie, let's do the math right here. One-hundred- and-forty-five miles per hour. But I'm reading here, a category five is winds faster 155 miles per hour.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

NGUYEN: So it's not very far off.

SCHNEIDER: It's not that very far off, that's true. These are still very severe hurricanes, whether they're a Category IV, category five. But there is a big difference. Will we see that increase up to 155? At this point, according to the hurricane center and that report from the reconnaissance aircraft, we're likely to stay at this level and this range. But looking back, we have seen these changes.

Remember, this storm, this time yesterday, was a category one.

NGUYEN: Exactly.

SCHNEIDER: So this is a hurricane that's constantly changing. At this point we're going to go with the National Hurricane Center forecast, bringing it in as a Category IV storm later today.

Betty.

NGUYEN: OK. Bonnie Schneider, thank you for that.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

NGUYEN: Now to Alabama. Despite a mandatory evacuation order, many coastal residents decided to ride out the storm and some are staying home. Others, though, are waiting it out in shelters.

Joining me now on the phone is Julie Overstreet, a shelter manager in Mobile, Alabama.

I guess my first question to you, how many people who are headed to those shelters are in those shelters right now?

JULIE OVERSTREET, BAKER HIGH SCHOOL SHELTER: Betty, right now I have 1,374 people in this shelter. And in addition to that, I have 92 that are special needs residents.

NGUYEN: That is quite a number. Are you pleased with the number of people who have indeed taken the warnings to heart and headed to a shelter?

OVERSTREET: Absolutely. People need to take this storm to heart. It's a dangerous storm and we're just hoping that we won't lose life in this area.

NGUYEN: Are you expecting more people to head to those shelters as Dennis inches closer?

OVERSTREET: We have a number of shelters open for the Mobile County area. Some of them are filled to capacity. This shelter, I can take in probably 200 more people and then I will max out.

NGUYEN: And what do you do then? I mean, do you have to turn people away?

OVERSTREET: I'm not likely to turn anyone away. I will find a spot for them somewhere. But there is a limit. People have known that these shelters have been open since early this morning and should have made arrangements to get to a shelter.

NGUYEN: And how long can you keep people there? How long are you prepared to take care of them in those shelters?

OVERSTREET: We will keep people in these shelters until it is safe for them to either return to their homes or we have to place them somewhere in temporary housing until they can get back to their homes.

NGUYEN: And the people who are coming in, what is their mood? Are they thinking, oh no, not again. We have already been through this many times over, especially after last year's hurricane season. What are they telling you? OVERSTREET: Oh, everybody's concerned and, of course, everybody's upset. We're trying to keep everybody as calm as possible and assure them that they should be very safe in this building. We're providing, you know, cots and we prepare three square meals a day. We're trying to keep them as comfortable as possible but, you know, when you've got a building with, you know, 1,400 -- 1,500 people in it and children are active because they're upset. And they're not in their home environment, they're in a shelter and they just need some calming.

NGUYEN: Exactly. A lot of patience.

What is your biggest concern right now?

OVERSTREET: The potential damage of this terrible storm that's out there. We're going to have some -- it can be devastating. Ivan was very devastating and it came in at level (ph) three. This is probably going to come in at least as a four. There's going to be some devastation.

NGUYEN: Yes, I can hear the worry in your voice.

Are you providing any kind of assistance to people who are dealing with the emotional strains of this?

OVERSTREET: Yes. We have DHR representatives here, councilors with DHR, and they're available. We have medical personnel here, because this is a special needs shelter. We have, oh, gosh, maybe 50 people on breathing machines that require power, but we're prepared with back-up generators in case we lose power, which we expect to do.

NGUYEN: And, Julie, the last thing I want to ask you, for people at home watching this, tracking Dennis, still deciding what to do, what is your advice to them?

OVERSTREET: Absolutely. If you're in the path of this storm or think you're going to be in the path of this storm and you're in a low-lying area or in mobile homes, please evacuate immediately and seek shelter either with family or friends or get to a designated shelter.

NGUYEN: OK. Very good advice.

Julie Overstreet, a shelter manager in Mobile, Alabama. Best of luck to you. Take care. Stay safe.

OVERSTREET: Thank you so much.

NGUYEN: And you can expect CNN to monitor Dennis all weekend long. We are going to be here 24-hours a day.

Ahead this hour, though, a survivor of last year's Hurricane Ivan talks with us live about facing yet another powerful storm so soon.

Plus, some dramatic pictures from some of you as we track the storm. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Want to welcome you back to this special CNN coverage of Hurricane Dennis. We are giving you updates on the Category IV storm every 15 minutes. CNN Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider is in the hurricane headquarters this morning at 3:15 Eastern Time. Oh, about 3:17 Eastern Time. And some parts of Florida and the Gulf Coast should be seeing some of the effects of Dennis but how much of them are seeing these effects, Bonnie?

(WEATHER REPORT)

NGUYEN: All right, here's a question for you. So how is Hurricane Dennis affecting your area? Send us your photos and video to cnn.com/hurricane. But we do want to give you a word of caution, don't do anything risky to get these shots for us. Your safety is a main concern. But if you do get some really neat photos, we do advise you to send them to cnn.com/hurricane.

And speaking of those photos, we have a few to show you this morning. This is from Chris in Fort Lauderdale, where you can see some of the effects of Dennis causing some winds to knock down branches from trees and they, of course, unfortunately fell on a couple of cars there.

Now our next photo is from Susan in Punta Gorda, Florida, where you can see cars trying to -- I don't know if someone's in there. No, it doesn't appear anyone's in there but this car on the side of the road is feeling the effects of the storm because you're seeing the flooding and some of the debris hit the car.

Now I do want to remind you that Punta Gorda was hammered last year by Hurricane Charlie. That happened in August of 2004. And they had 180 mile per hour wind gusts. So this is an area that knows all to well the effects of a hurricane.

And our last picture to show you right now is from Joni in Florida and you can see the waves coming ashore. And there's one person out there. Looks like a surfer. Of course, you get these surfers out there ready to ride those waves right before a hurricane comes in but that can be very dangerous and I imagine the beaches are pretty much bare this morning as people are heading the warnings, as they should be.

Well, more of your pictures a little bit later. So, please, do keep them coming into us.

Also, the power that was knocked out recently by Tropical Storm Cindy is just now back on for parts of New Orleans. And now, though, it could be lights out again. We will be right back with more of our special coverage of Hurricane Dennis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Welcome back to this special coverage of Hurricane Dennis.

Now about a half million people have evacuated South Alabama due to the now Category IV storm. Since so many homes and businesses are now empty, police are concerned that criminals may see an opportunity, so a curfew is now imposed.

Here's Richard Allan (ph) of CNN affiliate WPMI.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ALLAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Seeing shelter and staying off the streets.

VEMECIA HORNE: Yes, that is a good idea. It will make it a little safer out here.

ALLAN: As Hurricane Dennis approaches, curfews throughout much of our area go into affect.

MILTON MITCHELL, PRICHARD RESIDENT: Just keep them (ph) off the street. Most people going out of town, you know, (INAUDIBLE) breaking into people's houses.

ALLAN: In Prichard, a curfew is imposed from 10:00 p.m. till 6:00 a.m. Police say curfews are critical during hurricanes to promote safety and prevent stealing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's going to be a lot of debris and stuff all over the roads and it's going to be hard, very hard to maneuver when the winds get real rough.

HORNE: During hurricanes and stuff, people like to loot and all that kind of stuff. And that will help with that problem of people breaking in and stuff.

ALLAN: Police responded to a few incidents of looting during Hurricane Ivan. Some residents say they chose not to follow evacuation orders this time to protect their valuables.

MITCHELL: I am not. I'm going to stay at home and watch my house.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: In the wake of Tropical Storm Cindy, some residents of New Orleans recently without power but they're not powerless. Now a power company there is keeping crews on standby just in case Dennis pays a visit. Here's Mongi Banez (ph) of CNN affiliate WGNO.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT ANDERSON: Get up real early and you just work all day and go home and go to bed.

MONGI BANEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Robert Anderson and this team of tree trimmers from Arkansas have been working steadily for Entergy since Cindy hit.

ANDERSON: We just clear the lines back so you don't have limbs, you know, you don't have limbs burning (ph) the wire or anything like that.

BANEZ: It may look like Cindy cleanup, but it's really Dennis prep.

DAN PACKER: We spent the day getting ready for Dennis by trimming trees and making our system more reliable with some new equipment.

BANEZ: Dan Packer of Entergy says the 271,000 power outages caused by Cindy were all restored by this afternoon. He's keeping out-of-state crews in place just in case Dennis knocks power out again.

PACKER: The 2,000 people that were here working are not to far away right now. We think we could bring them back in if we needed them.

BANEZ: To make sure we won't need them, Packer is urging people to clean up storm debris.

PACKER: Debris, of course, can cause a lot of problems in high wind. Anything from missiles to causing power outages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're still in the process of cleaning up. We would urge all citizens to look around their homes, bundle up any leaves, any tree branches that may have fallen, to make sure that they're secure.

BANEZ: City crews have been working overtime but have not been able to collect all the mess. The mayor says he too will be cleaning up his neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I left home this morning. There's a big tree limb that's sitting, you know, right on my sidewalk. So -- but I'm not concerned about it. I'm going to do what I'm suggesting that everyone else do, I'm going to try and bundle it up and make sure that it's secure and that just in case we have high winds that it's not a danger to anyone or anyone's property.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: Well, it wasn't to long ago when another hurricane slammed into Alabama. Remember Ivan, the Category III hurricane that struck hard last September? Next on this special edition of CNN SUNDAY, we talk live with an Ivan survivor who's bracing himself for the wrath of Dennis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Good morning.

Hurricane Dennis picks up speed overnight. It has gone from a Category III to a rare and powerful Category IV.

I want to welcome you to this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING. It is July 10. I'm Betty Nguyen. More on Dennis in just a moment.

But first, here's a look at what else happening right now in the news.

Authorities in Birmingham, England, say a suspicious package found at a hotel is not -- is not a bomb. During the scare, police had evacuated thousands of people from Birmingham's major entertainment district.

In other news, the investigation into Thursday's bomb attacks in London continues. Police have no suspects yet. In the meantime, heat and dust in the subway tunnels is slowing recovery of bodies in the three bombed trains. Forensic experts are set to begin the gruesome task of identifying the victims. But it could be weeks before identities are released.

North Korea says it will return to the six-party talks aimed at ending a nuclear standoff. The news came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in China on an East Asia tour. Rice called it a -- quote -- "first step" toward resolving the stalemate.

Erratic winds of up to 40 miles an hour are fanning a 2,400 acres wildfire in Southern Colorado. Flames crawling along mountain ridges have forced the evacuation of 150 homes. More than 300 firefighters are working to contain that blaze.

Live and on the scene, CNN is your hurricane headquarters.

We want to talk about Dennis now. It's strengthened into a Category IV storm around 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time, packing top sustained winds of 130 miles an hour, 35 miles -- and in fact, the latest report, it's at 145 miles per hours.

Dennis is heading for the northern Gulf Coast after cutting a deadly path through the Caribbean. Thirty-two people have been killed in Haiti and Cuba combined.

Meantime, many Gulf Coast residents are heading for safety, and authorities have ordered a million people to leave the beaches.

Now, there are also fears that the hurricane's outer edges will spawn tornadoes. Tornado watches are up right now for the Florida Panhandle, southeast Alabama and southern Georgia. They are in effect until 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

And a reminder that CNN is your hurricane headquarters. You'll want to stay tuned all day for the latest on Hurricane Dennis.

And for the latest, let's go straight to meteorologist Bonnie Schneider in the weather center and CNN's hurricane headquarters.

Bonnie, let me make sure we got this straight. It is not 135 miles per hour anymore. It's 145 miles per hour.

SCHNEIDER: Right, a big change in intensity with this hurricane -- a hurricane that we saw less than 24 hours ago as a Category 1 when it interacted with Cuba, and certainly brought devastation there as well.

We knew it would regain strength in about 12 to 24 hours. We thought Category III, eventually a Category IV by tomorrow -- by this morning, excuse me. It's already the overnight. But what we didn't really anticipate was this intensity to burst into the scene at 2:00 a.m. Central Time, 3:00 a.m. Eastern Time. And that's exactly what the latest advisory has indicated.

Right now, the center of circulation, we're seeing strong winds -- maximum sustained winds, 145 miles per hour. That classifies Dennis any way you slice it as a Category IV hurricane, a major hurricane that will make landfall later today somewhere along the Florida Panhandle or the Gulf Coast of Alabama or Mississippi. It's a pretty wide area even as we get closer to the -- to the track, it's becoming evident. We still have to keep in a range because these storms can jog to the east, they can jog further to the west.

We have an area of high pressure that's back our further eastwards towards Florida that's going to help to support the steering of this system. But in the meantime, we're looking for landfall later today. And as you can see, it's still a concern even by Monday. We're going to still have strong winds and -- tropical-storm force winds all the way up through the central portions of the Mid-South region.

So as you can see on the map, somewhere between Mobile and Pensacola, but really anywhere in this shaded-out area we could see landfall this afternoon. A Category IV hurricane, very serious indeed -- a major storm that will cause storm surge that will be quite high.

Check this out: storm surge up to 18 feet with a Category IV hurricane. That's why it's so serious. And of all places for it to happen, the Gulf Coast, an area so vulnerable to storm surge, especially in those low-lying areas that tend to flood quickly, even when you get just those normal downpours that we see in the summertime.

Well, we're going to see a lot more than that. Flooding up to 6 miles inland -- I think we'll see even further than that.

Once again, our track is calling for this storm to come in this afternoon, a Category IV, maximum winds at 145 miles per hour. This is a powerful storm, a large storm that will affect the entire Gulf Coast with the exception of Texas. I think we're going to see those strong winds and lots of rain and flooding with it as well -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Be very careful out there. And just a reminder that 145 miles per hour is just 10 miles underneath a Category 5 status. So this is a powerful storm.

Bonnie, thank you. As we reported just earlier, about a half million people have evacuated south Alabama due to the now-Category IV storm. But my next guest says he won't go.

Last year, Mobile, Alabama, resident John McNeil stayed put through Hurricane Ivan. And he says he's not budging if Dennis pays a visit.

McNeil joins us now live on the phone.

Want to say good morning to you, and first of all, after what you experienced last year, why in the world have you decided to stay this year?

JOHN MCNEIL, RIDING OUT THE STORM: Well, Betty, good morning.

It -- we've decided to stay again. We live on the river -- we live on -- right -- about a mile from Mobile Bay, on Dauphin River (ph). And it's not that I won't leave, it's that we feel fairly safe here in our house that was only rebuilt about 10 years ago. It's a brick house, and we had to build -- since we built 10 years ago, we had to build to flood standards, which is above 10 -- we had to build 10 feet above flood stage.

So we feel pretty safe, so we rode out Ivan OK. Lost some trees, and we'll feel we'll probably lose some more trees in this hurricane. We've been here going on our -- we've lived here in Mobile a few months shy of 50 years now.

NGUYEN: So last year, you only experienced some tree damage?

MCNEIL: Oh yes. We had -- it was a pretty good storm last year.

NGUYEN: Right.

MCNEIL: We had the -- the rains that came that loosened the ground, and then we had the sustained winds and we lost a good many trees, a lot of trash. When the water comes up, when the tide does come in and the tidal surge does come in, it washes a lot of trash in from the -- from the river -- right from the bay, up into -- up into the yard.

But that's the main concern, is the water coming in. That's the (INAUDIBLE) concern.

NGUYEN: Well, John, I just want to remind you that last year -- and you well know this -- Ivan was a Category III, killed 56 people in the U.S., caused $13 billion in damage.

But Dennis is not a Category III. Dennis is a Category IV. Does that worry you?

MCNEIL: It -- it worries to some degree. Like I say, it's -- we feel fairly safe here in the house and we -- we've had a lot of offers from around the country of friends calling, saying you're welcome to come stay with us. But we're going to ride it out right here on the -- on the river.

NGUYEN: So how prepared are you? What have you done to prepare yourself and your home?

MCNEIL: Well, it takes a pretty good while to get ready.

We started Thursday night getting ready. We have our provisions -- you know, water and ice and we have two generators. We have -- all the windows will be boarded up. We'll do that this morning as soon as the sun comes up. And we've already got all that taken care of.

NGUYEN: Let me understand the mindset here for just a moment, if you would. What makes you feel safer in your home than picking up and going to a shelter or just evacuating all together?

Why do you want to stay home?

MCNEIL: Well, it's not that we feel safer. We feel safe here. But not so much safer.

The -- one of the main reasons we -- we're saying here is because we do feel safe. We're staying here because if the hurricane -- or when the hurricane does hit, it will take a pretty good while to get back to our house. We -- we're uncomfortable leaving the house and not knowing when -- when we would be able to get back to it.

NGUYEN: So you're worried about looting and things like that?

MCNEIL: That's one of the concerns, yes.

NGUYEN: OK.

Well, we wish you the best of luck. Hopefully, things will be A- OK as you ride out this storm. But I have to warn you again, it's a Category IV. So do take care.

MCNEIL: We will take care. We've got the boat tied up to the back dock, and we'll be -- we'll be ready.

NGUYEN: All right, John. Thank you so much for your time. Best of luck to you.

Dennis is dredging up some bad memories for people on the Florida Panhandle, since Hurricane Ivan was only a Category III storm and it caused millions of dollars of damage.

CNN's John Zarrella has more from Pensacola, where residents are bracing for the coming storm.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: For the people of Pensacola, this is certainly eerily reminiscent. Not just of last year, when Hurricane Ivan came through here, but back in 1995, I recall being right here, not far from here -- Hurricane Opal. It was a Category IV storm as it approached the coastline and actually lost some punch down to a Category III hurricane before it made landfall in the Fort Walton Beach area, east of here.

Now certainly that's what the people of Pensacola are still hoping will happen with Dennis. But that does not seem to be the case. The storm, a Category IV, continuing to intensify and getting stronger as it approaches the coastline.

Now, all day, throughout the day yesterday, people finished up their preparations here. And now, in these overnight hours, it is time for them to be getting a good night's sleep and relaxing, because it is going to be a long rest of the day. When the sun comes up, hurricane-force winds could very well be on the coastline, could very well be beginning to encroach inland as well.

Now, the shelters are beginning to fill up here in the Pensacola area. There are more than 2,000 people in those shelters now. They do hold 8,500 people, so plenty of space available. But two of them are full, which officials in Escambia County here say is a good sign; people have been heeding the warnings. They are getting into the shelters, and if they have plans to evacuate, most of them have already done that. The rest are battening down the hatches, finishing up last-minute preparations. Because by first light, with those strong winds on the coast, it's going to be too late to be putting plywood up outside. It's going to be too late to running to try to find an open gas station or a convenience store to pick something up.

Everything is already closed down here, and will likely be closed down for quite some time as the storm moves through here, knocking out power. And it may well be days, if not weeks, before power is restored to this area. Of course, all that depends on exactly where Dennis makes landfall later today.

John Zarrella reporting from Pensacola, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: And we will be watching Dennis for you all day long.

So far, Dennis left a stormy mess in the Florida Keys. The islands did not take a direct hit from the hurricane, but they still took quite a beating.

Reporter Greg Hunter was in Key West as Dennis rolled through.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREG HUNTER, CORRRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane-force winds pushed water over seawalls and on to streets in Key West. Gusts up to 75 miles an hour bend over signs, down trees, capsize boats and knock out power for nearly 30,000 people in the Lower Keys.

(on camera): Police here in the Key West area are telling people to stay indoors. The reason why is because the winds can literally blow you away.

Now right now, I'm under the protection of a stone (INAUDIBLE) at the beach. But when I step out into the wind, you can see the effects. I'm literally (INAUDIBLE) into the wind.

(voice-over): Despite the safety warnings, locals stroll through the storm. Ray Kaplan and his wife, Lynn (ph), have lived here for 20 years. Lynn doesn't care if her French pedicure takes a beating. They both need to just get outside.

RAY KAPLAN, KEY WEST RESIDENT: I'll tell you: you spend two days in the house with three kids, two dogs, a lizard, a tortoise and I don't know what other (INAUDIBLE), you'd want to get out also.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right.

HUNTER: Then there's Lou Perdomo, a local tattoo artist. He's seen plenty of stormy weather in the past 10 years. He says nothing bad has ever happened to him during a hurricane, until now.

LOU PERDOMO, HURRICANE DAMAGED PROPERTY: It just happened -- as soon as we walked up, and all of a sudden I'm going, Hey, look at the tree fall down. Then I realized, That's my car that's underneath.

HUNTER: Bad as a palm tree landing on your car is, Perdomo says it could have been worse.

PERDOMO: Better my car than my Harley.

HUNTER: The wind is only half the problem. More than 5 inches of rain fell on Key West.

(on camera): And that's turned this downtown street into a virtual river.

(voice-over): These charter-boat captains are already celebrating the end of Dennis at a local restaurant, one of the only places on the island serving hot food, with the help of a generator.

Fishing guide Greg Shertz as forced inside today. Shertz is as local as you get in Key West: he's lived here all of his life. He says he's seen 20 hurricanes, and nothing ever makes him leave.

GREG SHERTZ, FISHING BOAT CAPTAIN: Ain't going nowhere. Staying here for the next hurricane too, I hope. (INAUDIBLE).

Greg Hunter, for CNN, Key West.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: Well, the Caribbean was one of the first places hit by Hurricane Dennis. People on the island of Cuba -- they are still recovering at this hour.

The wrath of Dennis, coming up on this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Over the last 100 years, there have been only three Category 5 hurricanes to hit the United States.

In 1935, an unnamed storm slammed the Florida Keys, killing 423 people.

These pictures are from Camille in 1969, as she roared ashore in Louisiana and Mississippi. Property damages were so severe that sections of the Mississippi coast seemed to vanish.

Twenty-three years later, Florida was pounded by Hurricane Andrew.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Well, heavy rains are still falling in Cuba, where Hurricane Dennis is being blamed for 10 deaths. The damage across the island is just devastating.

CNN's Havana bureau chief, Lucia Newman, has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): This is where Hurricane Dennis said goodbye to the island of Cuba, exiting shortly after midnight with winds of up to 105 miles, or 168 kilometers an hour.

"It was very strong and incredibly noisy, and blew the shingles right off our roof," said Beatriz Gonzalez, from Guanabo Beach, on the outskirts of the capital.

Havana awoke to find power had not been re-established. Downed trees and branches strewn all over the capital, a testament to the ferocity with which this story flogged the Caribbean's largest island.

In all, more than 1.4 million people were evacuated from low- lying areas and unsafe homes and buildings throughout Cuba -- more than 16,000 of them foreign tourists, who'd come here expecting to find sun and sands, and who instead got trapped in a hurricane that for the month of July, is extremely rare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a little bit scary in the beginning, it was good. There were no problems.

NEWMAN: Damage was worse in southeastern Cuba, where downed power and communications lines as well as destruction to homes was significant. Ten people were killed in eastern Cuba.

Earlier, Dennis took at least 22 lives in Haiti, while it was making its way towards Cuba. Massive mudslides and flooding again taking a tragic toll on that impoverished country, which still hasn't recovered from last year's hurricanes.

In Cuba, the job of trying to get back to normal is under way.

(on camera): All in all, the people of Havana are counting their blessings, although many say they see Hurricane Dennis as a kind of an appetizer for what experts predict will be a particularly long and vicious hurricane season.

Lucia Newman, CNN, Havana.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: So where is the powerful storm now? Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider has been tracking Dennis all night long. She joins us with the latest when we come back.

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: (AUDIO GAP) your hurricane headquarters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: August 24, 1992: Hurricane Andrew devastated southeastern Florida. The Category 5 hurricane flattened the town of Homestead, killing 15 people there and leaving a quarter of a million others looking for shelter. Andrew was the most expensive natural disaster to ever hit the U.S., doing $26.5 billion in damage.

So many Andrew-related claims were filed, nearly a dozen insurance companies went out of business.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: Well good morning and welcome back. It is 3:52 Eastern, and Hurricane Dennis is in the Gulf of Mexico, headed straight for the white, sandy beaches of the Gulf Coast.

When and where it will hit? Well, CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider joins us from the CNN hurricane headquarters with the latest on this tracking information.

So, where is Dennis?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Betty, right now you can see still in the Gulf of Mexico, still a ways away from making landfall, which we're expecting later this afternoon. But a powerful storm indeed.

We've seen just in the past couple hours, another update, another reconnaissance plane saying that maximum sustained winds with Dennis are even stronger than they were before. Now they're at 145 miles per hour. So the strength has intensified in this storm.

The movement has stayed the same: to the northwest at 14 miles per hour. But I just want to point out, as you can see, the eye is still well defined. The storm is getting close to land, and this quadrant right here, the northeast corner, this is one of the most concerning areas for us, aside from the eyewall, where we get the strongest winds. We get the worst weather in this area here; the worst amount of storm surge that could possibly occur. And with a Category IV storm, we're likely to see that storm surge up to 18 feet.

Here's our track right now: the storm comes inland later this afternoon with Category IV strength at winds at 140 miles per hour. So we might see some fluctuation in the maximum winds as it makes landfall later today. But just to note: Dennis stays at hurricane- force strength even on Monday morning. It's all the way inland, but it doesn't really lose its hurricane status.

So such a large storm, an expansive storm and a powerful storm. It's going to take a lot to knock this one down as it comes on to land.

And just to let you know, if you're watching us anywhere from the Gulf Coast, you really have to be very, very careful and take this all -- advice very seriously. Hurricane safety: monitor your NOAA weather radio and make sure you have batteries for that. Listen to your local authorities, and of course evacuate if ordered. And numerous evacuations have occurred since early this morning as this storm has gotten more and more intense -- Betty.

NGUYEN: We will be watching this Category IV. Thank you. And we'll be checking in with you, Bonnie, all morning long.

Do want to tell you that coming up next, right after this short break, we are going to show you some pictures from you, the viewers, of Dennis as it comes ashore.

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

NGUYEN: This morning, we're asking you how Hurricane Dennis is affecting your area. So send us your photos and video to CNN.com/hurricane. But we do want to remind you that don't do anything risky to get these shots for us. Your safety, of course, is most important.

All right. Let's take a look at some of those pictures that you've already sent in so far this morning.

This is from Susan -- actually, we switched now to Joni in Florida, where you can see the sand has washed on to the roadways there by the wind and possibly some of the rain that's come through that area.

Got some more pictures to put up for you. This one, from Susan in Punta Gorda, Florida. And you can see debris and a lot of that rain which is headed into the area, or headed out of the area depending on how Hurricane Dennis is moving on through. But the wind in the background -- you can see the palm trees blowing and -- and -- and lots of debris in the roadways. And we're going to see a lot of more of this throughout the morning as we watch Dennis.

Category IV hurricane, sustained winds of 145 miles per hour. Just a reminder, a Category 5 is 155 miles per hour. So this is a very powerful storm. The hurricane some are calling a monster storm.

But it didn't start out that way. Want to look back now at the birth and growth of this storm named Dennis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Cindy, and then maybe even Dennis. Right now it's just Tropical Depression Four. But Dennis is on the way.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: I urge all Floridians that live in the Upper Florida Keys and along the Gulf Coast, in the Panhandle, to take hurricane preparedness measures now.

NEWMAN: Well, Hurricane Dennis finally has touched the mainland here. It entered in Fuegos Province, in the south of Cuba, and it's slowly making its way up here, towards Matanzas and Havana provinces, in the north of the country, where I'm speaking to you from.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The hurricane will be moving back over open water. And while it has weakened now, it has done so because it's moved over land. As it moves back over to the water, that warm water into the Gulf of Mexico -- that's the heat engine. That's what provides the energy for this thing. So more strengthening will be expected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A different perspective -- we're on the second floor now of the Best Western and I want to show you South Roosevelt Boulevard. You cannot tell where the Atlantic Ocean is. You cannot tell where the road is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where a tornado touched down. One of the reasons -- they think that as little girls heard it this morning, about 6:00 they said, it wasn't a lot of wind, it was a boom -- in fact, one said it sounded like a bomb, an explosion.

This is the damage, you see they're cleaning up right now.

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