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Hurricane Dennis Makes Landfall At Pensacola, Florida

Aired July 10, 2005 - 16:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick Sanchez, who's been doing a Herculean job driving around down by the coast is, I think, somewhere on Highway 98. Rick, where are you, and what condition are you in?
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it's been a long journey. And now it's a loud one, as well. But take a look behind me. That is what is left of a hotel here in Crestview, as the wind continues to blow in off this area. It has literally -- I don't know if you can see that.

Stu, are you hard on that? Yes.

I don't know if you can see that, but literally has just ripped the aluminum sheeting off of the roof completely. We have been watching it buckle. In fact, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to be quiet for a moment and just let you listen to this.

Because every once in a while, the wind just comes through, blows through, picks pieces of it up. A little while ago, that flap -- Stu, show them that flap over there. Oh, there it goes, there it goes!

And it looks like there's some -- it looks like there's some fire. It looks like there is some sparks coming off the other side. We don't know exactly what that is, but there's always the possibility that there may be either some kind of gas main or something.

You know what? This looks a little scary. We're going to back out of here. We're going to go talk to some of the people who were here. But this is what the hurricanes do, and especially with these types of roofs in these motels.

We just talked to some of the people -- we just talked to some of the people who were here in the hotel. They're on the other side. Hundred people or so were inside this hotel. They have been evacuated and taken to a nearby shelter, which is an elementary school just a couple of miles down the road. We're going to hopefully go and talk to them.

In the meantime, we're going to monitor this here and continue to follow the story. And as we get more information about damage, we're going to be taking you to it. Amazing pictures. On Hurricane One, I'm Rick Sanchez, reporting live from Crestview.

COOPER: OK, Rick, we'll check back with you in just a little bit. You know, Mother Nature is just -- it's incredible. A second ago, it seemed like it was calm. Now it seems like it's picking up again. JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's picking up a little bit. But we're right on that edge somehow, that eye or whatever, again. I'm so disoriented right now. But you can feel it. It's like the wind's changing directions on us again, isn't it?

COOPER: It is. And I want to just show you again this piece of sign. Look at that. Again, this thing is just floating around. I was going to run over there and try to pull it to somewhere, but, frankly, I don't even know where I'd bring it to get it out of harm's way.

ZARRELLA: I know. I know.

COOPER: That's the kind of thing -- I mean, that can kill somebody very easily if that thing is flying or that hits you. And we're seeing pieces of that sign, pieces of that enormous Ramada sign -- again, if you're just joining us, that used to be an enormous probably (INAUDIBLE) across sign for the Ramada Hotel.

It is now collapsed, as you see. It is laying there on the ground. Pieces of it, though, are still peeling off. There are pieces over there in a tree over there. And there's this piece over here. There's another it looks like over there. But, again, it seems to be picking up again.

ZARRELLA: It totally changed directions, now, the wind, because look at this. Totally changed direction. You know what? My concern now is, with this wind shift, that that debris, the aluminum that went that way, is going to start coming back this way at us, depending on exactly where that shift is.

COOPER: And you raise a good point, because there are two big pieces of that debris right over there.

ZARRELLA: There's one right up against that vehicle over there. I don't know if you can get a shot of that. You'd have to step out a little further to see all that, but it's clearly -- there's some right -- laying up against this car, and out there beyond it in the trees there's more of that aluminum.

COOPER: And there's another piece over there, a big piece over there in the trees. It is surreal, though, right now, because, I mean, it still feels as though we're in this eye. You don't want to say it's calm, because there is some wind, and there is a lot of rain, but relatively speaking to what it was ten minutes ago, this is blissful.

ZARRELLA: What a difference. And look at the tree, how it snapped that pine tree, just snapped it.


ZARRELLA: A couple of them there have been snapped. And that was when we were in the worst of it and the sign was coming down.

COOPER: And I wanted to be John Zarrella during this because John has covered probably more hurricanes than just about any person I know. Compared to what you have seen before, what was the last 30 minutes like?

ZARRELLA: This was about as intense as I've ever been in, that last 30 minutes. During Andrew, we were about 25 miles away from the center, 20 miles away. That was a tight, compact storm, certainly far greater and more intense than this and didn't experience the full force of Andrew. But this has been -- that was one heck of a 30- minute period we went through.

COOPER: And I would just hate to think of anyone who might have been out there during this. We know, you know, in Cuba, at least ten people died. We know in Haiti as many as 22 people, I think was the last figure I heard, had died. Let's just hope that people did take the precautions, that people were indoors, because if someone was outside during those last 30 minutes, I would just hate to think what happened.

ZARRELLA: And you know, Anderson, this thing went down to a Category 3 to 120 mile-an-hour winds. I mean, it was sitting with 140-, 145-mile-an-hour winds, you know just a few hours, not that many hours before landfall. I mean, imagine what we would have gone through here if it had come in at 145 as a Category 4. I have no idea -- everything would have been leveled here.

COOPER: I'd love to get a sense from Jacqui Jeras -- I don't know if she's still standing by -- but just a sense of where -- Jacqui, great, you are there, thank goodness.


COOPER: Where -- what's happening? Where is the storm compared to where we are? We're completely disoriented. It feels like we are in the eye. Are we?

JERAS: Almost, almost in the eye. You're just kind of on the edge of it, guys. And that's why you had such a dramatic change from those strong, gusty winds.

By the way, the Pensacola Observation Site is down and out, so we're not sure exactly what the winds are. I'm sure we'll get some more information and estimates on that a little bit later.

But here these are. They're right here along the bridge. There you can see Escambia Bay. And here is the eye. So there's just a very sharp contrast between that eye wall and the eye. And that's where those strong winds are, on the west side of the storm.

The worst winds in the storm are up in this area over here, and you were talking about a change of wind direction. I really don't think you guys are going to see it, because you're going to stay on this side of the storm. So a general northerly wind is going to be moving in a little bit from the northeast.

So expect those to continue. And you guys might be kind of touch-and-go as you're just right on that corner between the eye wall and the eye.

COOPER: All right. Jacqui, I appreciate that. Thanks.

It's very hard to stay sort of oriented when you're in this kind of storm. You know, the winds keep shifting, they keep changing direction. It's a very disorienting experience to try to figure out exactly where you are and what's happening.

As soon as we break, I'm going to go run and just try to remove that piece of sign, because I'm just concerned -- quickly, as things have sort of calmed down here, if you're just joining us, I want to show you what happened here about ten minutes ago as John Zarrella and I were trying to ride out this storm. Let's take a look.


COOPER: And as these bands of the storm...

ZARRELLA: Here it comes again. Look out here!


COOPER: I don't know if you can feel right it now...


ZARRELLA: Watch out for that aluminum! Jump. Get back, get back! It's coming apart!


COOPER: Look over there!

ZARRELLA: It's coming apart!

COOPER: That is aluminum. That's part of the sign. Look at this!

ZARRELLA: It's all coming apart! The trees are coming down!

COOPER: Did you see that tree that went down?

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

COOPER: Be very careful. Look at that sign...

ZARRELLA: If that's a sign, it's down. It's falling apart! Get back! Get back! Get back!

COOPER: Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this, John. This is -- have you ever seen anything like this?

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

COOPER: I'm telling you, this, of course, is the most dangerous time when the winds are this strong.

ZARRELLA: Tree limbs are flying down these pine trees. You see them out there. They got big branches coming down, huge limbs.

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


COOPER: Well, that happened just a short time ago. One of the things we saw about five minutes ago is several people running for safety into the Ramada Hotel. Elizabeth is one of the people.

Elizabeth, where were you? What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were coming from Houston back to South Carolina...

ZARRELLA: It's going this way now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... and then we were listening to the radio. And they said how it was coming by to Mobile, so we stopped here in Pensacola, and it's hitting it now.

COOPER: Have you ever been in anything like this before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it's the first time.

COOPER: So where is your car?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's right under the -- right here. It's the black Focus.

COOPER: So did you think you could just make it through this storm and just keep driving?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were going to try to, but the roads are closed, so we can't make it any more. We have to stay here until it passes.

COOPER: It must have been extraordinarily scary to be in your car with your family like that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it is, very scary.

COOPER: So how long are you going stay here? I mean, you're just going to try to ride it out here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, just until it passes, and then we're going to go home.

COOPER: Who are you traveling with? I saw a group of people you were with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, my boyfriend, my brother-in-law, and his wife and two kids.

COOPER: Well, we're glad you finally got off the road. I mean, you came in probably the worst part of the storm. And I'm glad you're safe. Thank you very much.


COOPER: It's good to talk to you.

I want to just announce to our viewers that Wolf Blitzer and Kyra have taken over -- I'm sorry, I'm completely disoriented -- Kyra Phillips and Wolf Blitzer have taken over anchoring duties. So we're going to be joining them very shortly. And CNN's John Zarrella standing by to tell us what will happen next -- John?

ZARRELLA: Yes, I'm trying to get a better sense of the wind direction and if it's shifted on us. But the sky is still very, very light. We step out just a little bit, you can start to see that it's getting dark again, back off to my left. So I don't think we're out of this by any stretch of the imagination.

And I'm going to toss it now to Drew Griffin down in Fort Walton Beach. And I imagine, Drew, you're taking pretty much of a pounding down there.

Is Drew with us? Do we have Drew?

COOPER: We lost him.

ZARRELLA: They lost Drew.

COOPER: Yes. They lost Drew.

Let's check in with Kyra and Wolf who have taken over anchoring duties from Miles and Soledad.

ZARRELLA: Here we go again.

COOPER: Yes, again...

ZARRELLA: Here we go again.

COOPER: Kyra and Wolf, I don't know if you guys can see this, but again, all of a sudden now, it looks like it's picking up again.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's no doubt you guys are literally in the eye of that storm, and you're doing an incredible job. I want to thank both of you for doing this extraordinary journalism unfolding this hour.

We've been watching, Kyra, a very, very powerful Hurricane Dennis unfolding dramatically, even as we speak.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've been talking about the high winds, also the heavy waves that you've seen. Even Anderson and John telling us unexpected winds, unexpected speeds. They were just saying they had no idea how hard it was going to hit, how close it was going to come.

They were feeling it was speeds at least up to 100 miles per hour. You're seeing now pictures coming in from one of our affiliates. You can see here the shores of -- is this Pensacola, Florida? It looks like -- it is. It's Pensacola, Florida. I can recognize that pier.

Wolf, already, this area was starting to get pounded. And we remember last year this was an area that was hit heavily, including the naval air station there. They had to fly out all the aircraft, and a number of homes taken down in that area.

BLITZER: And Kyra, Hurricane Dennis is slamming ashore, even as we speak right now. It's one of the most powerful storms on record to hit the Florida Panhandle and Alabama coastlines.

Dennis has lost some of its strength. It is now a Category 3 hurricane, but it's still very, very dangerous. It's packing winds up to 120 miles an hour, and it's capable of doing extensive damage. Residents who didn't evacuate are being told to stay put.

Dennis made landfall midway between the Santa Rosa Island towns of Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach. The storm is following what's being described as a ruinous path, similar to the one carved out by Hurricane Ivan just ten months ago. But this hurricane is more powerful than Ivan.

The signs say it all. "Dennis, don't be a menace." Many of the areas in Dennis' path were already painfully exposed or flattened by Ivan. Rubble from the earlier storm is still around, and it could be turned to deadly projectiles in this one. This menacing storm is far, far from over.

We have reporters positioned all along the coast bringing you in- depth coverage of the storm.

PHILLIPS: And one of those correspondents, of course, is our Rick Sanchez. Let's go there and check now to find out exactly where he is. As you know, Rick has been traveling in Hurricane One, moving himself and his crew throughout Florida.

Exactly where are you, Rick? And sort of give us a description of what it's like and what you're dealing with.

SANCHEZ: Well, we've been trying to chase down this part of the storm for quite some time. When we heard about 45 minutes to an hour ago, Kyra, that there was a hotel with 100 people in it that had lost its roof, and we arrived here on the scene about, oh, ten minutes ago.

When we filed our first report, we were talking to Anderson. And while we were doing that report, we noticed -- pardon me here for just a moment -- while we were doing that report we saw the roof, or what was left of it, a flap of aluminum, literally picked off the side of the roof and thrown over to this side. And then we started seeing sparks, large sparks. It looked like what could be the beginning of a fire. So we got a little bit concerned. We backed off. We've taken the vehicle, our Hurricane One, since we are mobile, and we've been able to come to the other side of the building. And that's when we found out. As residents were pointing in that direction, you can see the roof has fallen on top of the power line, pulled down the power line and pulled down the transformer.

As the transformer got pressure on it, it started to spark, and that's why, moments ago, firefighters arrived here on the scene, as well as some members of fire rescue. It doesn't appear they're going to try and do anything to it. I think they're going to back off. That just looks to be like a very, very dangerous situation, given all the amount of metal.

Keep in mind, too, as we look at this, it's important to understand why people are told to hunker down in these storms. That's pure metal. That's like looking at a knife, essentially, or pieces of a knife in a very large form. So the key here is to stay on the other side of the wind and try to avoid it.

I think we can talk -- you were here, sir, weren't you?


SANCHEZ: What is your name?


SANCHEZ: You've been staying here. Did you evacuate from another area?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we working in Destin. We evacuated up to this point.

SANCHEZ: So your idea was you wanted to go inland. So you wanted to leave the shoreline and come over here where you thought it would be safer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently not far enough.

SANCHEZ: Surprise, surprise.


SANCHEZ: Were you here when the first roof actually got torn off?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first roof went down, and it just kind of folded over on that side. And then later on today, that was just pretty much early this morning during the beginning of the storm. Just recently, when this other part started capping off and getting into that power line, and throwing sparks, and that's when I called 911 to get the Fire Department here. We just saw sparks, didn't want to cause a fire or anything.

SANCHEZ: I understand that there were 100 people inside this particular building when it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They evacuated them immediately. As soon as that side started coming off, they evacuated them immediately.

SANCHEZ: I'm being told that there are some vehicles underneath that pile of metal, is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is. And one of the vehicles that's under that pile around now was one that they just took out from under the pile on that side. What luck.

SANCHEZ: Anyone hurt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, nobody calls on -- no injury reports, that I know of.

SANCHEZ: Was it a pretty good evacuation, as far as those 100 people who were here that were able to get out, no problems?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Real quick, timely. Yes, it was.

SANCHEZ: They're over at the elementary school down the road?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of them came back to this other building where we're at now. Some of them went out where. Some of them went to the elementary school.

SANCHEZ: It looks like it's getting awful windy. We do thank you for coming out here and talking to us.


SANCHEZ: Good back indoors.


SANCHEZ: God bless you, bye-bye.

As we were making our way over here through Panama City, through Destin, through Fort Walton Beach, we noticed, as we started to go through residential neighborhoods, that scenes similar to this were starting to develop. And we were starting to see some more roofs.

It starts incrementally. First, a couple of shingles, then a little bit more. And once the air gets in there, and it looks for a place, it can basically wrap it up.

What we're going to do now is go over to Anderson Cooper. He's in Pensacola with John Zarrella standing by to bring you more of this coverage.

Gentlemen, over to you.

COOPER: Rick, thanks very much for that. We'll check in with you shortly.

We have reporters all over the scene trying to cover this from as many different angles as possible. Who are we going to next?

ZARRELLA: Melissa Ross in Panama City, I believe.

COOPER: Melissa Ross, in Panama City.

Melissa, I'm sorry, where's the scene where you are?

MELISSA ROSS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're in Panama City beach, guys. But even though we're considerably east of the eye wall, we're still feeling the effects of Dennis.

Take a look over my shoulder. That roof is about to go. And it will join so many others that were lost during Hurricane Ivan just ten months ago. A little to the left here on the main drag where you won't see any cars right now, the power lines are whipping in the wind. They're doing a little dance.

It's amazing. I left my hotel room just a few minutes ago. We still, remarkably, have power here in Panama City Beach. But I don't think that's going to be the case much longer.

Let's take a look at the storm surge. It's coming in right over here across the way. Huge waves. The parking lot behind our hotel is completely flooded out. Luckily, we moved our vehicles several hours ago.

And as I stand here, leaning into the wind, it is whipping so violently that I have to sort of brace myself and put my feet very far apart just to stand here and be able to talk to you and try to hang on to my baseball cap.

Ninety percent of the residents of Panama City Beach have evacuated. Those very few folks that are staying here to ride the storm out say they've seen all it all before and they're not phased by Dennis, but they are conceding these winds are vicious.

Reporting live in Panama City Beach, I'm Melissa Ross. Let's go back to you.

COOPER: Melissa, thanks very much.

Things do seem to be picking up here again, although it's a little bit hard to tell. It's much lighter.

ZARRELLA: It's swirling around, yes. The wind is swirling around, but it's definitely out of a different direction.

COOPER: And what do you got there, John?

ZARRELLA: A piece of our Ramada sign.

COOPER: Look at that. It's amazing.

ZARRELLA: I think you need to take that back to New York and frame it.

COOPER: And then this piece is plastic, but I mean, even if that hit you, that would cut you hard.

ZARRELLA: Oh, you're dead. Yes. You're dead.

COOPER: But a lot of the sign is aluminum. There was a big piece right there. I just dragged it across the way over there, because you don't want to have something like that lying around. But there's still an awful lot lying around.

And you pointed out, John, this tree a little bit over here -- I don't know if you can see it -- that thing -- I mean, a little bit more wind, and that thing's going to snap. You can see a good part of it has already snapped. And one more big gust and that thing will go down.

ZARRELLA: Yes. And I think Drew Griffin is back in -- no?

COOPER: No, he was. We're going to -- he was at Fort Walton. I think we might have lost contact with him.

ZARRELLA: Lost contact with him.

COOPER: So we're going to try to maintain contact with him, get him back up on the satellite. It's a very difficult thing at this point trying to keep this satellite up.

Drew is back on the bird. Drew, what's the scene there?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Guys, I can hear you. This is Drew Griffin in Fort Walton Beach. Can you hear me?

COOPER: We got you, Drew, you're on the air.

GRIFFIN: This is Drew in Fort Walton Beach. Great, yes, I'm equally puzzled about this hurricane, as you guys are. We have a lull in the storm, a wind direction change.

But what's been incredible -- and I don't know if it's the same in your situation -- just how dry this hurricane has been for a hurricane. Obviously, to get pelted with rain every once in a while, but it's been incredibly dry. I heard Lucia Newman talking about this in Cuba when it was approaching.

So it's made for some strong wind gusts and some damage here, but we're not seeing the flooding, at least in town. I'm sure the coastal surge is going on.

But I want to introduce Scott McKinney. He is the sports talk radio host here at 98.1. But for the last two days, he's been doing nothing but trying to keep Fort Walton abreast of the oncoming storm. They lost a transmitter about a couple of hours ago and had to go off the air, but he just came back from the sound.

And what did you see there?

SCOTT MCKINNEY, 98.1 RADIO HOST: Oh, Drew, it's amazing down there. The storm surge is come in down there. There's a house down there that sits close to the water that's pretty much, I guess, about six feet underwater. There a lot of boats underwater, plus a couple boats had broken loose from their ties and their anchors and they're just zipping down the sound, zipping down the waterway. Where they'll end up, I don't know. But it's a pretty amazing sight down there.

GRIFFIN: We're gathering some video of this to show you later. We have to send it on a compressed Internet line. That's how we're trying to bring this information to you.

But, Scott, you sat in this radio station through Ivan and stayed on the air through Ivan. Compare this hurricane to Ivan.

MCKINNEY: Well, it's been very similar a lot of the folks who have been through a lot of hurricanes down here -- will tell that it's been very similar to the path. A lot of folks now anxious to see what destruction is out there, the aftermath of the storm to really make a true comparison.

But, like you said, there hasn't been as much rain. They were expecting a lot more rain. Maybe it's coming on the back side. I'm not really sure. But we have gotten pretty lucky, as far as the rain is concerned.

GRIFFIN: All right, Scott McKinney, 98.1. He's like the sports god around here, and he's now a meteorologist and a roving reporter to boot. We'll continue to monitor the situation here in Fort Walton Beach.

But at the moment, from what we can see, this is not as bad as it could have been. And we're hoping that's it, although we expect a back side of the storm to hit pretty soon.

Back to you guys in Pensacola.

COOPER: All right, Drew, we'll check in with you. We'll check in with you, again. We've got reporters, as I said, all along the coast here following this storm.

Things here in Pensacola near the bay have calmed down. But that sign, that Ramada sign, what we're concerned about, that thing, which fell just a short time ago, is on the ground, but that could very easily go airborne again.

ZARRELLA: Yes, now that the wind has shifted directions, I noticed it started to lift up. And it looked like -- well, if anything, at least it would be going in the opposite direction away from us. But you know, it's really just gusting and swirling now here where we are.

COOPER: It's confusing, because you don't know how long it's going to last. You don't know if the worst is over or if you should start making preparations for something else.

ZARRELLA: Exactly. It's gotten so light out here again. It's a very, very strange and eerie feeling. COOPER: Chad Myers is standing by, CNN meteorologist in Panama City. He can maybe explain what's going on not only where he is but what's going on over here and how long this thing's going to last.

Chad, how you doing?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good afternoon, Anderson. And in fact, you didn't even get the worst of it. I know what you experienced was really bad, but people on the other side of the eye, the eye that actually was moving forward, they got it a lot worse.

Obviously, we don't have pictures from there yet, but we will. What we're experiencing here now is the storm surge coming up and coming over on to the sea wall and, every once in a while, splashing over the top.

Now I can talk, because I'm in the shadow of a big building. It's so different from one side of a building to the next. And that's what we're seeing here. In fact, the winds are coming different directions, as you say, as well. They're now coming more on shore.

As they come on shore, we're losing some roofs across the street. And as that happens, those pieces now, they become projectiles. They get into the 85 mile-per-hour winds. Our last gust was 84 miles per hour, and we're 40 to 60 miles from the eastern side of the eye wall.

So everyone from here right on through and on up to Destin and Fort Walton Beach all being affected like we are, and in many places, a lot more than we are. The problem with a lot of the spots here, those buildings are 12 to 15 stories high. The higher you go, the higher the wind speeds. If we had 84 down here, they had 100 up there, 150 feet off the ground.

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

The difference is what we're seeing here is the wind. What the wind is doing to the trees, knocking them down. We have had over 15 inches of excess rainfall here in the past month. The ground is absolutely saturated. That was some sea foam. Better get that off there for you.

The ground is absolutely saturated. As that happens, the wind is just taking these trees and pushing them into the power lines. And power lines are sparking everywhere now across the city (INAUDIBLE) as the winds come straight in from the ocean and the pressure is still falling for us.

So we're still getting closer and closer to the center of that low pressure, or the center of what will be the easternmost, or maybe 30 miles east of the easternmost eye wall -- Anderson?

COOPER: Chad, thanks very much. We'll check in with you again. Again, this thing -- this is a very fast-moving storm, John. It seems like it may have already -- sort of the worst may have already passed us.

ZARRELLA: Yes, it sure does. Those hurricane-force winds that sustained, that we had at the worst of it. Now we're on the other side of the storm. And although we could still get some pretty intense gusts here, it sure does feel as if, at least, the worst of it is over for us here.

COOPER: We don't want to though, you know, send out -- frankly, we don't have the information of exactly where this storm is. So if people are listening in the Pensacola area in their homes, you know, don't suddenly get on the road thinking the worst is over. You know, wait until you hear.

You know, we'll talk to Jacqui Jeras in little bit. We'll get some more information exactly tracking where this storm is and where it is moving to. Because even though it has gone better here, somewhere else is worse.

ZARRELLA: And you know, you have power lines that can be down. And those wires can be hot wires. And I know that happened back in Miami in a Category 1 hurricane back in the late '90s. And four or five teenage boys went out to play and they were all electrocuted...


ZARRELLA: ... because they thought it was over. But there was standing water, and there was a power line, a hot line, and, so, you just do not want to go out. There's just too many dangers out there.

COOPER: You know, obviously, because we've sort of been in the thick of things, we haven't been able to get a lot of information from authorities about power loss and that sort of thing. The last figure we had, which is several hours old, is that 130,000 people had lost power in Florida. I would imagine that number has risen dramatically at this point.

Jacqui Jeras is standing by for us at the CNN Weather Center. Jacqui, where is Dennis, and where's it going?

JERAS: Well, at the top of the hour, it was about 15 miles to the northeast of Pensacola. It's moving still on up to the north. So you can see that it's just a little farther northward than that.

We're going to get a new update in, actually, from the National Hurricane Center at 4 o'clock Central time, 5 o'clock Eastern time. Where you guys are here, you can see pretty calm conditions now. So I think the worst of the storm is over with for you guys. Still going to expect to see some rain and some occasional gusty winds.

COOPER: Well, that is certainly good news. I don't know if John Zarrella is listening, as well. The worst in this area, at least, is over.

But the storm is still moving very fast. And what kind of conditions -- I mean where is it headed next?

JERAS: Well, it's going to continue to push on a northerly track. I'm really concerned about Santa Rosa County, still right now, for the worst of the storm. You can see the brightest colors to kind of help indicate that.

And at the northern county, there's still a tornado warning in effect, for Santa Rosa County, because they want you to treat this hurricane as a tornado. Now, we're looking at widespread showers and thunderstorms all across -- if you look at the first of this from west to east, we're talking rainfall from about Jackson, Mississippi, extending all the way over to Savannah, Georgia, tornado watches are in effect for this.

And we've got breaking information, Anderson, right here.

Category 2? He's giving me the big 2. Category 2 now. So it has just weakened. This is the 5 o'clock advisory coming in early. It's been downgraded to a Category 2.

Sean, did you see the wind? I'm not seeing it on here. Ninety- six?

Ninety-six mile-per-hour winds is what they're looking at right now, translating, I believe, between knots and miles per hour. But down to a Category 2. So we're seeing further weakening. That's good.

We'll continue to look through this. A lot of information on this piece of paper. So as we pour through this information, we'll bring that to you.

One hundred and ten?

OK, they're saying 110 miles per hour is the maximum sustained winds. It was between 115 and 120 when it made landfall. That was between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach right along Santa Rosa Island.

This is going to start to slow down a little bit as it makes its way inland. We're seeing some very strong, gusty wind still, even all the way up to Memphis. So this is starting to affect you guys already. It's going to be tracking up to the north and the west.

It will be weakening, but, still a tropical storm as we head through the overnight hours for tonight with 70 mile-per-hour winds. It will continue to slow down as it moves on up to the north, so potential significant flooding problems all across the southeast.

Take a look at this, Anderson. Flood watches for Georgia and Alabama, Mississippi, extending all the way up into the boot heel of Missouri. So those of you sitting at home in Cape Gerardo and Evansville, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio, don't think that this hurricane's not going to affect you, because it certainly is.

Down to 105? We have to work on our math here, down to a 105 miles per hour. That is still in the category 2 range. Though it has weakened will continue to weaken. Now, as we watch this being downgraded now, we'll be concerned more about the rainfall and the flooding. Rainfall in the path of the storm probably about five it ten inches on average. Locally heavier amounts are going to be possible and as it continues to pull on up to the north, some of you could see five, six inches of rain if it stalls out into the Ohio Valley. Anderson.

COOPER: Jacqui, I appreciate that. I also want to talk to you a little bit later about what kind of storm surge we saw during that storm. But I know you're getting new information in as we speak. We will check in with you again in just a little bit.

ZARRELLA: You know one of the key point that Jacqui was making about inland flooding. The hurricane center did a study a few years back about inland flooding. In the old days before the advent of all the technology, storm surge used to be the big killer of people. Nine out of ten people have died in storm surge. Recent years it has been inland flooding is the primary killer of people in a hurricane because they get out there and they think they can get through that rising water and they get swept away. So anybody all up and down where this storm is going to track, when that flooding is severe, it's the absolute worst time.

COOPER: Just a few moments ago I don't know if your were watching, we interviewed a woman named Elizabeth who we had seen a few moments before that running into this hotel for safety. It amazed me that she and her family were in their car thinking they could drive through this thing. They luckily found this hotel and saw safety.

ZARRELLA: Yes there are some more video now that we're going to go to and replay of the scenes earlier on what it has been like here.

COOPER: OK, just a few moments ago this is what happened. Take a look.

GOV. JEB BUSH, (R) FLORIDA: ...little bit of paradise. If you've experienced it, an amazing thing for this incredible calm to come over you and, please, don't go outside. Because back behind that there are, really, really, amazing winds, as well.

In addition to that, tomorrow, we would ask everybody to stay put so that we can allow the emergency responders to assess safety and we'll talk a little bit about that today. We have an awesome team that is mobilized, that is moving, as we speak, towards west Florida to be able to provide that first assessment of safety to make sure that our first priority is to take care of the people that may be in danger.

The state of Florida is poised and ready to respond to this hurricane. We've learned a lot in the last year and all of the lessens learned and all of the training is now going to be brought to bear to provide support for hundreds of thousands of people, 2,600 national guardsmen have been activated. This morning I said 1,600 and since then we've activated 1,000 and are en route to provide assistance. I had the opportunity to drive by the Tallahassee fair grounds where there is an awesome array of National Guard support and they will be moving out when it is appropriate to do so.

Seven hundred law enforcement officers are also prepared to assist residents. They have trained this, we have cooperative arrangements. Many police officers and deputy sheriffs from south Florida are on their way to northwest Florida to provide support, just as northwest Floridians, law enforcement officers did the exact same thing last year. Florida and federal processors have propositioned resources and responders that will be deployed to the affected areas as quick as possible. That means water, food, ice, and tarps. The so- called pods. Which are points of distribution will be available as quickly as possible. My hope is by Monday afternoon, depending on the...

COOPER: You've been listening to Florida Governor Jeb Bush at a live press conference giving you some information about the latest situation. It is so hard to get information at this point for people, not only for people without power, but there is just so much conflicting information. It's a confusing situation.

ZARRELLA: Yes no question about it. You have to feel for the people of Florida. You were here, it's just incredible. And we're not even; it's still a month away from the height of the hurricane season. This is four last year, now one major hurricane already this year. You know what the governor and the folks in Tallahassee are going through trying to figure out what to do now and what's on the horizon.

COOPER: And also, if there was a blessing in any of this, that it was this was a fast-moving storm. As you can see, it is much calmer now where we are in Pensacola. The height of the storm hit and it hit hard but it didn't stay for very long and that was certainly a blessing.

ZARRELLA: Yes had it been one of those slow movers, 10, 15 miles and hour like Francis last year you know, it would have lingered longer and caused all the more damage.

COOPER: For hurricane Ivan I was in Mobile, Alabama, Dan Lothian is standing by there now in Mobile. Dan, how is it going where you are?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the wind as we speak now picking up again. What we have seen over the past 20 minutes or so is the calming of the wind and the calming of the rain, as well. We felt the toughest part of this storm, about the time when you were describing the signs and trees coming down, that was a constant pounding of wind and rain. That sideways rain that you were describing earlier. We were experiencing that, but, of course, on a little lower level.

So far we have not been able to go out and check to see if there has been any damage around Mobile, but we know at least in this particular area there are no visible signs of any major damage here in terms of treeing falling down or power lines down. Although, we do know that there are thousands of folks without power. We haven't gotten any updated numbers but the last numbers we got were at least 8,000 people without power. That was a very conservative estimate. We were told by one official thinking it was closer to 10,000 to 15,000 homes without power. That number could be much higher by now. One thing we heard from down in Florida that press conference just a few minutes ago. There was so much talk about everything that is being put in place to respond to any of the problems from hurricane Dennis. That is the same thing that has taken place here in Mobile. Officials have requested from the federal government help in getting medical teams on standby and getting urban rescue teams.

They also had a lot of power crews staged in different areas around Mobile so that they could respond to try to put up those power lines and put power back on again as soon as possible. They did prepare. They want to make sure they can get everything back to normal as quickly as possible. Now certainly Mobile was expecting to get hit a lot harder than actually what happened.

We know that this hurricane was zigzagging back and forth and at different times we thought that Mobile was going to get the brunt of this storm and so much concern about not only power outages but extreme damage to major structures, also massive flooding. From our point here we have not seen that. So, if it could be good news for the folks who live here, but of course this storm is not over yet. We are still feeling the burst of the wind and the rain. But it's not coming constant now. We get some peeks and then it backs off. Back to you.

COOPER: Certainly some good news there. Dan Lothian, thanks for that report. We are going to have more from Pensacola and along the gulf coast here in Florida in just moments. But first let's go back to Wolf Blitzer covering the story. Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Anderson. We want to go to one of those who road out the storm. In Destin, Florida that is not far from Ft. Walton Carol Marini is joining us on the phone. Carol, what was it like?

CAROL MARINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well I tell you what, this was one wild experience. I'm standing behind a storm curtain on our balcony over looking the Gulf right now the storm surge is coming in, it has gone through my building, I'm up on the seventh floor right now. The storm surges coming across and going across to 98' sand and debris, but this was one wild ride. I will tell you that.

BLITZER: Is it basically over where you are, Carol, or is it still going on?

MARINI: It's still going on. We still got a lot of wind; it is not as strong as it was. We lost power about a half an hour ago. It is not as bad as I thought it would be, the wind was really wicked earlier, but it has calmed down some.

BLITZER: Did you say you're on the seventh floor of the building?

MARINI: I'm on the seventh floor of the Condo Building I work in. It is called Destin (INAUDIBLE) in downtown Destin, we are built right on the beach, and I'm overlooking the water right now. BLITZER: Didn't people tell you to evacuate?

MARINI: Yes, they did. I live in Destin; my decision was last year during Ivan I got stuck in eight hours of traffic trying to leave. My building is complete concrete that I work in. We decided to come here and try to ride out the storm. It is much safer than trying to be on road, there was no hotels anywhere. I called and got online the other day and I was watching one of them programs a while ago and they said people were going all the way to Tennessee to get a room. So I felt I was better off here, my son and his friend is with me and our dogs and we're in a concrete building so we are completely safe.

BLITZER: Do they have power in that building that you are in?

MARINI: It was until thirty minutes ago, but I do have emergency, we have an emergency generator going for emergency lighting and also operate the one elevator.

BLITZER: Did they say it was safer to be up high in a building on the seventh story as apposed down on the ground level or below?

MARINI: They didn't tell us, I wouldn't be on the ground level. We have buildings on each side of us that have ground level units and they were damaged in Ivan. It just took everything out of it. We are in a concrete building our first floor is a parking lot and the office, and we have a garage. The water went through the garage. We have windows and it broke the windows out. But the building, for the storm surge to go through. We're completely safe here.

BLITZER: Well, that's good news. Carol Marini, we're happy you're safe, your family is safe. Thanks for spending a few moments with us here on CNN. Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Carol mention that she was out of power there in that business building that she is in, and the latest numbers we have more than a 140,000 people in Florida with out power at this point. About 8,000 in Alabama according to our Dan Lothian who came to us live from Mobile, Alabama. Now we are going to go over to Ft. Walton Beach Ann Perrillo on the phone with me. She also road out the storm. Tell me exactly where you are, Anne.

ANN PERRILLO, FT WALTON BEACH RESIDENT: We're in Mariester right outside Ft. Walton.

PHILLIPS: Is this your hometown?

PERRILLO: Yes. My hometown since 1964.

PHILLIPS: 1964? So you've seen a number --


PHILLIPS: I can just imagine. So compare this one. I mean let's go all the way back to 1964. This has been talked about as a historic moment with regard to hurricanes. What would you say? What have you lived through and how would you compare this to others? PERRILLO: Actually, I thought Ivan, I thought Ivan I had seen more damage in this area than I had ever seen in the last 40 years. So and this one, in comparison, I can't -- right now I can't compare too much because I'm within my own boundaries here in my neighborhood. But actually, I'm hoping it's a little bit better than Ivan. I'm not sure.

PHILLIPS: So describe the conditions it me right now, Ann.

PERRILLO: OK, in our neighborhood we have, finally we without power. We just lost power 20 minutes ago. We have a lot of downed trees in our neighborhood and we have pieces of awning and such palms that were flying around. Not too much water. Just regular, you know, water that stands in the roads from the rain. That's about it right now.

PHILLIPS: So, you've been in the same home since 1964?

PERRILLO: This home I have been in since 1983.

PHILLIPS: Sine '83, so what have --

PERRILLO: I have been in this area, in this Palm area since 2973.

PHILLIPS: Since '73, so the home that you are in how have you prepped it for hurricanes, Ann?

PERRILLO: We boarded the window and we do have generators for when the power goes off. But other than that we have our supplies and that's it.

PHILLIPS: Is it just you in the house or do you have --

PERRILLO: Myself and my husband.

PHILLIPS: OK, no kids in the home.

PERRILLO: No, grown and gone.

PHILLIPS: So and so they are not living in the area?

PERILLO: They are all local area. I have children in Crestview, I also have family in Niceville, surrounding areas and I have one son that is a deputy that's on the road and helping out as he can.

PHILLIPS: So I will tell you what I want to keep talking with you for a minute but stay on the line with us because we have a correspondent in Crestview. Our Rick Sanchez is there. So maybe we can hook up, you say your daughter is in Crestview.

PERRILLO: Correct.

PHILLIPS: All right we will try and connect your daughter with Rick Sanchez in Crestview. And then you said your son is a deputy?

PERRILLO: Yes. PHILLIPS: So is he working the storm right now in that area?

PERRILLO: He will be working tonight; they go on from 6:00 at night to 6:00 in the morning.

PHILLIPS: So what are his responsibilities when he is given special hurricane duties? How do they respond and what do they do?

PERRILLO: Well he works (INAUDIBLE) he's there to assess any damaged areas that might cause people problems. He's there in case of any 911 calls. Just, basically, to make sure everything is going smoothly.

PHILLIPS: So, Ann you've lived in this area since 1964. You have seen so many of these storms, of the hurricanes why have you stayed?

PERRILLO: This is my home. Ft. Walton is a place where it's a community that stands together and tries to stay together. We've been in business here since 1954.

PHILLIPS: What kind of business?

PERRILLO: We have a restaurant downtown. It has been there since '64.

PHILLIPS: How did you prep that restaurant for this storm?

PERRILLO: Well we operated to 11:00 last night. But we boarded the windows, and like we said we have generators for when the power goes off. And we operated to the point to where would let our employees go safety and that is the preparation we make.

PHILLIPS: Now I have been told, I'm just getting word now that you kept this restaurant open during Ivan.

PERRILLO: Yes, we did.

PHILLIPS: So you were able to feed people.

PERRILLO: Yes. That was kind of difficult because the day after Ivan we reopened without power because we have gas grills and gas stoves. And we used paper items. You know, to serve people with, but we were packed with people who didn't have any other choice of, you know, what to do and where to go get some to food.

PHILLIPS: So was it mostly tourists or did you have a number of local there's, too.

PERRILLO: Very lucky to have a big, local trade. We are lucky; we have tourists and locals alike.

PHILLIPS: Now, you boarded up the restaurant this time, didn't keep it open. Was it because you heard that this was going to be worse than Ivan?

PERRILLO: We chose not to open up today to give our employees a chance to be home and finish up what they had to do. It's kind of hard. It's kind of hard to choose to close down and what's safe and what's not. We chose not to open at all today.

PHILLIPS: Well that's probably a smart idea.

PERRILLO: We did open yesterday and it was packed.

PHILLIPS: I can just imagine. Did you bring home lots of leftovers?

PERRILLO: Yes, we did.

PHILLIPS: Ann Perrillo has been living there since 1964. Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. She road out the storm. Once again, Ann, we want you to stay on the line with us so our bookers can talk to you, maybe we can get your daughter in Crestview and also your son the deputy.

PERRILLO: I have to say one more; I have to commend CNN for their live shots from Pensacola and Ft. Walton. Those live shots and live interviews show just what is going on and it's very comforting to know what's going on.

PHILLIPS: Well Ann, that's exactly why we do it. Now only to inform people that don't live in those areas, but even more so to let all of you know what's going on when you're inside your homes and can't always, you know get in touch with those outside. We sure appreciate that, Ann. Thank you very much. We thank you for coming on of course and talking to us Ann Perrillo there in Ft. Walton Beach.

BLITZER: Very interesting story. I suspect that's one story. We had heard another story earlier, there will be thousands tens of thousands of these stories on how people decided to stay and ride it out. Sometimes you can say it's courageous, some times you can say it is foolish and the authorities want people to evacuate. Let's hope and pray that everything works out well for all these people who decided to ride it out.

Let's just recap. About an hour and 20 minutes or so ago hurricane Dennis went ashore along an area. Not far from Fort Walton Beach, the Santa Rosa Island towns of Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach. It came ashore as a category 3, about 120 miles per hour. Since then, over the past hour or so, it's been downgraded to a category 2. Continuing about 105 miles per hour, which is of course, nothing, absolutely nothing to sneeze at.

This is a very dangerous hurricane. It is, by no means, over. The worst in terms of flooding is still to come. We don't want people to think it is over. It's still a very dangerous storm. People have to be very careful if you're inside. That's a good place to be. About an hour or so ago where John Zarrella and Anderson Cooper were standing in Pennsicola we saw this.


COOPER: Here it comes again, look out here! Here we go! Get back! Get back! It's coming apart.

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

COOPER: Look at this, this is all coming apart.

ZARRELLA: The trees are coming down.

COOPER: Did you see that tree come down?

ZARRELLA: Here comes the sign, it's coming down. It's falling apart. Get back! Get back!

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

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

COOPER: This of course is the most dangerous time when the tree limbs are this strong. This is not little tin, a huge metal sign that survived hurricane Ivan. It has not survived hurricane Dennis.


BLITZER: CNN's Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella eyewitnesses as to what happened as this hurricane Dennis came a shore. Those projectiles are in effect, missiles can be deadly, and people are advised to stay inside. We'll continue our special coverage of hurricane Dennis. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Hurricane Dennis has been downgraded to a category 2 from a category 3. Winds right now about 105 miles per hour. Came ashore about an hour and 25 minutes ago at a 120 mph, a category 3. One of those areas hard hit, Gulf Breeze, Florida. The city manager Buzz Eddy is joining us now on the phone. How close to Pensacola are you, Buzz?

BUZZ EDDY, CITY MGR., GULF BREEZE, FL: We're three miles south of Pensacola and one mile north of Pensacola Beach. We are a peninsula in-between Pensacola Beach and Pensacola.

BLITZER: Well, the eye of the storm, it hit at an area right between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach and the Santa Rosa Island, so you are basically, you were in the eye of the storm.

EDDY: The eye of the storm passed just to our east about five miles east of us.

BLITZER: So tell us what it was like. Where were you first of all, Buzz, during the actual eye passing over your little town?

EDDY: We were in city hall right here on Shoreline Drive.

BLITZER: What floor were you on?

EDDY: We only have one floor.

BLITZER: So you were on the first floor. What did it feel like?

EDDY: We have hurricane shutters on this building. It's like a bomb shelter. You can tell a lot of wind was blowing a lot of rushing. It was very quiet inside the building.

BLITZER: What about now has it completely passed Gulf Breeze?

EDDY: Yes. Winds are calm.

BLITZER: So it's over with?

EDDY: Yes. We have the police officers out on the street checking streets and downed power lines and checking people's houses for people who have evacuated. So, we're doing the evaluation now and we'll be starting the clean-up phase.

BLITZER: I assume, Buzz that there is no power in the city, is that right?

EDDY: No, we have power on in some areas.

BLITZER: How did you manage to do that? How do you plan for that? In many parts of the country even a small rain shower the power shuts down.

EDDY: Well I think it is tribute to the power company, Gulf Power did a lot of work after Ivan and things have not gone down as bad as they did in Ivan. We had maybe an hour or two before the storm came over of severe weather and severe wind. During Ivan we had six hours before the storm hit. Dennis was a much more quicker, much quicker-moving storm. We didn't take the pounding and the thunderstorms before the storm. So, it just wasn't the same type of storm.

BLITZER: Now, you said you're sending out crews to assess the damage. Are you getting any initial reports what kind of damage there has been to Gulf Breeze?

EDDY: We have power poles down in some sections, we got trees down. But we're already starting to clear that up. We have our fire departments out right now clearing the streets. Making them passable. As the police report in, trees down. We've got chain saw crews on the fire trucks and they're starting to clear the streets.

BLITZER: But you're still advising all the residents to stay inside those who rode it out?

EDDY: Oh, yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: It is still a very dangerous area. These power lines could come down and people get close to those, they could be in deep trouble.

EDDY: Yes, most of the injuries as you well know happen after the storm as people try to you know, get out that chain saw that they're not safe with and start moving things around and we'd like people to just take it easy. We were very lucky to have a quick-moving storm that gave us a direct hit, but it was so fast moving that we didn't take the beating. We sure don't want to make that worse with a lot of post-storm injuries.

BLITZER: Is it still raining where you are?

EDDY: No, it's not raining.

BLITZER: Not even raining. What about flooding, is that a problem?

EDDY: We had some flooding. Some flooding along the beaches.

BLITZER: And the surf is that surf coming in pretty high right now or has it come back to normal?

EDDY: I don't know, I think it's probably receding. I haven't been out there to check it.

BLITZER: The bottom line, Buzz, the city manager of Gulf Breeze, Florida, it could have been so much worse from your perspective?

EDDY: Yes, if Dennis would have traveled at eight per hour like Ivan did and pounded us for twice the duration, we would have had the same kind of damage. Since it moved forward so quickly, we didn't sustain the damage that we thought.

BLITZER: So, Ivan, from your perspective, which occurred ten months ago, hurricane Ivan was worse than hurricane Dennis, is that the preliminary assessment?

EDDY: Yes, sir, that is the preliminary assessment.

BLITZER: Buzz Eddy is the city manager of Gulf Breeze, Florida, Buzz Eddy thanks very much. And glad to hear that it was not as bad as it could of have been. Kyra, that's good news.

PHILLIPS: It is very good news, the fact that it's downgraded. Of course, we have been following hurricane Dennis as it comes slamming ashore. It is one of the most powerful storms that have hit the Florida Panhandle and Alabama communities. A historic time, matter of fact. Dennis lost some of its strength as Wolf has been talking about and we have been talking with others in various cities from Ft. Walton to Pensacola. It's been downgraded to a 2, 105 miles per hour. Still very dangerous. That's what we want to point out. That doesn't mean you can start relaxing and come out and take a look at the weather conditions. It is extremely dangerous it is capable of doing extensive damage. We have reporters still throughout Alabama and Florida from Panama City to Mobile, Alabama, Pensacola, Folie, Alabama, our Drew Griffin also Ft. Walton Beach we've got reporters coming to you live from all these areas and coming up, of course, at the top of the hour, Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center. We are going to talk to him and also Marsha Evans with the American Red Cross. Stay with us, stay with CNN, your hurricane headquarters for more coverage right after a quick break.