July 10, 2005

Hurricane Dennis slams into storm-scarred US coast

By Marc Serota

PENSACOLA, Fla. (Reuters) - Hurricane Dennis slammed into
the Gulf Coast on Sunday with ferocious winds and waves that
threatened huge destruction in an area still bearing scars from
last year's storms.

The storm had weakened slightly since morning but still
carried top winds of 120 mph (192 kph).

The hurricane's eyewall, the intense part of the storm
around its center, swept ashore around mid-afternoon just east
of Pensacola in northwest Florida, the U.S. National Hurricane
Center said.

After killing 32 people in Cuba and Haiti, Dennis roared
northward into the Gulf of Mexico with powerful winds and a 10-
to 15-foot (3-meter to 4.6-meter) storm surge that could swamp

As it came ashore, Dennis was a Category 3 hurricane on the
five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, a hurricane with winds of up to
130 mph (208 kph) capable of causing serious damage.

This made it as strong as Hurricane Ivan, which killed 25
people, caused $14 billion in damages and destroyed or damaged
13 oil drilling platforms in the Gulf in September. Earlier
Sunday, Dennis was a stronger Category 4 storm.

"These are really dangerous storms and the devastation that
could take place is something that we've already seen," warned
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of President Bush.

By 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT), the center of the storm was about
20 miles east-southeast of Pensacola, heading roughly north at
about 17 mph (27 kph), the hurricane center said. The storm's
eyewall was coming ashore and its center was expected to cross
the coast in the next hour or so.

Authorities in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi urged more
than 1.2 million people in vulnerable low-lying areas to leave
their homes and many heeded the warning Saturday.


"We've deployed a lot of resources. We've pre-positioned
medical, water, food, other kinds of supplies," Homeland
Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told ABC's "This Week."

"But people have to be braced for a very serious storm."

In Pensacola, emergency officials told residents who
decided to ride out the storm at home to write their names in
waterproof ink across their chests in case they were killed and
needed to be identified, WFOR television reported.

"Well, I figured I could ride it out, but the latest news
is a bit grim," Jimmy Redd said as he abandoned his home and
trudged through squalls to the Pensacola Civic Center, which
provided shelter for 2,500 people.

Smooth as glass a day before, Pensacola Bay on Sunday
turned into a heaving 4- to 6-foot (1.2-meter to 1.8-meter)
sea, washing over the bridges connecting the outlying barrier
island and the Pensacola U.S. Naval Air Station to the
mainland. Waves surged over the top of a 25-foot-high
(7.6-meter-high) pier.

In Pensacola, where blue tarps still cover houses damaged
by Ivan, forecasters warned Dennis could bring 15 inches (38
cm) of rain to the area where it makes landfall.

Energy companies pulled workers off oil rigs and shut down
some crude and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico,
where the United States gets a quarter of its oil and gas.

Along the Gulf Coast, some people shuttered their houses
with recycled boards bearing the words "Go Away Ivan."

Ivan was one of an unprecedented four hurricanes to hit
Florida in a six-week period last year. Florida officials said
40,000 homes statewide were not fixed yet.

In coastal Alabama, mobile hurricane shelters were at
capacity, with American Red Cross officials reporting that 87
shelters were open across the state to house 15,000.

"For the next few hours, it is going to be a very difficult
time in the state of Alabama," Gov. Bob Riley said, "but we're
going to have the supplies to get there and help."

Before heading north through the Gulf, Dennis brushed the
popular tourist island of Key West on Florida's southern tip.
State officials said around 100,000 houses and businesses were
without power Sunday.

The hurricane hit Cuba on Friday with 150 mph (240 kph)
winds and crumpled houses, uprooted trees and downed power
lines. Ten people were killed in Cuba and 22 in Haiti.
(Additional reporting by Cathy Donelson in Mobile, Michael
Christie in Miami and Jennifer Portman in Tallahassee)