Dennis came ashore on the Florida Panhandle and Alabama coast Sunday with a 120-mph fury of blinding squalls and crashing waves that followed in Ivan's ruinous footprints. Damage included power outages affecting more than 200,000 that were expected to last at least three weeks.
Reporting from the
As the storm passed through, Acosta hunkered down with Pensacola resident Wanda White. "It's scary because you don't know what the end will be," said White as the winds howled outside.
Crossing the coast less than 50 miles east of where Ivan made landfall, Dennis pummeled beachfronts already painfully exposed by denuded dunes, flattened neighborhoods and piles of rubble that threatened to turn into deadly missiles.
"I'm watching building pieces and signs come off," said Nick Zangari, who rode out the storm at his restaurant and bar in downtown Pensacola. "We were hearing explosions that must have been air conditioning units from other buildings smashing to the ground. ... There were parts of buildings and awnings all around."
The eye came ashore at 3:25 p.m. EDT midway between the Santa Rosa Island towns of Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach. Dennis became the fifth hurricane to strike Florida in less than 11 months, and Gov. Jeb Bush again asked his brother to declare the state a major disaster area.
Power outages affected more than 140,000 homes and businesses in Florida, mostly in the Panhandle, and 80,000 in Alabama. Gulf Power Co., the main power utility for the western Panhandle, said its 400,000 customers should be prepared to do without electricity for three weeks or more.
Mercifully, Dennis lost strength as it neared the coast. It crossed the Gulf of Mexico as a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane, with winds of up to 145 mph, but weakened before making landfall to Category 3 — the same as Ivan. After crossing land, it dropped to a Category 2 storm.
That was bad enough. Ivan killed 29 people in the Panhandle alone and caused more than $7 billion damage across the southeastern United States.
Mindful of the experience, coastal residents fled in advance of Dennis, leaving streets in Pensacola Beach, Fort Walton Beach and Gulf Shores, Ala., nearly deserted. Even Mark Sigler of Pensacola Beach, who owns a dome-shaped, steel-reinforced house built to withstand 200-mph winds, decided to evacuate.
"The house is hurricane-resistant," he said, "not hurricane-proof."