Dennis Pounds Gulf Coast

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Hurricane 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 the ruinous footprints of Ivan just 10 months ago.

The storm crossed land near the same state-line spot where Ivan arrived, pounding beachfronts already painfully exposed by denuded dunes, flattened neighborhoods and piles of rubble that threatened to turn into deadly missiles.

Dennis' eye came ashore at 3:25 p.m. EDT about midway between the Santa Rosa Island towns of Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach, according to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center. Navarre Beach is about 50 miles east of where Ivan crossed.

By 5 p.m. EDT, Dennis' sustained winds had dropped to 105 mph, making it a Category 2 storm, forecasters said.

Streets in the communities of Pensacola Beach, Fort Walton Beach and Gulf Shores, Ala., were all but deserted as few residents were willing to brave an expected 18-foot storm surge and up to 15 inches of rain.

White-capped waves spewed four-story geysers over sea walls. Sideways, blinding rain blew in sheets, toppling roadside signs for hotels and gas stations. Sheriff's deputies were only responding to "life and death" 911 calls because it was too dangerous to be out on the streets.

"I've watched hurricanes down here all my life and this one has characteristics that aren't friendly," truck driver Bill Gray said early Sunday as he moved his family into a shelter at the Pensacola Civic Center. "This one is ... is squirrely a good word?"

CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick reports a local weather forecaster cautioned folks in Mobile, Ala., on Sunday morning that Hurricane Dennis could be the most powerful storm they experience in their lifetimes.

Dennis, already responsible for at least 20 deaths in Caribbean, grew quickly in the open Gulf of Mexico into 145-mph, Category 4 storm, which would have made it the most powerful storm on record in the Panhandle and Alabama. But as it approached shore, it weakened to a 120-mph Category 3, identical to Ivan, which killed 29 people in the Panhandle alone and caused billions of dollars of damage.

Perhaps the only positive was that Dennis was a tightly wound, compact storm with hurricane-force winds extending out only 40 miles. But the worst weather was concentrated on the front, eastern edge of the storm where Ivan hit and where blue tarps and scaffolds cover scores of wrecked buildings and more than 3,000 families still rely on government-issued trailers.

High winds and roiling waves ahead of Dennis forced the shutdown of the Escambia Bay Bridge near Pensacola, which became a symbol of Ivan's destruction when a section collapsed and a trucker plunged to his death.