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Hurricane Dennis Makes Landfall in Florida

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

The eye of Hurricane Dennis came ashore just east of Pensacola, Florida, a little before 2:30 this afternoon local time. The storm was blamed for at least 20 deaths in Haiti and Cuba. But after it hit those islands, Dennis weakened substantially. As it crossed the Gulf of Mexico, the storm then gathered strength to a powerful Category 4 storm. Then just before coming ashore today, winds again diminished. Hurricane Dennis was a compact storm. Still, at its strongest, four-story-high waves splashed over seawalls, and there are power and water outages in the area. Sandra Averhart of member station WUWF in Pensacola joins me now.

Hi, Sandra.

SANDRA AVERHART reporting:

Hello there.

LUDDEN: It's been more than five hours now since the storm hit right where you are. What are officials saying about damage?

AVERHART: Well, one of the things they're saying is that we're very fortunate that it wasn't worse. They expected it to be--much more damage. They've been on the beach and done some preliminary assessments, Pensacola Beach and Nevar Beach. The word--and that's where the storm came ashore, between the two. The word is that the roads are covered; primarily they're covered with snapped power lines. Apparently there are power lines down all over the place. And so for now the beach is remaining closed; the same for Nevar Beach. Now they are saying that most of the damage this time was mostly to the northern parts of the counties and mostly due to tornadic activity.

Now one thing that they did say is that the Pensacola Regional Airport is likely to be closed for the next 24 to 48 hours. They are reporting extensive damage to the terminal--well, primarily major leaks in the terminal building and some significant damage to the smaller buildings on the property. Also, of course, many homes are reporting some structural damage, roof damage, power lines, tree down all over the place and mostly--especially in the north end, due to tornadic activity. Now one historic building in downtown Pensacola lost its roof. And it had been damaged by Hurricane Ivan, but this time it lost the roof.

LUDDEN: How many people do we know are without power?

AVERHART: I'm hearing that about 100,000 people in northwest Florida are without power, about 30 to 40,000 in Escambia County.

LUDDEN: Any idea about water and sewer service?

AVERHART: Water--the folks in this area, as far as I can tell, are being advised to boil the water. And the sewer utility is reporting that water pressure is low.

LUDDEN: Now just 10 months ago Hurricane Ivan hit not far from where you are.

AVERHART: Exactly. It hit a little further west, and so, fortunately, some other beaches did not have to take another major hit. There was still debris left over from Hurricane Ivan that--there was a major concern about that. Of course, this area where the storm came ashore this time is reminiscent of Hurricane Opal in 1995.

LUDDEN: Well, Sandra Averhart of member station WUWF in Pensacola, thanks so much.

AVERHART: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sandra Averhart