Dennis moves inland after lashing Gulf Coast

July 11, 2005

Presidential declaration issued for Florida, Mississippi and Alabama

The National Disaster Ministries office anticipating requests for funds from One Great Hour of Sharing to assist with recovery efforts is seeking $100,000 to respond to needs of persons impacted by Hurricane Dennis. Strong winds and flooding caused by massive amounts of rain have already caused severe damage in several Southern states ? as Dennis moves north additional damages from flooding are expected.

After coming ashore Sunday afternoon as a category 3 hurricane with 120-mph winds, Hurricane Dennis weakened to a tropical storm by Sunday night as it continued its path North.

The storm made landfall at nearly the same spot Hurricane Ivan came ashore 10 months ago. Dennis, which had been a Category 4 hurricane with 145-mph winds, weakened before making landfall at 3:25 p.m. between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach - less than 50 miles east of where Ivan came ashore. At least a half million people were without power by Sunday night. By 8 p.m. on Sunday, Dennis was reduced to a tropical storm with top sustained winds of 60 mph.

Some local emergency managers from coastal counties indicated there was less damage than there was in Ivan's wake because of the small size and relatively rapid pace of Dennis. But many responders cautioned against such early assessments, expressing concerns about inland flooding and rural residents who could have significant damage that will never make headlines.

Long-term power outages were also a concern, because power companies in the area warned people they could be without power for more than three weeks.

The low-lying community of St. Marks - some 20 miles south of Tallahassee - got hit by a 10-foot tidal surge that caused extensive flooding there. About 40 miles of coastal U.S. Highway 98 was underwater.

Rainfall was about eight inches rather than the expected foot. There were no reports of deaths as of Sunday night but forecasters reminded people it is not over yet. The storm was expected to drop eight inches of rain as it travels over the next few days through Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee into the Ohio Valley.

Nearly 1.8 million people were evacuated before the storm hit. Even police departments that rode out Category 3 Hurricane Ivan last year chose to evacuate in the face of dangerous Dennis.

Representatives from some faith-based and voluntary groups gathered at the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee, where many of them planned to ride out the storm. Near the Panhandle, responders in the emergency operations center in Escambia County, Fla., watched the eye get close to their area. Jackie Bell, chair of the interfaith Escambia County Long-Term Recovery Commmittee, said the "sit-and-wait" was going as expected. "I think everybody is in reasonably good spirits now. But we don?t know. We just don?t know yet. As she spoke, the storm?s eye was about 30 miles southwest of her. The 120-mph winds extended 20 miles from the eye but tropical storm-force winds extend 200 or more miles.

Even those watching live radar from bunkers straight under the storm were debating exactly where landfall was occurring.

Shelter operators indicated shelter counts were down compared to Hurricane Ivan, yet so many towns were completely deserted that emergency management officials said they thought people simply left Alabama, Florida and Mississippi altogether instead of going to public shelters.

Many response groups reported they were riding out the storm safely but had relief supplies ready to roll out as soon as the storm passed. Salvation Army Relief Teams were heading to Tallahassee in preparation for deployment in the aftermath of the storm.

"It is a matter of safety at this point," says Kevin Smith, disaster services director for The Salvation Army in Florida. "We need to be far enough way to be out of harm?s way, but close enough to respond quickly once it is clear to enter the area and begin to set up our operations."

At the National Response Coordination Center, located within the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C., Tom Hazelwood was representing National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. "We are answering questions and exchanging information with any of our constituencies that are phoning in," he said, watching the storm make landfall on several news channels simultaneously.

Hazelwood and other responders urged the public to remember that significant needs will exist not only on the coastline but in less visible rural areas further inland in many states. "We anticipate a lot of needs in the rural areas of Alabama and Mississippi, in addition to the coastline," he said.

Kevin King of Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) predicted one of the first responses for MDS would be "huge amounts of tree work. These are not shrubs. These are huge trees that will require heavy equipment to deal with," he said, adding that MDS teams would be deployed as soon as it was safe after the storm.

While coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were likely to feel the storm?s earliest worst effects, responding groups urged the public to monitor the storm's track since it had the potential to cause a significant amount of damage inland. In Florida on Sunday afternoon, tornado watches were issued in many counties, and many communities were facing heavy rain and wind gusts. Thirty-foot waves were being recorded about 50 miles offshore.

In some other parts of Florida, overflowing rivers and tidal surges were threatening homes. Water was filling up streets and lapping up to houses, and residents were sandbagging in some communities to ward off the floodwater.

Forecasters were warning that remnants of the storm may produce significant flooding in the Ohio River Valley when it stalls there later this week.

How you can help 1. Pray for people who live in communities affected by hurricanes.

2. To help those affected by disasters you may send gifts payable to your congregation marked for "Emergency USA " with the request they be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries.

OR

3. Send gifts payable to Wider Church Ministries and marked in the memo portion "Emergency USA" to the Office for Global Sharing of Resources; Wider Church Ministries; 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.

OR

4. Make a secure on-line donation now to Emergency USA.

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