Weakening storm still causes flooding

Remnants of Dennis move northward

Florida begins cleanup

at least four dead

July 12, 2005|By Roger Roy, Jason Garcia and John Kennedy | Roger Roy, Jason Garcia and John Kennedy,ORLANDO SENTINEL

PENSACOLA, Fla. - The damage and death toll continued to climb yesterday as authorities and residents tallied the widely scattered destruction left by Hurricane Dennis.

While Dennis caused less damage than feared after its landfall Sunday east of Pensacola, it nonetheless was blamed for pockets of flooding and wind damage across a wide swath of the Panhandle.

Gov. Jeb Bush toured storm-damaged areas yesterday, his visit delayed by lingering rough weather. Dennis was downgraded to a tropical depression but continued to dump heavy rain as it headed north.

Flash flood warnings were issued for states from Alabama to Indiana.

By yesterday, authorities had attributed four deaths in Florida to Dennis, and police said the storm also might have been to blame for the deaths of three others whose car overturned into a flooded southwest Florida canal.

Relief efforts begin

While most residents could "breathe a sign of relief" that damage wasn't worse, Bush said, that was little comfort to those who suffered most.

"No hurricane's a good hurricane," Bush said.

Authorities said yesterday that they had completed search and rescue operations and found no additional victims from the storm.

Relief efforts mobilized quickly yesterday. Two million gallons of gasoline was being shipped to the Panhandle, where many gas stations had run out of fuel.

State officials set up distribution sites for food, water and ice within 20 hours of Dennis' landfall - faster than after last year's record-breaking four hurricanes hit Florida. But at some sites, lines to get supplies stretched for two miles.

"We made a difference but we need to keep pushing until we get this under control," said Mike DeLorenzo, chief of the state's emergency response team.

Electricity off

No damage estimate was made yesterday, but scattered destruction stretched across the entire length of the Florida Panhandle. More than 273,000 Florida homes and businesses remained without power, and at least 270,000 in Alabama.

Authorities said the deaths blamed on Dennis include a 3-year-old run over by his father as the family evacuated its Walton County home Friday, a 13-year-old swimming off Fernandina Beach during a flood watch Saturday, a 26-year-old Broward County man who was electrocuted Sunday and a 55-year-old Escambia County man who died yesterday from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator.

In Punta Gorda, three bodies were found in an sport utility vehicle submerged in a ditch that authorities say was flooded by heavy rain from Dennis. They were identified as a Cape Coral couple and the man's mother.

Dennis' landfall near Navarre Beach meant the Pensacola area, still coping with destruction from Hurricane Ivan in September, was spared the worst. But as residents and authorities reached the more remote coastal and inland areas evacuated for Dennis, it was clear yesterday that the storm's damage toll still would be costly.

In St. Marks, a full 150 miles east of Dennis' landfall, the storm drove a wall of water into the coastline, laced with rain-swollen rivers, and flooded homes and businesses.

"We've seen water come in here before," said Joy Brown, who has owned Bo Lynn's Grocery for 40 years, just a few dozen yards from the water. "When we knew the hurricane was coming, we put things up on blocks and got stuff off the lower shelves."

But Brown could do little but watch Sunday as the water rose past the four-foot depth in her store.

"It's never been like this," she said yesterday. "It floated the freezer."

Many St. Mark's residents were angry, saying local emergency officials failed to warn Sunday of the unusual tidal surge. Most in the riverside town of 300 prepared for high water as they always do, but few chose to leave their homes.

"It was a total drop of the ball," said Keith Ward, 37, who helped three families leave Humphries' fish camp in his 24-foot boat Sunday afternoon. "Somebody messed up on predicting the storm surge - they were way off."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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