- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2005

NAVARRE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — With a sigh of relief, Gulf Coast residents began hurricane cleanup — again.

Hurricane Dennis hit the storm-weary Florida Panhandle and Alabama coast on Sunday with less force than forecasters feared, sparing the region the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Ivan in September — but still causing more than $1 billion in estimated damage.

There was scattered flooding in Florida and Georgia, and more than 680,000 customers in four states were without power, with some likely not to have power for three weeks or more. However, officials reported little major structural damage.

“I think we dodged a pretty large bullet,” said Nick Zangari, a restaurant and bar owner in Pensacola. “I think people took more precautions the second time around.”

It was already business as usual yesterday morning for casinos along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

Dennis quickly weakened to a tropical depression. By late yesterday morning, it was centered over northern Mississippi and moving north-northwest at 15 mph and was expected to stall eventually over the Ohio Valley, the National Weather Service’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center said. Rain fell across parts of the mid-Mississippi, Tennessee and lower Ohio valleys and into the Carolinas.

One band of rain stalled over Georgia, and Peachtree City, a suburb of Atlanta, got more than 6 inches of rain in 18 hours, the weather service said.

“We could still see another few inches; it’s just not moving,” weather service meteorologist Eric Avila said yesterday.

The weather service said other rainfall amounts included 6.27 inches at Camden, Ala.; 6.64 at Tallahassee, Fla.; 9.57 at Austell, Ga., and 3.18 at Meridian, Miss.

Dennis caused an estimated $1 billion to $2.5 billion of insured damage in the United States, according to a projection by AIR Worldwide Corp. of Boston, an insurance risk modeling company. Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurance company, estimated the insured loss at $3 billion to $5 billion.

Dennis was responsible for at least 20 deaths in the Caribbean and at least six in the United States.

A 3-year-old boy was run over by his father’s car as the family was preparing to evacuate in DeFuniak Springs, a man was shocked in Fort Lauderdale when he stepped on a fallen power line, and a Georgia man was killed in his sleep by a falling poplar tree.

A married couple and the mother of one of the two died near Punta Gorda late Sunday when their car overturned and fell into a ditch filled with water, police said. The bodies were found inside the car.

A fast-moving Category 3 hurricane when it came ashore with 120 mph winds, Dennis was smaller than Ivan and weaker than when it churned through the Gulf of Mexico as a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm.

Power outages affected more than 279,400 homes and businesses in the Panhandle, 340,000 in Alabama, 55,000 in Georgia and at least 7,000 customers in Mississippi. The Alabama outages were down to about 245,000 yesterday morning. Gulf Power Co., the main utility for the western Florida Panhandle, said customers should be prepared to do without electricity for three weeks or more.

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