Dennis no menace for county

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2005

Just 10 short months after Hurricane Ivan ripped across the Gulf Coast and South Alabama, Crenshaw County dug in and prepared for the worst with Hurricane Dennis, a potentially devastating Category 4 storm on Sunday morning.

"Everybody around here was ready for a major disaster," said Brantley Town Administrator Larry Morgan on Monday following Dennis' somewhat uneventful landfall. "We were expecting it. Thank God, it didn't happen."

By Sunday afternoon, Dennis - at one point packing 145 mile per hour winds as it approached the Alabama-Florida coastline - had fallen to a less severe, but problematic, Category 3 storm. Winds were estimated at 120 mph when the storm blew ashore at Santa Rosa, Fla. at 2:25 p.m. The hurricane then continued on its forecasted track, crossing into Alabama where Atmore, in Escambia County, received what's thought to be the most extensive damage by any city in the state.

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By contrast, Ivan hit the Gulf Coast with 130 mph winds, the majority of those winds radiating outward over a larger area. The hurricane eye of Dennis was smaller and more compact, which allowed many areas of south and central Alabama - put through the wringer by Ivan last September - to escape without significant damage. Ivan also followed a northern route and was slower. Dennis was a fast hurricane, moving at over 20 mph across land in a northwestern direction.

"With Ivan we had trees down and lots of debris in the road and structural damage to some houses," said Morgan. "There were people without power for up to seven days in some places."

Morgan said to his knowledge the town never lost power on Sunday.

"It was just like a big thunderstorm," he said. "And it was windy. I think Ivan cleaned out for us. A lot of the weaker trees had already come down."

Anita West, Emergency Management Authority Director for the county, confirmed that Crenshaw County escaped relatively unscathed.

"We had a few trees down across the county but nothing major," she said. "There have really been no problems."

Preparations for Dennis began last Thursday with a meeting of the county's EMA, fire association and road department. Like everyone who experienced Ivan, county officials and employees were expecting major power outages, downed trees and possible flooding.

Luverne City Engineer Morris Tate was one who attended an emergency meeting on Sunday morning.

"A man from the National Weather Center in Mobile told us to expect to see 50 to 60 mile per hour winds by 3 p.m.," he said. "After that, we'd start getting hurricane force winds, so we had our crews on standby ready to go."

Phillip Peebles, Manager of Food Depot, said customers started buying up goods on Friday, anxious over Dennis and the potential devastation it could cause.

"Friday was probably our busiest day," he said. "Saturday was fair and Sunday was pretty good up until the storm started to come ashore."

Peebles said the store was never in danger of running out of any one item.

"Canned meats - Vienna sausage, potted meat - stuff like that was the biggest seller. It did get low," he said. "We did get short of bread at one point but we got a shipment in soon after. Ice was never a problem either. The business was a little bit lighter than what Ivan was. I don't want to say that people didn't take this one serious but Ivan was a lot worse."