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Florida, Georgia Pick Up after Dennis


People living along Florida's Gulf Coast are returning to homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Dennis. Five people were killed in Florida and Georgia. The storm caused more than $2 billion in insured damage. Though Dennis is now a tropical depression, forecasters say it can still cause tornadoes and flooding. Crews along the Gulf Coast are working to restore electricity. More than half a million people are in the dark. The worst hit areas were near Pensacola, Florida. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

Soon after Hurricane Dennis came ashore, power trucks started streaming into Pensacola from all over the South. They drove in formation like a family of enormous metal ducklings. Samuel Griffin was in one of the trucks. He's based in Atlanta, about eight hours away from Pensacola. This is his favorite part of being an electrician.

Mr. SAMUEL GRIFFIN (Electrician): It's just like helping your fellow brother out, you know. Hey, you see your brother down, you want to help him up.

SHAPIRO: Griffin and thousands of other out-of-town power company employees will be living in tent cities that Gulf Power is putting up. Their hours will be tough.

Mr. RAY SCRUGGS (Electrician): Sixteen hours is what they want us to work. Sixteen hours, seven days a week, until everybody gets their lights on.

SHAPIRO: Ray Scruggs is standing on a street corner that's lost power. His co-worker extends a bright yellow telescoping wand that looks like a cherry picker on steroids. It reaches to the top of a telephone pole and flips a switch. Power on.

Mr. SCRUGGS: Now we're going energize the feeder, and it feeds the FEMA park.

SHAPIRO: That's a government trailer park where the Federal Emergency Management Agency is housing families displaced by the hurricane--not Hurricane Dennis. The trailer park is full of people who are still homeless from Ivan, which hit Pensacola 10 months ago.

For all the work these power crews have ahead of them, their overriding feeling is one of gratitude that Dennis was nowhere near as bad as Ivan. Gulf Power spokesman Richard Adams is surveying the damage with obvious relief.

Mr. RICHARD ADAMS (Spokesman, Gulf Power): A lot of people left town expecting to come back and find their homes destroyed again, and it just didn't happen for some reason.

SHAPIRO: Those who are without power seem remarkably sanguine. Gene Rosenbaum has a tree lying across his yard. `But,' he says, `look at all the trees that haven't fallen.'

Mr. GENE ROSENBAUM (Resident): You're only picking one tree, but there a lot of trees in this community, and we're fortunate. I think that we'll come back quick, and I'm looking forward to this community back in shape within the next several weeks.

SHAPIRO: Others have had it with storms. Greg Bell just wants to know one thing.

Mr. GREG BELL (Resident): I know you've heard this. When?

SHAPIRO: As in when will the power be back on? Gulf Power initially estimated it would take three weeks. Now they're saying two.

Bell has a beautiful home right on Pensacola Bay. It's now received two direct hits. Tree crews have already started to chop up the oak that collapsed on his fence.

(Soundbite of chain saw)

SHAPIRO: There's also a hole in his roof, and Dennis blew out a skylight.

Mr. BELL: When that puppy came through here, you could see the wind just swirling. It wasn't coming from one direction. You could just see it swirling, so it was like a hur--tornadoes that were not coming down to the ground.

SHAPIRO: His family moved into this house only five weeks before Ivan hit. Now they may be ready to leave.

Mr. BELL: We might pick it up and go. Sell the house and get out, fix the damage and leave. 'Cause it's--you know, twice in 10 months is a lot.

SHAPIRO: Bell survived the big California earthquake in 1989. But seeing Ivan and Dennis come straight at him, he says it's like living in the middle of a bull's-eye. Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: You are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.