PENSACOLA, Fla. – Residents along the Gulf Coast (search), where Hurricane Dennis (search) made landfall Sunday packing winds up to 120 mph, returned to their homes Monday to discover missing roofs and walls and belongings strewn about.
The heaviest damage was in the Florida communities of Gulf Breeze, Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach, which were all slammed by Ivan.
A day after Dennis rumbled ashore, John Myrick stood under the exposed rafters of his roofless condominium, flipping through a photo album showing stunning sunrises snapped from his porch.
"It's like nature has personalities — which we just saw one of them," he said as he assessed the damage to his home, which he hasn't been able to live in since Hurricane Ivan struck last year.
Susan Brooks and Suzette Hester commiserated after they reached the remnants of their homes in Navarre Beach (search). Brooks lost most of the south wall and about half of the roof from her two-story home. Hester lost most of her roof and much of the wood she had loaded into the house to finish repairing from Ivan.
"It's laugh or cry or lose your mind and get institutionalized somewhere," said Hester, a psychiatric nurse. "And my ward is full."
Just down the road, Caryn and Mike Martino stood at the base of their 13-foot high deck — all that remains of their two story home. They had just finished replacing a roof damaged by Ivan, but had not yet moved in. The couple will wait a while before showing pictures of the wreckage to their two young children.
"We'll tell them daddy will make it bigger this round. Bigger and better and stronger," said Caryn Martino, who clutched a composition book with "Dennis" written on the cover. She has a similar book for Ivan filled with insurance claim numbers, government phone listings and other storm-related information.
"I've already got my FEMA number," she said, flipping to a page in the book. "I know the drill."
Meanwhile, attention was shifting to a new tropical storm that formed late Monday in the Atlantic Ocean. Tropical Storm Emily (search), the fifth named storm of the season, was 845 miles east of the Windward Islands and was expected to strengthen and speed up Tuesday while gradually turning toward the west-northwest.
As Dennis sloshed inland and became a tropical depression, it dumped anywhere from 3 to 10 inches of rain over Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Georgia, before stalling over the Ohio River valley, where up to 10 inches of rain was expected.
Some of the worst came as Dennis marched up through the heart of Georgia, dumping nearly 10 inches on Austell and West Atlanta, according to the National Weather Service (search). Hundreds were forced to evacuate in some areas.
"I never dreamed in my lifetime this would happen to me," said Mary Anne Lunsford, whose basement and two cars were totally submerged in Mableton. "I've seen it on TV a million times, but I never thought it would be me, never."
In Alabama, inland towns appeared to bear the brunt of the storm, which still had hurricane-strength winds when it moved north through the state.
Pat Crenshaw's glass business in Atmore was reduced to cinderblock rubble. He said Ivan ripped the roof off the building and "it looks like it exploded during Dennis. There's nothing left."
"No insurance. Couldn't afford it," he said. "It's hard, knowing you're down and out. Everything you fought for, everything you've built up, is all gone."
Dennis was a powerful but swift storm that weakened and turned just before making landfall, sparing the city of Pensacola and other heavily populated parts of the Florida Panhandle. Its relatively small size — with hurricane winds extending just 40 miles — also kept it from becoming another Ivan, which killed 29 people in the Panhandle and caused $7 billion in damage across the South.
By comparison, Dennis was responsible for only a handful of deaths in the United States, although it caused at least 26 deaths in the Caribbean. The storm also caused an estimated $1 billion to $2.5 billion in insured damage in the United States, according to a projection by AIR Worldwide Corp., an insurance risk modeling company.
Some coastal residents were luckier than others. In Gulf Breeze, Ron Pfeiffer's stilt home emerged from the storm relatively unscathed — just as it had during Ivan.
"My secret is that my family came here before the Civil War and been through a lot of hurricanes," said Pfeiffer, 66, a retired chemical researcher. "So, when I built over here, we built it to stand up to a hurricane."