Hurricane nears Haiti;FL, AL warily watch

Hurricane Dennis became the first hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane on Wednesday evening as it drew closer to vulnerable Haiti.


"Dennis...could become a serious menace early next week."

—Jeff Jellets

Hurricane Dennis became the first hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane on Wednesday evening as it drew closer to vulnerable Haiti.

The storm - with sustained winds of 80 mph - continued to strengthen on Wednesday, and will likely dump up to 10 inches of rain on Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, forecasters said.

Haiti was hit hard last hurricane season when Tropical Storm Jeanne triggered flooding and mudslides that killed some 1,500 people and left 200,000 homeless.

The track of Dennis could take it across Cuba and into the eastern Gulf of Mexico this weekend, near the Florida-Alabama border. The storm could become a major Category 3 hurricane by Friday, then make landfall anytime this weekend or Monday on the Florida-Alabama border as a strong Category 2 or Category 3 hurricane, with winds from 96 mph to 130 mph. The same area was devastated by Hurricane Ivan last year. Dennis is tracking slightly more west than northwest, so the current predicted path has Miami-Dade and Broward counties outside the cone of error. Forecasters cautioned, however, that it was still too early to tell the storm’s track.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dennis was located about 840 miles southeast of Miami. Hurricane warnings were issued Wednesday for Jamaica and Haiti's southwest peninsula. Hurricane watches were in effect for Cayman Islands and eastern Cuba.

In Florida, response groups were alerting people to closely monitor the track of Dennis. “Dennis...could become a serious menace early next week,” reported Jeff Jellets, territorial disaster services coordinator for The Salvation Army. “The storm is forecast to remain a low shear environment that favors intensification over the next few days and is forecast to reach major hurricane status.”

He alerted his canteen crews to prepare: “I don't think I have to tell any of you this but this could pose a very serious situation over the next few days. You should ensure canteen fleets are prepared immediately.”

Dennis comes on the heels of Tropical Storm Cindy, which made landfall in Louisiana late Tuesday, causing localized flooding in that state and in Mississippi when it pushed inland.

As the new storms grab headlines, those involved with long-term recovery urged the public to remember that, for some communities in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, recovery is just beginning from last year's Hurricane Ivan.

Ivan made landfall in the U.S. near Gulf Shores, Ala., on Sept. 16., as a Category 4 hurricane.

Sandra Kennedy-Owes, director of casework services for the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, said many families still need new roofs.

"The push is on for putting roofs on homes that still have tarps," she said. "That has been the focus."

Other homes still need drywall repairs and other major repairs, she added, and - more than nine months after Ivan hit - harmful mold is beginning to invade the damp homes. "We are seeing more medical needs arise," she said.

Many communities in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle need volunteer teams to come and help repair homes, said Kennedy-Owes. "Cash donations are also very helpful," she added.

This season's four tropical storms are a preface to what looks to be a very active hurricane season, forecasters said.

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